The 10 Best Exercises to Include In Your Workouts
Fitness trends may come and go, but combining these classic exercises can help you create some of the best workouts for women — or literally anyone.
Trendy workouts always pop up in an attempt to keep things interesting and inspire people to move (here for that!), but some add up to little more than pricey toys or memberships you never use. To cut through the noise, here’s a solid set of the best exercises for girls — or guys, or literally anyone! — that will help you feel strong and confident when added to heart-pumping workouts. Best part? They don’t require tons of equipment — you just need a yoga mat (or soft floor), something to step up on, and a pair of light- and medium-weight dumbbells.
Read on for 10 of the best exercises for strengthening your core, inner thighs, butt, and shoulders, plus tips on how to combine them into one of the best workouts for women — or literally anyone.
For a Total-Body Workout
How to do it: For a quick, total-body workout, pick five of these exercises and do three sets of each. Move as fast as possible between moves to keep your heart rate up.
The next day, do three sets of the other five exercises. You can incorporate a few sets of cardio intervals into the total-body training session or do it separately for a longer period of time. (Also try this spicy full-body circuit you can do at home.)
To Target a Specific Zone
How to do it: If you want to strengthen one or two areas in particular (maybe you’re especially interested in abs workouts or arm workouts), pick the exercises that focus on those areas and incorporate them into your existing workout routine. Just remember to continue challenging your body by gradually increasing the weight or number of reps as you get stronger — these will only prove to be the best exercises if you’re working hard enough!
“Deadlifts are one of the best exercises for working the back of your body, including your glutes, hamstrings, and back,” says Jacquelyn Brennan, C.S.C.S., a personal trainer and co-founder of Pilates + Coffee in Chicago. (FYI: That’s all part of your very important posterior chain.) Performing this exercise on one leg also adds a bonus balance challenge to this workout.
A. Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand with weight in right foot.
B. Keeping core engaged and chest tall during the entire movement, lift left foot behind body and bend knee so left lower leg is parallel to the floor.
C. Bend forward at hips and slowly lower body as far as possible.
D. Pause, then push body back to starting position. While coming up, think about using glutes to push hips forward instead of lifting from back.
Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.
Planks are one of the best exercises for your abs, considering they work your deep inner core muscles (including your transverse abdominis), which helps stabilize your spine and power your workouts, says Brennan. This oblique-targeting variation is a nice way to work your abs in areas crunches often miss.
A. Lie on right side of body with knees straight. Prop upper body up onto right elbow and forearm.
B. Raise hips until body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
C. Turn around to lie on left side and repeat.
Do 2 holds per side (then work up to 45- and 60-second holds as you progress).
A perfect-form push-up challenges the entire body (especially your chest). This is one of the best exercises to include in workouts because it trains your body in a functional movement pattern, helping improve your performance in other exercises at the gym as well as in your daily life.
A. Start on all fours and place hands on the floor so that they’re slightly wider than and in line with shoulders, feet close together.
B. Keeping hips lifted and core braced the entire time, lower body until chest nearly touches the floor, then push back up to starting position.
Do 15 reps.
Second Position Pliés
Your lower body — yes, your entire lower body — loves pliés. “They work all of the larger muscles in the lower half of the body, making them incredibly efficient and effective at both building muscle and burning calories,” says Brennan. Turning your toes out during this move means that the squat motion will target the inner thighs as well as the gluteus minimus (aka the side of your butt). Add them to your leg day routine to dial it up a notch.
A. Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly.
B. Lower body down by bending knees until thighs are parallel to the floor. Bring arms overhead and shoulders down and back.
C. Pause, then slowly push back up to starting position.
Do 15 reps.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great exercise format because you get the same results as endurance workouts in a fraction of the time. (And that’s just one of the many benefits of HIIT.) Try incorporating it into your workout routine twice a week on alternate days.
Choose any piece of cardio equipment such as an elliptical, jump rope, treadmill, or bike, then try these intervals (or opt for a bodyweight HIIT workout instead):
- 3 minutes at 50 percent of your maximum effort
- 20 seconds at 75 percent of your maximum effort
- 10 seconds at your absolute maximum effort
Do 10 reps of the circuit.
Triceps kickbacks (and their exercise cousin skull crushers) are stellar at zoning in on triceps, sure — but they also hit your traps, which many people overlook, says Brennan. Hitting your traps and triceps with this movement will balance out your biceps and keep your arms strong. Try this exercise with light weights and high reps, or if you prefer, step up to a weight you can do with good form for 10 to 15 reps.
A. Start in a lunge position with right leg forward and left heel on the ground, holding a 2- to 3-pound dumbbell in each hand.
B. Lean over front bent knee while lifting left arm straight up by side, top of the weight facing the ceiling.
C. Lift and lower the weight about an inch.
Do 30 reps. Switch sides; repeat.
This is one of the best exercises for targeting the muscles of your glutes and hamstrings. Step-ups also target your quadriceps since they require you to straighten your knee against resistance.
A. Stand in front of a bench or step and place left foot firmly on the step.
B. Keeping chest tall and core engaged the entire time, press left foot into the step and push body up until left leg is straight. Keep weight balanced evenly, not leaning too far forward or too far back.
C. Lower body back down until right foot touches the floor to complete the rep.
Do 10 reps. Switch sides; repeat.
Bridges are not only one of the best exercises to strengthen your butt, but they will also strengthen your back and help to keep it healthy and pain-free, making them a perfect addition to any workout.
A. Lie faceup on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
B. Raise hips so body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees.
C. Pause at the top of the movement, then lower body back down to starting position.
Do 20 reps.
Plank with Arm Raise
Adding an arm raise to the forearm plank, which is already an excellent core exercise, makes it even more of a stability challenge — which in turn improves posture and core strength.
A. Start in a push-up position, then bend elbows and rest weight on forearms instead of hands. Body should form a straight line from shoulders to ankles.
B. Brace core and maintain hip placement while lifting left arm straight out in front of body. Draw shoulder blades down and back while lifting arm.
C. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then switch sides; repeat.
Do 5 reps per side.
There are so many physical and mental benefits of yoga, so why not include bits of the practice in your workouts? Inversion postures are great for relaxation, blood flow, and gaining a new perspective. This is one of the best exercises for women — or anyone! — to add to their workout, but you can also add more chill inversions to other parts of your life. For example, try putting your legs up the wall for a few minutes every night before bed. (Or do this bedtime yoga flow!)
A. Lie faceup and lift legs and hips off the ground, bringing legs up over head until toes touch the floor behind body.
B. Place hands behind back and extend legs straight in the air, creating a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Keep neck relaxed while holding the shoulder stand.
Hold for 1 minute (or as long as you’re comfortable balancing).