Tone your body with our strength training exercises
When it comes to setting fitness priorities, toning exercises should be high on your list – and for good reason: Strong, shapely muscles give you a slimmer look by improving your posture and tightening your torso. Recent studies show that whole body strength training exercises help stave off stubborn belly fat, control diabetes and reverse muscle aging.
Get started with this 20-minute toning regimen, exclusive to Best Health. It targets muscles in your arms, chest, abs, back, butt and legs. If you do these exercises twice a week or more, taking at least one day off between workouts, you’ll begin to see results in as little as four weeks.
Strength training exercises: Stair step-ups
Works your butt, calves and thighs
12 reps each side
• Stand facing the bottom step of a staircase or a step at the gym.
• Place your right foot on the step, straightening your right leg and raising yourself onto the step. As you do, bend your left knee up, raising your left leg directly in front of you.
• Briefly balance on your right leg (your left foot is in the air) and slowly lower your left foot to the floor, squatting slightly, without moving your right foot.
Best Health tip: Resist leaning forward by aligning your shoulders over your hips.
Strength training exercises: Chest press
Works your chest and back of upper arms
12 reps per set
• Hold dumbbells (3 to 10 pounds) and lie face up on the floor or an exercise bench, with arms at chest level and elbows at 90 degrees. Bend your legs and place your feet on the floor, about hip width apart.
• Raise your arms toward the ceiling, palms facing forward. Bend your elbows and lower dumbbells until your upper arms are parallel to the floor (elbows bent at 90 degrees, but not dropping below your shoulders if you’re on a bench) and return to starting position.
Best Health tip: When straightening your arms, align dumbbells over shoulders and chest, not with your face.
Strength training exercises: Back Extensions
Works your lower back
8 to 12 reps per set
• Lie face down, with your feet shoulder width apart and shoelaces on the floor.
• Place your fists at your temples and slowly raise your shoulders and chest off the floor, and hold there for one second. Lower to starting position and repeat.
Best Health tip: Make sure to lift with your torso rather than your head.
Strength training exercises: Side plank
Works the ab muscles that wrap around your waist
8 to 12 reps per side
• Lie on your left side, with your left hip and forearm on the floor, and your left elbow in line with your left shoulder. Rest your right hand on your top thigh.
• Scissor your right leg over your left leg, so that your left foot is about an inch in front of your right foot on the floor.
• Lift your right hip, balancing on your forearm and the sides of your feet to hold your body in a diagonal line. Hold for 15 seconds, working your way up to 45 seconds and repeat.
Best Health tip: Keep your shoulders in line so that your chest faces forward, not toward the floor.
Strength training exercises: Wall squat with biceps curls
Works your thighs, butt and biceps
12 reps per set
• Stand with your back against a wall and a dumbbell (3 to 10 pounds) in each hand. Your arms should be at your sides, with your palms facing forward.
• Slowly sit into a squat position, allowing your back to slide down the wall. At the same time, curl dumbbells toward your shoulders.
• Return to starting position as you lower your arms.
Best Health tip: Keep your feet far enough away from the wall so your knees don’t extend past your toes when you squat.
Strength training exercises: Overhead press
Works your shoulders
12 reps per set
• Stand with your feet hip width apart, holding dumbbells (3 to 10 pounds) at shoulder height, with your elbows pointing toward the floor.
• Lift dumbbells overhead until your hands are straight, keeping your arms aligned with your shoulders. Lower your arms, bringing weights back to starting position.
Best Health tip: Avoid arching your back or locking your knees.
Strength training exercises: Triceps kickbacks
Works the back of your upper arms
12 reps per set
• Hold dumbbells (3 to 10 pounds) and sit on a fitness ball. Lean forward from your waist without rounding your back.
• Bend your arms so elbows are at 90 degrees, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
• Straighten your arms so that your forearms and dumbbells move behind you. Return to starting position.
Best Health tip: Make sure to keep your elbows behind you and your chest parallel to your thighs.
Strength training exercises: One-arm back flys
Works the back of your shoulders and upper back
8 to 12 reps per arm
• Holding a dumbbell (3 to 10 pounds) in your right hand, palm in, stand with your feet hip width apart. Step forward with your left foot.
• Bend your left leg slightly and place your left hand on left thigh, leaning forward from your waist about 45 degrees without rounding your back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together slightly and raise your right hand to the side and back, stopping when the dumbbell is as high as your shoulder.
• Keep your palm towards the floor, lower your arm and repeat. Complete one set before switching your arm and leg.
Best Health tip: Keep your elbow slightly bent and hold your spine straight.
– Amanda Vogel is a certified fitness instructor with a master’s degree in human kinetics