Exercise: 7 Most Effective Exercises (cont.)

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Obviously, any exercise program depends on the underlying health status of the participant. Be certain that your health is appropriate for exercise prior to attempting a new program.

  1. Interval training: This refers to doing almost any type of exercise at a variable pace. For example, if you are walking or doing push-ups, vary the pace of the exercise. You can walk normally for a minute or so, and then speed up a bit, and then return to normal speed several times. For exercises like push-ups, do a few slowly and do others more quickly and, like walking, repeat these faster and slower intervals several times. Interval training helps the body to adjust its aerobic system (heart rate, breathing, and metabolism) to burn more calories to lose weight and strengthen muscles. While some purists may say interval training is not an exercise, others say yes it is because it is a mind over matter exercise that makes you aware that the body can adapt to increased physical demands that will be required to reach your goals.
  2. Walking: A walk is one of the best exercises to begin with in any exercise program. Men and women can do this together as a calorie-burning cardiovascular exercise. One hour of interval walking can burn about 500 or more calories; it takes about 3500 calories to lose a pound so you could lose a pound for every week you walk for an hour. A word of caution: Beginners should start walking about 5 to 10 minutes at a time and slowly increase their times by about 5-minute intervals to allow the cardiovascular system and muscles time to adapt to the new demands.
  3. Squats: This exercise is an excellent calorie burner because squats use the largest muscle groups in the body (quadriceps and hamstrings or the thigh muscles and the gluteals or buttocks). Squats are exercises that consist of an up and down motion of the body that resembles the motion of getting out of a chair. In fact, some trainers suggest that a person new to trying to do squats can practice by getting up and down from a chair. The proper way to begin is to keep your back straight, feet spread apart about shoulder length with both arms extended, knees over the ankles and then go downward with your butt just touching the chair; then return to your original standing position. Eventually, stop using the chair and you'll be doing effective squats. Some people with knee discomfort may be concerned about doing squats; they should check with their doctor or orthopedist but some knee problems result from quadriceps problems and squats may help resolve them. Also, avoid bending your knees to 90 degrees or less.
  4. Lunges: Lunges work the same large muscle groups as the squats, but can work additional leg muscles and improve balance. Lunges are done by taking a big enough step forward that the knee forms about a 90-degree angle. However, you must to keep your spine in a neutral position (upright position, no bending forward). Your trailing leg, at the same time, should have its knee come close to the floor and have the toes accept significant body weight. Then, return to a standing position and repeat with the other leg. After you master the lunge, you can vary the exercise by placing the advanced leg to the right or left to mimic more variable movement, such as the angles you might encounter during a nature hike.
  5. Push-ups: The basic push-up is the classic exercise to strengthen the upper body (chest, shoulders, and triceps) and core (abdominal muscles). Beginners can first do push-ups by spreading their fully extended arms slightly more than shoulder width apart with their hands against an unmovable object like the edge of a kitchen countertop. Then bend your elbows until your chest almost touches the edge of the counter op, allowing only your toes to bend and keeping your back and legs in a straight line. Then push your body away from the countertop until your arms are again fully extended. As you progress, you should use lower stationary objects (for example, a stationary bench) and eventually do the push-up with your hands on the floor.
  6. Abdominal crunches: The standard abdominal crunch is an excellent way to strengthen and define those abdominal muscles (commonly termed a “six pack” but not so commonly seen in many men and women!). There are two ways to start; either with you lying on the floor or on a non-slip rug with your hands placed lightly behind your head (never pull your head up with your hands or arms) and with your knees bent so your feet are flat on the floor. Other experts suggest doing the same with your knees bent and your feet not touching the floor. When you keep your feet off of the floor, it helps you avoid arching your back, a problem that can actually weaken the abdominal muscles. The “crunch” is done by not arching the back. The lower back is pushed downward and then contracting the abdominal muscles and tucking in your chin slightly, lift your neck, shoulders, and back off of the floor. Some experts suggest you hold the raised position for a second or so before returning slowly to the starting position. A variation to strengthen and define the oblique abdominal muscles uses the same technique except you must twist your abdomen to the right or left before lifting the head, shoulders, and back. Although many people think the way to lose belly fat is to do crunches, it is not. Belly fat that covers up those “six packs” is reduced by burning more calories than you take in, so, paradoxically, if you want that “six pack” to show, the fluid six packs (beer) must go, along with other caloric foods.
  7. Bent-over row: This exercise can give the last groups of muscles (back and biceps) a good workout. Beginners can start by sitting on a bench, but the exercise is usually done while standing. You should stand with your feet shoulder-length apart, with knees bent, and hips flexed forward at hip level. Tilt the pelvis forward slightly, contract the abdominal muscles, and extend (straighten) the upper back. Hold your hands straight down beneath your shoulders and make a fist. Then flex your elbows so that your forearms and hands come all the way up and in toward your body. Pause for about a second or two, and return your flexed arms to their previously extended position. People soon add small weights instead of just making a fist. However, you don't have to buy anything, just find two similar shaped items that weigh the same (for example, two books or two bottles of a sports drink) and there you have the weights you need!

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