Squatting is every good British citizen’s favourite pastime. OK it probably isn’t – the words “ouch” and “hate” are frequently attached to this movement; it incorporates every muscle group in the body and is perhaps the king of all resistance exercises.
There is a large emphasis placed on the lower body when performing this exercise. However, it is simply brilliant for developing overall structural integrity when performed with good technique – especially in the often overlooked yet critically-important core!
The key to calorie burning is intensity; intensity can be measured in a plethora of ways including:
The number of muscles being used at once (exercise complexity)
The weight being lifted
The rep count performed during each set
The rest periods in between each set
The amount of sets being performed
In this way, the squat is an exciting prospect for any gym goer, new and old alike; why?
Because when squatting, one can incorporate ALL of the above elements at once to create the perfectpackage of intensity, overall effectiveness (this exercises works your cardiovascular system AND all of the major muscle groups at once) and excitement (dull day? Just squat! It’ll make it more interesting and dynamic in a heartbeat!)
This is why you should squat. Start with your body weight, progress onto dumbbell squats, then you’ll be ready for the barbell squat soon after!
2. Dead lifts
The dreaded (yet highly effective) deads!
Don’t worry, this doesn’t actually involve lifting any form of deceased matter (though if taken in this literal sense the exercise could still be performed in a very effective manner… but I don’t condone or recommend this!). This exercise is fantastic for developing the rear aspects (hamstrings and glutes) of your lower body in conjunction with your lower back and aiding in your back development on the whole.
It also gives your core, trapezius, shoulders and forearms a great run through at the same time as vastly increasing your lower body strength.
A common association with dead lifts is lower back pain. Why? Because I’m willing to bet you’re lifting with your back and NOT your glutes (or bum cheeks to be blunt) as you should be.
Get this though; you SHOULD feel some aching in your lower back if you’re new to the exercise even if you are lifting with the correct form. This is because your lower spinal column is attached to two muscle bands commonly known as the back extensors – and I’m willing to bet you haven’t used them much recently!
The first few times you dead lift you’ll “break them in” as you do with any muscle group that’s been “sleeping” – just like with your arms, chest shoulders legs and any other muscle group, they will ache. This is normal and shouldn’t ring alarm bells unless you are still suffering one week or more later.
AKA the one that makes you look like a gorilla when performed with a barbell. It’s brilliant for your overall back development and is great for total upper body strength and tone progression.
Directly working the back muscles (or latissimus dorsi to those in the know), the row also engages the abdominal muscles (including the obliques when performed with a dumbbell), the forearms and the biceps.
If you were to look at your body sideways then split it in two, every muscle in the back of your body (including the glutes and hamstrings) would be the prime target areas with a little help from the biceps and stomach muscles.
Either the barbell or dumbbell row are very effective in their own right. I prefer the barbell movement because it engages all of your back muscles at once – in terms of a “calories burned per second” ratio, that puts it a step above its single armed friend.
4. The overhead shoulder press
Welcome to the gun show! This is a classic resistance exercise that is frequently overlooked (more like avoided!) in favour of isolated machine work and seated pressing.
When performing a standing shoulder press, you are improving your core and upper body stabilisation muscle development tenfold whilst directly overloading your shoulder muscles when performing the exercise with correct technique.
If you are really focusing on your physique development and perfect body symmetry you need to prioritise big movements like the overhead press and include isolation work with free weights and machinery. Otherwise you should be focusing on making your body more useful by way of increasing your strength, fitness and health levels, and let those aesthetic values take a back seat at least for a while.
You’ve also got to remember that you need a stronger core, whether your goal is strength, size, tone or fitness. Every physical movement involves engaging your core muscles to help perform the “driving” part of the exercise.
This is why the overhead shoulder press is such an effective movement. It forces you to engage your core muscles in order to stabilise your body position whilst directly overloading every aspect of the shoulder girdle (anterior, lateral and posterior deltoids in conjunction with your trapezius – or simply the whole shoulder!). And it engages your legs for added stabilisation.
This all equates to mega calorie burnage due to the sheer number of areas being targeted at once.
5. Chest presses
This is the one all the blokes love, although it’s brilliant for women too. The flat chest press targets your pictorial muscles (overall chest area), shoulders, triceps and includes core engagement – it’s simply brilliant for almost every aspect of your upper body.
Even the lats (back muscles) are involved during the “drive” part of the press – this really is a must have exercise if you’re serious about developing your physique whilst burning calories.
Just like with the barbell row (of which this can be viewed as a polar opposite), imagine your body being viewed from the side and split it into two sections. The vast majority of the front of the body is used with some assistance coming from the triceps (back of the arms) and lats at the rear of the body.
Even though I described this as being a go-to exercise for the entire male gym populace, it’s important to understand that women and resistance training is a match made in heaven. Women do not contain enough free growth hormone within their bodies to stimulate muscle growth in the same manner as a man’s body – it is quite literally impossible for a woman to get “buff” without artificial assistance.
Instead, women get toned and honed whilst vastly improving total body strength (including skeletal integrity) and fitness levels – that’s ultimately what the majority of gym goers are trying to achieve.
The same can be said for using free weights as opposed to machinery – they simply make you use more and therefore burn more whilst having a much more beneficial effect on your body on the whole.
How do you make something more intense? Do it in mid air! Plyometric movements involve getting a muscle group to the highest level of intensity possible within a tiny space of time – it’s all about maximum exertion and high level muscular performance.
This is perhaps why plyometric exercises play such an important role in the training routines of athletes all over the world in order to develop not only strong, but powerful muscles that have been carved out for that “110%” performance edge.
These exercises are also fantastic because they simply add another layer onto what is often already a very effective exercise. This increases its overall effectiveness and leads to more calories being burned.
We function within three different intensity zones:
adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
When performing plyometric exercises, we start in the aerobic zone, before then going into the anaerobic training zone and finally breaking into the ATP system to perform the “jumping” section of the exercise.
By cycling through our various energy systems like this we are giving ourselves the most intense workout possible. So we not only burn more calories per “square unit” of exercise, we also make ourselves as fit, strong and healthy as possible – our stabilisation muscles get a thorough work through due to the “launch” and impact of the “landing” aspects of a plyometric exercise too.
Examples of plyometric exercises are clap press ups, jumping squats, jumping lunges and burpees.
Add them to your routine today!