What if you knew that by focusing on just a few primary weight-lifting exercises you were told you could tone your whole body? It’d be like having a secret that all of the people in the gym focusing on wrist curls and calf raises don’t know, right? Well guess what… there are such exercises, four primary exercises to be exact that strengthen and tone your whole body. By focusing primarily on training with these four compound exercises, you will get stronger everywhere.
One of the myths of the modern gym scene full of specialized machines is that you need to do workouts aimed at targeting every tiny muscle in your body. On the contrary, by targeting major muscle groups through the following four exercises, your whole body will undergo a transformation. So stop wasting your time on things that don’t matter in the gym and focus on the stuff that will give you real gains.
As muscles are toned they actually build up slightly as more protein is packed into the myofibril part of the cell to make the cell more dense, this is how the muscle becomes firm. Toning the body is best achieved by performing these basic muscle building exercises.
The best exercises to tone body
Rawwwr, squats! If you could only do one type of exercise for the rest of your life, squats should be your choice. They target “just” the quadriceps (thighs), lower back and the buttocks, hamstrings, calves, back and abdomen areas. Squats strengthen more than just the legs. They increase your flexibility, give you stronger knees, and build muscle so fast you’ll be confused at how your jeans are looser around the waist but tighter around the thighs. There is no greater exercise for strengthening your body.
Many people have confusing ideas about the proper way to do a squat. The most common mistake people make when doing a squat is not going down far enough. No pain, no gain! Proper squat form involves your hip joint going down below the level of your knees. The “half squats” many people do where they stick their butt out a little bit and come right back up are dangerous for the knees despite being preached as being safer. Don’t listen to this misguided info. The “deep squat” position is very natural for humans. Babies sit in it all the time. Most of just lose this level of flexibility over the course of our lives by failing to practice squats.
Here is a great video for showing proper squat form technique. Skip to the 1:40 mark. Notice how his hips go down below his knees into the “deep squat” position?
Start practicing the proper squat form using just the bar (45 lbs). Almost every man and most women should be able to squat this weight without any previous training. Start doing squats two times a week. A typical squat workout should look something like this:
- Warm-up (10-12 reps with just bar)
- 5 reps at semi-challenging weight
- 5 reps at challenging weight
- 1 (go for 2-3 if you can!) at challenging weight
- 4-8 sets of 2-3 reps at challenging weight (gradually taper off weight between sets as you grow fatigued)
The hardest part of a squat for most people just starting out is the hip flexibility. Practice doing “air squats” for a while where you get your hip all the way down below your knees. It will feel awkward, challenging, and uncomfortable at first, but before you know it you’ll be throwing loads of weight on your back and doing it no problem.
2. Bench press
The bench press strengthens the chest, triceps and shoulders. Grip the bar in a way that when you lower it down to your chest (and yes, a proper bench press rep involves bringing the bar all the way down) your forearms will be vertical. You don’t want to waste energy pushing inward or outward on the upward motion of the rep. Inhale as you lower the bar to your sternum and be ready to exhale as you spring the bar back up. Commit this breathing pattern to memory for every weight-lifting exercise: inhale on non-stress part of the rep, exhale on the lift. A big secret of the bench press is to use your legs to assist the lift. By driving your feet into the ground on the upward lift, you get more power.
It’s advisable to always use a spotter when bench pressing unless you are 100% sure it’s a weight you won’t have a problem handling. A spotter is not just for the overly cautious. They can be used to help you squeeze out 1-2 more reps than you may have dared to try without their assistance in the wings.
Rawwwr, deadlifts! Like the squat, this lift involves about every muscle in your body. It will strengthen your back, legs, butt, and grip (forearms).
Form is of the utmost importance with this exercise as the risk of injury to the lower back can be very high if you are not doing the lift properly. The most important tip for doing a deadlift is to never round your back.
See this great resource on how to do a deadlift before attempting this exercise. As is the rule with all weight-training, focus first and foremost on form before strength. It’s never a bad idea to lift a little bit less than you think you probably can so as not to risk compromising your form. Weight-lifting and building strength is a slow process so don’t try to turn into Arnold on one visit to the gym. Just like weight loss, there are no shortcuts to building strength safely.
This rowing movement can be just as effective as chins and stresses the upper back, biceps and forearms.
4. Overhead shoulder press
The overhead shoulder press targets the shoulders, chest and triceps while calling on the back and abs for stability during the lift. Avoid the mistake of arching your back during the lift. It’s tempting to do this since it can help you lift more weight, but it also increases the risk of injury. You can avoid doing it by tightening your glutes (butt) during the lift.
Lock your elbows at the top of the lift and bring the bar back down to your collarbone. This is a great lift whether you’re looking to build lean mass by doing several reps or strength by lifting a heavier weight for fewer reps.
Cycle through the above four exercises weekly in your fitness routine and watch as your metabolism increases, weight goes down, strength and confidence go up!