It’s hard to pinpoint just 5 exercises and say that they are the best exercises for a workout but what we can do is show you the 5 areas that need work in order to give you the best full body workout with the quickest results. At least one of each of the following exercises should be incorporated into your workout:
Push – pressing away from you (push-ups, shoulder press)
Pull – pulling towards you (deadlift, arm rows)
Hip-hinge – bending from the middle of the torso (single leg deadlift)
Squat – flexing the knee
Plank – maintaining the core
Strength training or resistance training is vital for women as it helps to prevent against heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. It promotes good sleep and plays an important role in mental wellbeing, helping to reduce anxiety and depression by reducing cortisol levels (known as the stress hormone) and increasing levels of serotonin (known as the happy hormone). It builds strength which results in fewer injuries and is a great self-confidence booster.
Many women think that lifting weights or doing resistance training will build big muscles. This isn’t true. Women would have to train with heavy weights for hours every day for this to happen. Strength training tones and tightens muscles and is necessary to keep muscles strong. Muscles that aren’t used will lose strength over time and become saggy. Exercise builds muscle mass, and this burns more calories than body fat (even after you’ve stopped exercising) which helps with weight loss. According to Christopher Wharton, a nutrition professor at Arizona State University, 10lbs of muscle will burn 50 calories in a day when resting whereas 10lbs of fat will burn 20 calories.
A great example of resistance training is our 30-minute circuit which gives you a full body workout with each piece of equipment working a different part of your body. The resistance is increased as your muscles get stronger. Have a look at our circuit here.
So what exercises make up an ideal workout?
Pick one or two exercises from each section to give you a total body workout:
1 – Upper body exercises
Includes arms, shoulders and upper back) – these help with good posture as well as carrying and lifting.
Pull Downs – these can be completed on a machine or using a resistance band attached to a doorframe.
Back Extensions or Supermans (lying on your front and lifting your head and shoulders as you pull your arms back to squeeze your shoulder blades together)
Back Pulls (stand leaning forward, keeping your arms close to your body and bent, and pull your elbows back), using either resistance bands or weights.
Bicep Curls – Stand holding a weight in each hand with the upper part of your arm close to your body (shoulder to elbow). Raise and lower the lower part of your arm (elbow to hand), making sure that you are doing this is a controlled way and not swinging your arms.
Triceps Extensions – stand leaning slightly forward with your arms bent and close to your body and hold a weight in each hand. Extend the lower part of your arms backwards until straight, returning to the start position and repeating.
Triceps Dips – Balance on your hands and feet with your chest facing upwards and your hands facing forwards. Raise and lower your body using only your arms.
Skull-Crushers – Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your arms straight up towards the ceiling and holding a weight. Bend your arms, taking the weight towards the top of your head and then returning to the start and repeating.
Push-Ups – Start with either eccentric push-ups (where you lower slowly to the floor, then relax onto the floor and start again) or kneeling push-ups (rest on your knees to perform this push-up) before moving onto full push-ups (resting on your hands and feet with a straight back and lowering to the floor and pushing back up). Make sure that your back doesn’t dip.
Arm Raises – Front and lateral – Stand, keeping your arms straight and take your arms to the front, back down and then to the side. Raise your arms to shoulder height.
2 – Core exercises
Upper and lower ab muscles and side obliques as well as back muscles – these are important for improving your balance and stability which make everyday tasks easier.
Plank Toe Taps – Put a resistance band around your ankles and step one foot at a time, out to the side).
Plank Jacks – Using a resistance band around your ankles, jump your feet out and in.
Bicycle Crunches – Hook a resistance band over both toes to create resistance whilst cycling.
Side Crunches – Put the resistance band underneath one foot and hold the other end in your hand – place other hand by your temple and crunch to the side – repeat on the other side.
Mountain Climbers – Start in plant position and move your feet alternately towards your chest as though you are running. You can hook a resistance band around both toes for added resistance.
Scissors – Lie on the floor with your legs slightly raised off the floor and a resistance band around your ankles. Scissor your legs, working against the resistance. These can also be done with the legs higher in the air and a forwards/backwards motion.
Side Oblique Crunch – Lie on your side on the floor, supporting your body on your elbow and raise your legs so that they are straight and in the air. Pop a resistance band around your ankles and bring your knees into your chest whilst contracting your oblique muscles.
3 – Lower body exercises
Includes legs, glutes, quads and hamstrings – targeting your lower body helps with everyday movements such as walking, running and jumping.
