Squats are arguably the best exercise for developing power and strength. Squats aid balance and posture and are excellent for increasing overall core strength. They are a compound exercise that benefits and/or increase strength in the:
- Legs overall
- Hamstrings at the back of the thigh
- Front of thighs (quadriceps)
- Buttocks (gluteus minimus and maximum)
- Groin muscles (abductors)
- Hip flexors
- Multiple muscles in the back
Squats can be performed in a variety of ways, from high bar squats with a weighted barbell to simply using one's own body weight or using two dumbbells or kettlebells. Squats are an excellent exercise to prevent injury if performed correctly. Front squats are also an excellent way of strengthening one's thighs.
If squatting with heavyweights, it is advisable to have spotters on standby or at least use a squat rack or cage with safety bars. An accident with a heavyweight on the barbell can cause serious injury. Squats are one of the three disciplines used in all Powerlifting Federations.
Although powerlifting has so far only been a 'demonstration sport' at the Olympics, it is a constant at the Special Olympics.
Many proponents will claim that deadlifts and not squats are the best all-around strength-building exercises. Let us not get into that controversy here! There is no doubt that deadlifts are an excellent compound exercise that strengthens/tones:
- Hip flexors
- Both lower and back muscles
Deadlifts without a doubt strengthen and improve one's posterior chain. They also help with one's balance and posture. Because of the range of motion (ROM) involved with deadlifting, they are an excellent way of getting rid of belly fat. Deadlifts and squats are increasingly popular with women due to their building up glute muscles for the 'thicc' look that is currently fashionable.
Like all strength-building sports involving weights or even body weight, it is worth stressing that women do not get 'bulked up' as men do when lifting weights but instead tone, not least due to the dearth of Testosterone in the female body.
Like squats and bench pressing, deadlifts are one of the only three disciplines performed at powerlifting meets (competitions) whether at the local level or at the elite IPF level.
3. Calf Raises
Calf raises are basically isolation exercises that, no surprise, strengthen or tone the calves at the lower half of the leg. They are basically performed with the heels hanging lower than the toes and then raised up in repetitions to flex the calf muscles.
They are an excellent accessory exercise to build 'explosiveness' when performing squats. They also increase posture and balance and can be performed with or without weights. They also strengthen the tendons in the lower leg area.
Calf raises can be performed sitting down on a multi-gym type machine, with a barbell on one's shoulders or holding dumbbells. They are just as effective performed on stairs at home while holding a bannister or wall for balance. A similar effect can be achieved by walking up stairs using the front or balls of one's feet.
4. Bent Over Rowing
Bent over rowing primarily strengthens the muscles in the:
- The muscles around the back (Latissumus dorsi)
- The upper back muscles (Trapezius)
- The arms, primarily the biceps
- The mid to upper back muscles (Rhomboids)
Bent over rowing can be seen as a compound exercise and can be performed with either a barbell or dumbbells. It is worth noting that bent over rowing can cause back injuries if performed incorrectly or by using heavier weights than one is used to.
5. Lat Pulldowns
The lat pulldown strengthens/tones the Latissimus Dorsi muscle in one's back and also works on one's shoulders. Lat pulldowns improve one's posture and also increase shoulder function. With men, they will broaden one's back and with females, they will become more toned.
They are often viewed as an alternative to pull-ups. Lat pulldowns are performed on a multi-gym type machine or an attachment to a bench. Some prefer to pull the bar down behind the head although the general consensus is that pulling the bar down in front of the body produces the best results and lessens the risk of injury.
Lat pulldowns are generally used with a wide grip although lat pulldowns with a narrow grip are also beneficial. Personally, I use a combination of both.
6. Bicep Curls
Bicep curls can be performed in a variety of different ways and using a wide range of equipment. There are also variations of this exercise including the concentration curl and the preacher curl. As the name suggests, this exercise works the biceps, a muscle group in two parts hence the 'bi' at the upper front of one's arms.
Equipment commonly used are:
- A barbell
- An EZ curl bar
- And even two shopping bags filled with a few tinned foods like soup cans be used for bicep curls if you are short on equipment at home (weight is weight, after all, it doesn't have to look fancy) or your busy schedule does not allow you to spend hours travelling to and from and using a commercial gym. This applies to many of the other exercises listed above.
Biceps curls also build, tone and strengthen the muscles in the lower arm (brachialis and brachioradialis). For men, the general consensus is that eight reps and over are required to build bicep muscles. For women, as always, this exercise will not give you massive arms for reasons cited earlier in this article and will tone and strengthen your arms.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Liam A Ryan