14 of My Favorite Gym Exercises
Ever since I started my new training program at the beginning of the month, I’ve had a bunch of questions about which exercises are my favorites and which ones I recommend.
And while I every body is different, and reacts to exercise different and this should not be taken in place of advice from a doctor or certified trainer; I thought I’d share a few of my own personal favorite exercises. Maybe I can sparks some creativity for all of you.
This one really goes without explanation. It doesn’t get as much attention as running, cross fit or yoga, but walking is actually one of the best workouts you can do. I try to get my 10,000 steps in every day, and walking is a great exercise to preform on active rest days.
Jogging is a great alternative to running when you need to burn some more calories. I do 1-2 jogs a week. Usually a 3 mile or so one and a then a long run. The most important part of jogging is making sure you have the right shoes. If you’re not sure, you can refer back to my post on choosing the right footwear.
This has quickly become my favorite kind of cardio.
Chances are, you’re familiar with this first one. It’s the pushup for people like me who are not strong enough to do a real pushup. You can do it against a bench, or table, or with a smith machine like I do. The benefit to doing it on a smith machine is that you can make it as high up or low down and you want, and easily progress closer and closer to the ground.
Pushups are what’s called a “compound movement” which means it works a several muscle groups at once, allowing you to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time.
Wide grip lat pulls
Another compound movement. This one works a lot of the same muscles as a pull up (your back, shoulders, bicep and triceps), which perfectly supports my goal of progressing to doing a pull up over over time.
Tricep pull downs
My triceps are consistently one of the weaker muscles in my body, so I try to do a few isolation exercises with them every week. Isolation exercises are exactly what they sound like. As opposed to a compound movement, they allow you to really target one muscle and work it as hard you can, with the intent of building it up.
There are a lot of great tricep isolation exercises out there, however, I do this one pretty consistently because I’m a huge fan of the cable machine and have been doing a large portion of my workout on it.
A few of the benefits to the cable machine is that you’re able to lift heavier more safely because you don’t have to worry about dropping the weights. Also, there’s usually less people using it, so I don’t have to wait/fight for the right dumbbells. Lol!
Another tried and true isolation movement. Because who doesn’t want to have great looking biceps!?
Another benefit of the bicep curls is that - when done with dumbbells - it allows you to train one side of your body at a time, which allows for better concentration on the muscles worked.
One arm rows
And we’re back to compound movements. One arm rows are one of the best exercises for your back and shoulders. It works one side at a time, and allows for a full range of motion. This is another exercise that packs a punch when you’re short on time! I’ve been doing it for about a year (off and on) and I’ve seen great changes in my back and shoulders. This is a perfect exercise to get ready for sleeveless tops this summer!
Bonus movement: Straight arm pulldowns
Because I just couldn’t leave this one out! I started doing it a few months ago, and while it also works a lot of the same muscles as the wide grip lat pull, this exercise makes your triceps work harder, in addition to also working your abs. Honestly, I just feel really good after doing this exercise.
Everyone knows how great squats are for your lower body, right? They work your quads and glutes and can help you get the booty you want.
The goblet squat is my favorite variation because it’s comfortable, and easy to load up the weight. While writing this post, I found a really great article about why goblet squats are so good.
Box jumps are a great compound movement that works your hamstrings, quads and adductors. It’s also a great movement to get your heart rate up a bit before lifting.
Banded side steps & Donkey kicks
I’m lumping these two together because they’re both done with a mini band, and are great for activating the gluteus medius. This is the smallest muscle in your glutes, and is towards the sides near your hips. It’s in charge of stabilizing your hips, but since most of us only move in one plane (aka walking forward, running forward, etc.) it’s often under trained. If you notice your knees constantly falling in while you do squats: your gluteus medius is most likely under trained. Both banded side steps and donkey kicks engage your gluteus medius. I like banded side steps because it gets me moving in a different plane (side to side) and donkey kicks are great because it also engages your larger glute muscles as well as your core.
Deadlifts are a compound movement that activates a wide range of your muscles. You back, glutes, quads and hamstrings all play a roll in a proper deadlift. However, since there is so much at play here, it’s easy to get your form wrong and risk injury. I recommend starting out with a pair of light dumbbells until you get the form down, and then moving to heavier dumbbells and eventually a training barbell and - finally - a full barbell.
Julie Lohre has a great article on the benefits of the deadlift and how to do it with proper form.
So there you go. Those are just a few of my favorite workouts. Hopefully something sparked your creativity and will motivate you to try something new at the gym this week!
If you have any questions about any of these movements drop me a comment and I’ll do what I can to help. Just remember that I’m not a doctor, and can only speak from my own personal experience.