Squats: Stand and bend knees slowly until parallel with the floor, keeping head and chest up and making sure that your knees do not come forward in front of your toes. Keep the weight in the heel. Place an exercise band just above your knees for added resistance or hold dumbbells down by your side.
Goblet Squats – Hold a dumbbell at your chest with your elbows pointing down, bend your knees slowly until your hips are below your knees. Come up a little faster than you lower.
Sumo Squats – Have feet quite wide apart with toes turned out and bend knees to lower.
Single Leg Squats – Squat on one leg, keeping the other leg straight and off the floor and your arms straight out in front.
Hip Raises – Lie on the floor with your knees bent and push your hips up to the ceiling, pushing through your heels. Squeeze your glutes tightly at the top and repeat without touching the floor in between reps. Add a resistance band above the knees and push knees out at the top of each movement.
Lunges – Forward lunges (taking one leg forward into a lunge), reverse lunges (taking one leg back into a lunge) and side lunges (taking one leg out to the side in a lunge) are all great variations. Again, an exercise band can be placed above the knees for added resistance. Make sure that your knees do not come forward in front of your toes and keep the weight in the heel.
Side Leg Raises – Lie on your side with a resistance band around your ankles. Raise your top leg as high as you can and lower. Repeat on the other side.
Standing Kick-Backs – Place a resistance band around your ankles and, standing tall, take one leg back, keeping it straight. Repeat with the other leg.
Crab Walks – Place a resistance band above your knees and bend your knees (as though you are getting into a squat position but not all the way), step to one side and then the other or step 3 steps to the side and then 3 steps back.
Clamshells – Lie on your side with your knees bent and a resistance band just above your knees. Rest on your forearm and, keeping your core engaged and your feet together, push your knee up to the ceiling and back down. Make sure that you keep in a straight line and don’t tilt forwards or backwards.
4 – Cardio
Heart and lungs
This is important for strengthening your heart to allow more efficient blood pumping through the body. You can make the most of the fresh air if you like walking or running. If not, try the cross trainer, treadmill, skipping, and swimming which are all great cardio exercises that will increase your heart rate. The cross trainer has the added benefit of being gentle on your knees if you have joint problems. 20-30 minutes a day is all that is needed to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
5 – Stretching/flexibility
Stretching is very important after exercise for decreasing muscle soreness. It helps to keep the muscles flexible and strong. The muscles can shorten and tighten if not stretched properly meaning that they will become weak and unable to fully extend. It also helps to improve posture and range of motion. There are many different stretches but some of our favourites are shown below. Hold stretches for between 10 – 30 seconds.
Child’s Pose – Lie of the floor on your front with your knees bent and facing outwards and your toes together. Rest your forehead on the floor and reach arms out in front.
Butterfly Stretch – Sit on the floor with your legs bent and the soles of your feet together. Sit up straight and stretch your knees out to the side. To intensify this stretch, bring your feet closer to your hips.
Hip Flexor Stretch – Kneel on one knee and place your other foot on the floor in front (at a 90° angle). Keep your back straight, tuck your hips under, lean forwards and drive your hip forward.
Glute Stretch – Lie on the floor with one leg bent. Take the other ankle and place over the bent knee. Grasp the thigh of the bent leg and pull towards your chest.
Quad Stretch – Stand and bring one ankle up towards the bum, keeping knees together. To intensify this stretch, push hips forward.
Shoulder Stretch – Stand and place one arm across the chest. Apply pressure with the other arm just above the elbow to pull the straight arm into the chest.
Shoulder Rolls – Stand with your arms loosely by your sides. Roll your shoulders forwards, up and backwards in a circular motion, then reverse so that they are rolling the other way.
Triceps Stretch – Reach one arm over the head and down the back. Use the other arm to gently push the elbow towards the opposite shoulder blade (place hand at the side of the elbow, not on the joint). If you want to intensify this stretch, move the hand more towards the middle of the back (straight down instead of at an angle).
Chest Stretch – Sit with your legs crossed and clasp your hands together behind your back. Straighten and raise your arms until you feel a stretch across your chest and shoulders.
Ab Stretch – Lie on your front and place your hands on the floor at shoulder height. Push yourself up, either onto your forearms or your hands.
Back Stretch – Lie on your front and raise your head and shoulders off the floor bringing your elbows back.
The best workout will involve exercises and stretches from all the above 5 sections. Really squeeze and contract the muscles. Make sure that you are doing the exercise in a slow and controlled way to get the very best workout.
Make sure that you pick exercises that you like to do and execute them properly.
As the body begins to lose muscle mass and mobility due to age, this can be corrected using the exercises above.
Enjoy your exercise!
Caroline & Hannah xx