Whether you’re into bodyweight workouts, walking, running, heavy lifting or dancing, there are a few basic exercises you should be able to do. Being able to perform certain exercises or movements can help you better understand your level of fitness, but more importantly, your health. We even included some great workout videos for beginners!
You knew this would be on here! The pushup is an ideal measurement of fitness because it recruits several muscle groups: chest, arms and back in the upper body, the core and even your glutes. Remember your gym teacher making you do these in elementary school for some physical standardized test? This go-to exercise is also a test standard in most bootcamps and in the military.
Here’s how you do it: Place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders and bring your feet together, pushing back through the heels. Brace your abdominals so your hips fall into place – your body should create a solid, straight line from the top of the head through the spine, past the hips and all the way down the back of your legs. Exhale and lower your entire body toward the floor as the elbows bend diagonally behind you, palms pressing into the floor. Go as low as you can, ideally bringing your chest to parallel with the elbows or lower, then inhale to push yourself up without breaking that straight line. Get more details here or try it now!
» Master Your Pushup: 30-Day Pushup Challenge
Going back to the fundamentals of core strength and the first position of a pushup, consider the plank. Basically, you need to be able to suspend your body weight between your hands and your feet. Easy, right? Not exactly. The plank requires a strong core, not just your abs, but your hip flexors and glutes. Good form is so important with a plank and it really makes the difference between being able to do it or falling on your face. Most importantly, being able to achieve the plank position during a workout relates to real life functionality more than any other core exercise. It brings your entire body in-sync, and coordination keeps us safe!
Here’s how you do it: Bring your elbows to the floor underneath the shoulders with your hands together or laying separately, palms down. For a high plank, place the hands directly under the shoulders with your palms pressing evenly into the floor and your fingers pointing forward, slightly spread. Zip the legs together, squeezing through the inner thighs through the abdominals. At the same time, let the shoulder blades round out a bit so you’re really pushing the floor away from you and engaging your lats (see below how Real Mom Model Holly Beck places her hands to engage the lats even more). Pull the belly button into the spine to protect the lower back while flexing the glutes. Push back through your heels to even the weight distribution. Breathe. Get your plank on here.
» Start here: Modified Plank
The anterior side of the body gets a lot of attention because it’s what you see when you look into the mirror. Yet, the entire posterior chain, from the neck down through the spine and into the hamstrings is just as important, if not more so. A healthy, strong and flexible backside leads to better posture and decreased joint and muscle discomfort due to poor posture. You can also decrease your risk of injury from silly things like twisting to get out of the car or picking up your kids. Four out of five Americans will deal with back pain at some point in their lives.
Here’s how to do it: If you’re sitting down, lengthen your legs out in front of you, bringing them as close together as you can. Sit up tall, rock side to side on your sit bones until you’re comfortable. Raise your hands overhead and slowly drop your chest toward your thighs. Relax the neck and lengthen through your fingertips as you reach for your toes. The goal is to keep your knees down. Let the back round out and relax as you get deeper into the stretch. You might not be able to touch your toes, but you should be able to lean forward and reach that relaxed position. Click here to see how you can improve your flexibility in just minutes!
This everyday, functional exercise is a great tool for assessing physical fitness. It’s one of the most common exercises used during physical therapy for knee, back and abdominal problems. The step-up requires you to put all of your weight into one leg, then lift it without rounding the back or using other support to help you balance. It’s a basic coordination skill that helps your muscles work with improved coordination. It can help older adults reduce the likelihood of hip injuries or falls and it can help postpartum mothers wake up those inner core muscle fibers to help their bellies bounce back.
Here’s how to do it: Stand in front of a stable step or bench top (you choose the height) with your toes pointing forward and feet under the hips. Shift your weight into one leg as you lift the other until your foot is completely on top of the step (no heels hanging off). Push into the foot on top of the step using your quads and glutes. As you lift, keep the back straight and pull the abdominals in. Exhale to lift. Keep the other foot behind the step and drop back down to it when you’re ready. Add hand weights for more resistance or a higher step for a challenge.
A classic yoga pose, the bridge also translates into trendy workouts like barre and CrossFit (pelvic thrusters). By powerfully flexing the glutes and stabilizing with the core, you’re also able to stretch the anterior side of your body. You should be able to lift your hips off the ground using only your muscles and holding the position for at least a few seconds. You want your hips to be in line with your thighs for strength training or surpass the thighs for a bigger stretch, like in yoga.
Here’s how to do it: Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down. Bend your knees and walk your feet toward your hips until they are flat on the ground. Before you even lift, make sure the lower back is protected by first bracing the abs. Squeeze the glutes together, push through your heels and lift the hips off the ground. Unless you’re stretching, do not arch your lower back (see the yoga version here). Put the work in the glutes and the weight into your heels. Continue to flex the glutes until you lower. Lower slowly, vertebra by vertebra until your hips are on the floor again. Get the details here.
The human body is designed to work in cohesion with several muscle groups at a time. Babies learn this within the first few months. Pediatricians will often check for head and neck strength by lying a baby on his or her back and gently pulling their arms upward, looking for the baby’s head to follow instead of drag. This neck and abdominal partnership is something you should naturally maintain throughout life. The best way to test this is through a half sit-up.
Here’s how to do it: Lie on your back with your hands interlaced behind your head and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor. Push the belly button toward the spine, exhale and lift. Slightly tuck your chin into your chest as your chest draws toward your legs. You need to be able to get your shoulder blades off the ground.
» Take it to another level with this challenging Pilates Sit-up!