Five Great Strength Training Exercises for All of Us

Far too many Americans are sitting all day long — here's how to get out of that chair and build muscle for good health

It is no secret and no surprise: There are many benefits that come with an active lifestyle.

We can improve our heart health, our mental health, our sleep patterns, and nearly everything else with increased physical activity.

Many people, however, seem to focus solely on cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, if they do anything at all.

While regular cardio exercise will help us get in shape over time and lose any excess weight we might be carrying, studies show that the weight we lose will actually be a combination of both muscle and fat if strength training is not present.

Although cardio exercises may boost metabolism, strength training exercises will not only boost metabolism but also keep the metabolic rate elevated long after the weights are placed back down, much longer than after cardio alone.

Some studies even say that a person’s metabolism can remain raised for up to 38 hours after a weight training session.

What this means is that during the day or two after a workout, we’ll burn more calories no matter what we’re doing, whether we’re working at a desk or slouching at home on the couch watching television.

Weight training can also improve mood, fight osteoporosis, enhance posture, increase balance, and boost self-confidence — along with helping our overall health.

For people hesitant to enter a gym for the first time in a long while, figuring out exactly what to do upon arriving there can be a difficult and even anxiety-inducing decision. There are numerous machines and free weights from wall to wall — with people of varying physiques dispersed among them. “I want to lose weight and maybe build some lean muscle along the way, so where do I start?” plenty of us may wonder.

The list that follows offers a handful of exercises that collectively touch on every existing muscle group. Even for those of us without a gym membership, the majority of these lifts (or a variation of them) can be executed in the comfort of our own homes — with little or no equipment. So there’s no excuse whatsoever!

1.) Squats. This movement is suitable for people of all physical strengths — and can be easily performed at home with no equipment. Considered by many to be the single best quadriceps exercise, the squat also hits the hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles.

The squat also activates the core stabilizer muscles in order to keep our bodies upright, and, frankly, to prevent us from falling over as we perform the movement.

Far too many of us today lead sedentary lifestyles, either because of our work schedules, our hobbies, or just a lifestyle choice. The squat is something we can do wherever and whenever to activate many muscle groups and also give us a little metabolism boost.

2.) Dead lifts. Putting more muscles to work than any other single-movement lift out there, the dead lift is arguably the most time-efficient way to get an all-around good workout. It not only works the quadriceps as the squat does, but it also hits the hamstrings and the glutes unlike any other exercise. The muscular engagement doesn’t stop at the lower body, either: The dead lift works the back and core, too, as it even uses every last one of the abdominal muscles.

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research — which is good news for those of us tired of doing countless crunches and situps without noticeable results — demonstrates that the core is better trained by dead lifts and squats than by more specific abdominal exercises. Also, a number of shoulder and arm muscles are also worked as we hold the bar, as opposed to propping it up on the shoulders during squats.

3.) Bench press and overhead press. Arguably the most common lift seen in gyms everywhere, the bench press works a plethora of upper body muscles. One of the highest regarded compound exercises out there, the bench press not only works the pectorals or chest muscles, but it also does the shoulders, the triceps, the lats, and even core stabilizer muscles.

Any of us can perform this with either a singular barbell — or a pair of dumbbells of appropriate weight.

For more emphasis on the triceps, shoulders, lats, and upper chest muscles, try the overhead press. If you do this particular press while standing, you’ll engage the core even more, as it has to work to keep the body upright.

If you don’t have access to a barbell, or if you’re currently at the beginner level, push-ups will work the muscles in a similar fashion.

4.) Pullups and chin-ups. This compound exercise puts nearly every muscle above the waist to work — and all you need is a bar. For those looking to simultaneously work our arms, back and core, and even achieve that desirable “V shape,” this is the exercise for you.

Pullups arguably target the lats more than any other exercise, while also engaging the biceps, forearms, shoulders, pectorals, and abdominals along with the entirety of the core.

Scores of us spend the majority of our days in sedentary activity — so there’s an increased need for core training.

For those who cannot yet achieve a pullup or for those who don’t have access to a bar, don’t fret. There are “assisted pullup” machines and also lat pull-down machines, which emulate the necessary movements in a satisfactory manner while allowing you to adjust the weight accordingly. Also, many pullup bars are available online for less than $20 — and can easily be attached to just about any doorway.

5.) Plank. Scores of us spend the majority of our days in sedentary activity — so there’s an increased need for core training; the midsection is simply not engaged if we’re sitting in a chair. Many of the above exercises touch on the core; however, the employment of this particular exercise will really zero in on it, as the primary muscles involved are the abdominals, the back, and the rest of the core.

All you need is your body, the floor, and a minute or two. This exercise will also work the glutes, the shoulders and the quadriceps.