Best Exercise? The Key to Workout Success

I’m like anyone else and I have favorite exercises that I always use for myself and for my clients. I hate to label any one exercise as the ‘best’ or the ‘worst’ though, since there are a number of factors that play into what may make them the best or worst. Sometimes an exercise is the best in one situation and totally uncalled for in another.

But, since I said I’d narrow it down, I’m going to give you exercises that generally are my favorites and I’ll tell you why.

Burn Baby Burn!

The more muscles you use in an exercise, the more calories you’re going to burn. So, for that reason alone, I prefer complex movements.

A simple movement would be something like a bicep curl. This movement only recruits the muscles of the arm. As opposed to something like a deadlift which would recruit muscles in the legs, trunk and arms.

More muscles used, more calories burned, make sense?

Let’s take another example from the gym:

The leg extension machine uses a simple, isolated movement to work the quadriceps. You’re in a seated position moving only your knee joint. There isn’t much involvement, if any, from other muscles and it doesn’t burn very many calories.

Now let’s look at a free weight walking lunge. You start by standing with your feet together and a dumbbell in each hand at your sides (or a barbell across your shoulders, or a medicine ball held at your chest, or even with no weight at all). You take a large step forward and lower your back knee, keeping your front knee at a 90 degree angle. Now you push off your front foot and pull your back leg forward, repeating the movement.

How many muscles did you utilize while performing the lunge? Probably too many to count.

You certainly worked your quadriceps, gluteus, hamstrings, calves, abdominals, supporting muscles in your shoulders, arms and back-just to name a few. You also raised your heart rate and really kicked your metabolism into high gear. That’s what I call a great exercise.

But, if you’re recovering from any kind of knee injury, then perhaps the leg extension is the best exercise for you. Or if your knees can’t tolerate the lunge, then hitting the quads with the leg extension may be totally appropriate and then hitting the stationary bike to get some HIIT in (high intensity interval training).

So, there may not be ONE best exercise, but as a general rule of thumb, it’s best to do exercises that use more than one muscle in the execution of it. You get more bang for you buck this way in that you’ll reduce your over all workout time and increase intensity.

Here are just a few of my favorites: the squat, the shoulder press/squat, the lunge, the deadlift, the deadlift burpee, the push up, the T push up, the inchworm push up.

And speaking of intensity…this is THE KEY to your workout success.

It doesn’t matter what exercise you do, if you don’t put in 110% effort, there’s not much point. Well, I stand corrected. You can benefit, by MAINTAINING your fitness level by doing the same exercises with the same intensity day in and day out. Your body will remain as it is, no more fit, but no less fit (or fat for that matter).

Most of you aren’t satisfied with the status quo though. If you’re like the majority, you want to leave your workout with the hope that your jeans are going to fit better at the end of the day.

This being the case lets look at a few ways you can increase your intensity with your workouts. It all has to do with the clock. You can lessen your rest periods, or increase your work in the same period of time. I love to time my workouts and then either beat my time or do more reps in the same amount of time.

So for example, I’ve been doing the 200 push up a day challenge. This can get pretty boring so I try to spice up the way I do these push ups daily.

Sometimes I throw my push ups in (in sets of 20-30) between opposing body part exercises. These are called super sets. If I’m doing squats, then I’ll do 20 push ups as my ‘active rest’. This way I get to rest my legs, but I still work my upper body. I’ve just increased the intensity of my leg workout since I won’t get as much rest between my sets of squats and I’ve hit my upper body and core with all the push ups.

Sometimes I’ll do push ups for time. Every now and then, I’ll just start my push ups and the clock and just pound them out until I’m done. If I need to take short rests (and I do!), then I will. The last time I did this, I did sets of 100. I did my first set in 1:52 and my second set of 100 in 1:57 after a 3 min break. I tell you this not to brag or anything. I tell you because the first time I did this protocol, it took me over seven minutes to complete the 200 push ups. In a few months I’ve shaved off a few minutes off my time. I keep challenging myself and my body keeps responding. What an amazing machine our bodies are!

(By the way, if you do the push up challenge, choose a number to do daily that will challenge you but not overwhelm you. Your number may be 50 or 100 push ups that you perform through out the day in smaller sets.)

So, to close off, I have to say that I have no ONE FAV exercise (although for me, the push up seems to be the unsung hero for upper body and core strength). I suggest compound exercises that use a number of muscles all at once. And the biggest factor to workout success is to maintain intensity in any exercise that you do.

Train harder than you ever have and you’ll look better than you ever have, even naked. (Okay, that will only be true if you have your nutrition dialed in, but that’s a topic for another day.)