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Are You Making Smart Exercise Choices?
July 18, 2014

Does It Really Matter?

Too often I see people training at the gym and their workouts make no sense at all. Trust me people, there is a reason to do things in a structured sequence. If you hit the gym in a haphazard way, your results will be haphazard. Is that truly what you want? I think not!

Start with a 5 to 10 minute warm up on the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike, and then train your big muscle groups before you move to the smaller ones, i.e., save arms for last when training upper body. Think about it: You use your arms for the entire upper body workout, so if you exhaust them before you train your chest, back, and shoulders, you probably won’t get a very good chest, back, and shoulder workout, now will you?

First off, let’s step into an imaginary Exercise 101 class, shall we? Exercises can be either compound or isolation.

Compound exercises are double-joint exercises that work more than one muscle at a time, i.e., presses, pull-downs, rows, squats, lunges, leg presses, etc. You should do a majority of compound exercises per session and unless you are an advanced lifter you should usually do them before the isolation exercises.

Isolation exercises are single-joint exercises that work primarily one muscle, i.e., curls, extensions, raises, flys, reverse flys, etc.

I like to try and do at least one of each (compound and isolation) for each muscle group. For instance, for a chest workout I may prescribe flat dumbbell chest press (compound) and pec fly machine (isolation) in the same workout or maybe machine chest press (compound) and incline dumbbell flys (isolation).

Of course, ask a dozen trainers and you’ll get a dozen different ways to train. Variety is the spice of life and this holds true especially with strength training. The last thing you want is for your muscle to get used to the exercises due to always doing the same thing for a very long period of time. This will ensure failure to progress. Change up your workouts in order to keep that muscle guessing. That’s the ticket to continued growth and progress.

You will need to choose a couple of exercises for each major muscle group (assuming you’ve been doing this a couple of months). Start out with one exercise for each group if you are a complete novice. The major muscle groups are chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, abs, and lower back.

Caveat: Proper form is paramount. For example, when performing a fly you must keep your elbows locked into a slightly bent position in order to only use one joint. If you bend and unbend (as in sloppy form) you lose the isolation effect completely.

I will list some basic compound exercises for each muscle group respectively:

  • Chest – DB (dumbbell) Chest Press or Chest Press Machine
  • Back – Lat Pulldown
  • Shoulders – DB Shoulder Press or Shoulder Press Machine
  • Biceps – Chin Ups
  • Triceps – Close Grip Pushups
  • Quadriceps – Leg Press
  • Hamstrings – Lunges
  • Calves – Swiss Ball Leg Curls
  • Abs – Crunches
  • Lower back – Supermans

    Now, I will list some isolation exercises for each major muscle group, or at least as close to isolation as is possible for that muscle group:

  • Chest – DB fly or Fly Machine
  • Back – Reverse fly
  • Shoulders – Side Lateral Raise
  • Biceps – DB Biceps Curls
  • Triceps – Triceps Pressdowns
  • Quadriceps – Leg Extensions
  • Hamstrings – Leg Curls
  • Calves – Heel Raises
  • Abs – Crunches and twist crunches
  • Lower Back – Back Extensions

    So, basically, if you choose one of each of the compound and isolation exercises per muscle group and do a couple of sets per exercise, you will get a pretty darn good workout. Now, you should be warned that there are several varieties of each of the above exercises. You can do them inclined, flat, or declined. You can use a bar, a dumbbell, a machine, or a cable device. You can use barbells or a Smith machine. To further confuse things, when using a cable machine you can use a plethora of different attachments. For example, you may want to use a rope, V-bar, single handles, and myriad other gadgets when doing pressdowns, curls, or whatever you’ve decided to do.

    I don’t mean to make this sound confusing. It isn’t, I promise. However, if you are a novice, you may want to hire a personal trainer to teach you the ropes (pun intended) and help ensure that you get the absolute best bang for your buck in the gym. At the very least, arm yourself with a little knowledge by purchasing one or all of my books or researching via the web. In today’s age of technology there really is no excuse for stepping blindly into the gym and throwing around some weights and expecting to see results. Unfortunately, it seems to be a rampant occurrence, which probably explains why so many people hit the gym, day in and day out, year after year, and never see a change in their bodies. It’s sad really.

    What’s That You Say? You Don’t Know How To Do The Exercises I Listed Above?

    One such website that will help you structure your workout wisely guessed it...! Just go there and check out the “Compound” and “Isolation” pages I linked above and then click on the Gym Equipment Guide tab. It’s free people, and it tells you everything you need to know and more about how to work out and how to train smart. It even has start and finish pictures of the aforementioned exercises along with written instructions on how to properly perform them. You can either click on my “Exercise Video” tab from there or click here, to go to my YouTube channel to watch many of these exercises in action.

    Well, I trust this will help get you closer to a sensible workout and a routine that will yield the results you are looking for. Please do not hesitate to contact me for help with structuring a training session that will get you the best possible results in the least amount of time. After all, isn’t that what we all want?

    Disclaimer: Always check with your doctor before beginning this or any exercise program.

    For more tips and info that can help you get better results from your fitness plan, be sure and check out my new eBook So You Joined a Gym...Now What? Part II Essential Workout Tips & Secrets for Beginners: How to Exercise & Train Smart." The information in this book will kick your workouts into overdrive, no matter what your level of fitness. Because it matters HOW YOU WORKOUT! This book will show you how. Go to Smashwords for any other format that isn't covered at Amazon.

    I thought I'd take advantage of this opportunity to show the importance of proper form with an isolation exercise. For that reason this month's exercise is the DB Chest Fly. You must keep your arms locked in a slightly bent position rather than bending and unbending at the elbow. This ensures movement of only one joint (shoulder joint) thereby better isolating the chest muscles. If you bend and straighten them, using poor form, your biceps and triceps will be assisting.

    Incline DB Fly
    Primary Muscle Group Worked:

    To see a video of this exercise click here.

    Preparation: Lie on your back on an incline bench; hold a dumbbell in each hand above your shoulders with your elbows locked in a slightly bent position as shown. Optional: You may put your feet up on the bench as shown to protect lower back if desired, which is why I called it "modified" in the video.

    Execution: Inhale as you move the dumbbells away from each other and lower them towards the floor. Exhale as you slowly return the dumbbells to the starting position. Repeat as required.

    TIPS: As you lower the dumbbells keep a slight bend locked into the elbows being sure to keep them flared as if reaching around something big throughout the move (like hugging a tree). Picture making a circle with the arms at the top of the move and opening the circle as you lower the dumbbells, keeping the wrists straight and keeping the elbows flared throughout.

    HEREIN LIES THE CHALLENGE: Have I mentioned keeping the elbows flared? Sorry, couldn't resist, but it is majorly important for safety and effectiveness. So Just Do It! Go slow. Do Not Rush This. Pull out around 8-12 reps. Always choose a weight that makes the last two very challenging yet still doable in good form.

    Okay, peeps! You know I usually like to make you think, cry, or laugh with these vids, right? This week has been a bit stressful, so I decided to go with laughter. Today whilst perusing FB I watched this video and laughed til I cried. I hope you enjoy it too. Since laughing is good for you, let's just call this part of your fitness regimen for the day. :) Click here to view.

    Be sure and check out my new blog site! Just click here. to head on over and give it a read! I will be posting a new blog in the next few weeks.

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    From my heart to your health,

    Linda Burke, CPT

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