If you’re not familiar with the gym, venturing out of the treadmill and elliptical area can seem somewhat daunting. I mean, how many times have you been intimidated by the sight of muscle bros hanging out by the weights rack? Or by the sheer thought of having to work one of those complicated-looking machines?
Before you retreat to the oh-so-familiar treadmill, listen up. Whether you’re looking to get stronger or just burn fat, strength and resistance training will be an extremely beneficial addition to your workout regimen. Here’s the low-down on some basic strength exercises you can do at the gym. Those muscle bros ain’t got nothing on you now.
1. Lat Pulldown
Works your: Back, Biceps and Core
The drill: Do 3 sets (on each side) of 8 – 12 reps, with 45 to 90 seconds rest in between.
The Lat Pulldown is one of the most basic machines you will find at most gyms. Before you start, it is important to note that your feet should be firmly planted on the ground. Depending on fitness level and experience, adjust the weight to one that is just heavy enough to give you ample resistance. You shouldn’t feel strained while doing the exercise, but neither should it be so light that you can do an entire set without feeling your muscles burn.
1) Grip the bar with your hands at shoulder-width apart and sit on the seat. Your arms should be straight, with your torso upright.
2) Pull your shoulder blades down and back as you bring the bar down towards your collar bone. Pause and feel the squeeze between your shoulder blades (it hurts, doesn’t it) then slowly return the bar to its starting position. Congratulations, you’ve just completed one rep.
Things to note: The Lat Pulldown machine works your upper back muscles, so try to think about your back muscles leading the pull, rather than your arms. Also, make sure to avoid rounding your upper back. Sitting tall will help keep your posture in check as you go through the motions.
2. Machine Bench Press
Works your: Chest, Shoulders and Triceps
The drill: Do 3 sets of 8 – 12 reps, with 45 to 90 seconds rest in between.
1) Lie down on the bench and position yourself with the handlebar just below your chest area. Arch your back slightly so that your shoulders are pressing against the bench.
2) Push the handlebar upwards in an explosive fashion, while keeping your back arched. You should feel the squeeze in your inner chest – and yes, it’s probably going to ache the next day. But hey, no pain no gain right?
3) Return the handle bar to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner. If you really want to feel the burn, pulse at the bottom (but only if you’re using lighter resistance!) for a good 5 reps before bringing the handlebar back up.
Things to note: It is important to lock your shoulder blades back and down. Not doing so will decrease chest muscle activation and impose stress on the shoulders.
3. Hamstring Curl
Works your: Hamstrings (back of your thighs)
The drill: Do 3 sets of 8 – 12 reps, with 45 to 90 seconds rest in between.
I’m not going to lie – you will probably feel quite awkward doing this exercise, because you have to lie on your belly with your butt out there for the world to judge. But whatever, just slap on your best pair of workout tights and you’re covered.
1) To begin, lie face down on the bench. The back of your ankles should be resting just beneath the upper leg pad. If you find that the leg pad is too low or high, you can adjust it so that it is level with the back of your ankles.
2) Grip both of the handles, and re-adjust the position of your hips if you need to.
3) Take a deep breath, then lift the leg pads up by flexing the back of your thighs. Bring your heels toward your butt. Do you feel the burn in your thighs? It’s okay, sweat is just your muscles crying TEARS OF JOY.
4) Return your legs to the starting position and repeat the motion until you complete all your sets. Your muscles may be screaming in denial, but just think about the shapely legs you will soon get.
4. Single Arm Dumbbell Row
Works your: Upper Back and Biceps
The drill: Do 3 Sets (on each side) of 8 – 12 reps, with 45 to 90 seconds rest in between.
1) To start, position yourself to the right of the weight bench while holding a dumbbell in your right hand. Make sure your palms are facing the bench while holding the dumbbell.
2) Place your left knee and left hand on the bench for support. Let your right arm (the one holding the dumbbell) hang down. Your right foot should be touching the ground in a slight tip-toe stance. Make sure your knees are slightly bent.
3) Contract your abs and make sure that your back is arched naturally, and slightly parallel to the floor. Your chin should be tilted towards your chest, so that your neck is lined up neutrally with the rest of your spine.
5) Now here’s where the real work starts. Leading with your elbow, lift your right arm up until the dumbbell sits right below your stomach. Your upper arm should be parallel to the ground, with your right hand positioned next to your ribcage.
6) Slowly lower the dumbbell to your starting position in a controlled motion, and you should feel the burn in your upper back and arms. Complete one set then switch to the other side of the bench to work your left arm.
Things to note: At first glance this may seem solely like an arm exercise, but it actually works your upper back as well. Try to focus on using your back muscles to lift the dumbbell (rather than your arm muscles) – your arm should act more like a lever to aid the motion. Also, remember to keep your spine straight and avoid hunching your upper back. If you feel that the dumbbell is impairing your posture, try reducing the weight.
5. Dumb Bell Deadlift
Works your: Thighs, Hamstrings, Glutes, Lower Back and Abs
The drill: Do 4 Sets of 6 – 8 reps, with 90 seconds – 2 minutes rest in between.
You know how you always hear gym rats talking about deadlifts? Well, here’s how to do a modified version of it if you don’t have (or dare to try) a barbell.
1) Start by holding a dumbbell in front of you, while standing with your legs shoulder-width apart. Don’t be geh kiang (aka a smart alec) and use a dumbbell that is too heavy for you, as it might affect your form and hurt your back.
2) Bend your hips and push your butt out and back. Lower the dumbbell to the ground as you bend your knees slightly. Remember to keep your back straight (do not hunch over) as you bend down.
3) Once the dumbbell touches the ground, brace your core and lift it back up to the starting position. Again, remember to keep your back straight as you do so.
6. Front Raises
Works your: Anterior Deltoids (front part of your shoulders)
The drill: Do 3 Sets of 15 – 20 Reps, with 30 – 60 seconds rest in between.
Front Raises may seem like a relatively simple exercise, but rest assured they will really work your shoulders. This is a true isolation exercise that works only a certain group of muscles, so it’s actually pretty tiring because of the maximum effort needed from that one muscle part.
1) Grip two dumbbells and stand with your feet hip-width apart. The dumbbells should be hanging in front of your thighs, with your palms facing toward you.
2) While gripping the dumbbells, raise your arms in front of you until they are about shoulder height.
3) Slooooowly bring your arms back to the starting position. Feel the burn? Good, 19 more reps to go before you complete your first set.
7. Plie Dumbbell Squat
Works your: Thighs, Hamstrings, Adductors and Glutes
The drill: Do 4 Sets of 10 – 12 Reps, with 45 – 90 seconds rest in between.
1) While holding a dumbbell between your thighs, stand with your legs wide apart and toes pointing outwards. The distance between both feet should be wide enough so that when you squat, your thighs are perpendicular to your shins.
2) While maintaining a straight back, bend your knees in a controlled motion and lower your hips until the dumbbell hovers slightly above the ground. Pause for a second or two, feel your thighs screaming from the burn and then return to the starting position.
Things to note: This exercise works your thighs, butt and lower back, so you shouldn’t be using your arm muscles to lift the dumbbell up. Make sure to push your butt out as you squat, and concentrate on putting pressure on your heels as you come up.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Donna Samuel is a fitness enthusiast and certified personal trainer who specialises in Sports Massage. For enquiries about personal training sessions or group classes, drop her an email. If you’re in need of #fitspo, follow her on Instagram (@donnasamuel) or check out her fitness and health blog here.