Choosing the best exercises for your back, legs and abs can be as challenging as picking out the best outfit to wear for the day. The exercises you choose will depend on your goals, equipment accessibility and fitness level. Since everyone is different, there is truly no "best" exercise. Sample different modalities of exercise and see which ones you prefer.
If you want to get larger muscles to get more definition, start your workout with isolation methods where you focus on training one muscle group at a time, usually with a resistance machine. Sample exercises for your back, abs and legs include the lat pulldown, seated row, leg press, old-school situps, leg extensions and leg curls. For maximum muscle growth, National Academy of Sports Medicine founder Michael Clark, DPT, recommends that you do three to four sets of eight to 12 reps at 70 to 85 percent of your maximum exertion. Lift the weight at a rate of two seconds and lower the weight at a rate of four seconds.
The full-body approach uses your entire body to move together, training multiple muscle groups and joints to move in different patterns and directions. Use this method if you want to improve movement and athletic performance; it offers more variety of exercises and stimulus to your brain than the isolation method. If you want to improve your sports performance or tone your body without bulking up, then this method is a better choice. Since most of these exercises are performed from a standing position, there is no need to isolate your abs to train because they are constantly working to provide support and balance. Sample exercises include pullups, squats, multiplanar lunges, medicine ball throws, jump-rope drills and bent-over rows. If you are new to this type of conditioning, work with a qualified fitness professional before training on your own.
Stretch and Breathe
Don't forget to stretch after a hard workout. Static stretching, which is holding a stretch for a period of time -- about 15 to 30 seconds -- relaxes your muscles and joints and alleviates tension, which should be done after training. These exercises include the Child's pose for your back, supine hamstring stretch, kneeling hip flexor stretch and the back bend on a stability ball. Breathe deeply into your belly as you stretch to further lengthen the muscles and enhance relaxation.
Don't train if you experience pain or have any medical conditions that worsen with exercise. Consult with your physician or other health care provider before starting any new exercise program.
- American Council of Exercise: Free Weights vs. Strength-Training Equipment
- Athletic Body in Balance; Gray Cook
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, 3e; Michael Clark, DPT
- University of New Mexico: Stretching: A Research Retrospective
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.