The Top 10 Best Exercises

Get the most out of your limited workout time by using our guide to the best exercises for 10 of the major body parts. 

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The body parts covered in this exercise guide include the chest, glutes, abs, back, hamstrings, upper arms, thighs, waist, hips and shoulders.

1

Best for chest exercise: The push-up

A push-up can be completed anywhere and uses almost every muscle in the body, particularly your chest muscles. Frequent push-ups increase your functional and core strength and can help prevent back and shoulder injuries. While the bench press is a great alternative, most of us don't lift as much weight in the bench press as we do in a push-up. In one study, researchers found that 66.4 per cent of total body weight is lifted in a full push-up. The push-up can also be adapted to increase in difficulty by elevating both of your feet off the ground or by completing a single leg push up.

Best alternative exercises: Bench press or Kettle bell fly

2

Best exercise for glutes: The squat

You are spoilt for choice when it comes to exercises that work the glutes, but according to research by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the squat always comes out on top. The research found that the most muscle activity in the gluteus maximus (the main muscle of the glutes) occurred during squats, but only when testers went to 90 degrees or lower. This is because the deeper a squat is, the more muscle fibers it utilises. However, when you’re completing squats you should only go as low as is comfortable for you. Once you have perfected the techniques, you can then start to add light weights into the exercise.

Best alternative exercises: The quadruped or weighted walking lunges

3

Best exercise for abs: The bicycle manoeuvre

The abs are often the one area most people want to focus on with their training. For a long time sit ups were considered the best way to tone and strengthen your abs, however research found that completing sit ups alone would have little impact on toning your abs. Instead use the bicycle manoeuvre to strengthen your core and to see an improvement in your abs. This exercise will strengthen your internal and external obliques among other core muscles. An added benefit of this exercise is that it requires no extra equipment and can therefore be done anywhere.

Best alternative exercises: Elevated bird dog or plank

4

Best exercise for the back: Pull-up

A great exercise to work your back is the pull-up. This exercise targets the latissimus dorsi (lats) and rhomboids muscles of the back, however due to the nature of the movement, other muscles such as the biceps and deltoid are also utilised in the pull up. To complete a pull-up with good technique, place your hands shoulder width apart on a bar with your palms facing towards or away from yourself. Then pull your body weight up towards the bar, so that your chin is over the top. If you find that your legs are swinging when completing this exercise, cross your feet over to prevent unnecessary movement.

Best alternative exercises: Lateral pull-down or deadlift

5

Best exercise for hamstrings: Swiss ball hamstring curl

Completing Swiss ball hamstring curls are a good way to improve your hamstrings. To complete this exercise, put your feet on a Swiss ball, so that your heels are in a stable position on the ball, then lift your body off the floor and form a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. Then proceed to roll the ball towards your body by bending your knees. Hold the position for a few seconds then roll the ball out again and repeat the movement. This particular exercise will exercise your hamstrings and also works your core due to the unstable surface of the Swiss ball.

Best alternative exercises: Romanian deadlift or step-ups

6

Best exercise for upper arms: Triceps dips

When it comes to upper arms, most people think about the biceps, which run along the front of the arm. But actually the triceps is a much bigger muscle, and working it will make the overall appearance of the arm firmer. One of the best exercises you can do to improve this muscle is triceps dips. This exercise can be completed at home with the aid of a stable chair or step. Doing triceps dips are a good way to improve your upper arms strength using only your own body weight.

Best alternative exercises: Triceps kick backs or triangle push ups

7

Best exercise for thighs: The lunge

The lunge is an exercise that works a range of muscles, alongside improving core strength and flexibility; the lunge is also extremely effective in improving your thighs. It is crucial that the correct technique is followed to reduce the risk of injury with this exercise. Weights can also be added once the correct lunge technique is engaged to progress further in the exercise. The lunge is another exercise that can be done anywhere, which makes it a good move to introduce into your workout. 

Best alternative exercises: The step-up or squat

8

Best for waist: The side bridge

To tighten the muscles and reduce your risk of back pain, the side bridge is a good exercise to complete. Lie on your side with your weight resting on your forearm, so that your body is in a diagonal line, with your upper leg directly on top of your lower leg. Then lift your hips upwards so that your body is supported by the lower part of your legs and your forearm. Then repeat the exercise on the opposing side. The side bridge will also improve your core and back muscles.

Best alternative exercises: Sideways sit-ups using a Swiss ball

9

Best exercise for hips: The single-leg squat

Research at San Diego State University found that the single-leg squat was the move that most challenged the gluteus medius - the muscle in the hip. To do this exercise, place both arms out in front of you, stand on one leg and extend your floating leg slightly in front. Then bend your supporting leg, and squat as far as you can while keeping the elevated leg from touching the floor. This exercise is difficult to master and will take a few attempts to complete with good coordination. The single-leg squat is great for improving your balance, flexibility and also for building leg strength.

Best alternative exercises: Side-lying leg raises or hip raises

10

Best for shoulders exercise: The lateral shoulder raise

The shoulder muscle (the deltoids) consists of three divisions: Medial, anterior and posterior. The posterior assists in exercises such as the seated row, while the anterior is active virtually every time the chest muscles are working (such as push-ups). The lateral shoulder raise is a good exercise to target the medial head alongside working the other two muscles. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand and lean forward slightly. Then lift the dumbbells out to your side maintaining a slight bend in each elbow until they reach just past the shoulder point. Lower the weights and repeat.

Best alternative exercises: Standing dumbbell press or seated military press

Doing what’s best for your body

By doing the best exercises for each part of your body, as described here, you will be more likely to improve your major muscle groups. However, you should remember that variety is key when it comes to resistance training – so make sure you always do a selection of exercises for each part of your body, and exercise different muscles rather than focusing on one particular part all the time.