7 Most Effective Exercises
Experts offer their favorite moves for making the most of your workout time.
6. Abdominal Crunches
Who doesn't want firm, flat abs? Experts say that when
done correctly, the familiar crunch (along with its variations) is a good
choice to target them.
For a standard crunch, says Cotton, begin lying on your
back with feet flat on the floor and fingertips supporting your head. Press
your low back down and begin the exercise by contracting abdominals and peeling
first your head (tucking your chin slightly), then your neck, shoulders, and
upper back off the floor.
Be careful not to pull your neck forward by sticking
the chin out; don't hold your breath, and keep elbows out of your line of vision to keep chest and
For his part, Petersen teaches his clients to do
crunches with their feet off the floor and knees bent. He says that with feet
kept on the floor, many people tend to arch the back and engage the hip
"Crunches can be excellent, but if they're not done
correctly, with the back arching, they can actually weaken the abdominals,"
To work the obliques (the muscles on the sides of your
waist), says Cotton, take the standard crunch and rotate the spine toward one
side as you curl off the floor.
"Twist before you come up," he says. "It's
really important that the twist comes first because then it's the obliques that
are actually getting you up."
But keep in mind that you won't get a flat stomach with
crunches alone, says Cotton. Burning belly fat requires the well-known formula:
using up more calories than you take in.
"Crunches work the ab muscles; [they're] not to be
mistaken as exercise that burns the fat over the abdominals," he says. "That's
the biggest myth in exercise going."
7. Bent-over Row
Talk about bang for the buck: This exercise works all
the major muscles of the upper back, as well as the biceps.
Here's how to do it with good form. Stand with feet
shoulder-width apart, then bend knees and flex forward at the hips. (If you
have trouble doing this exercise standing up, support your weight by sitting on
an incline bench, facing backward.) Tilt your pelvis slightly forward, engage
the abdominals, and extend your upper spine to add support. Hold dumbbells or
barbell beneath the shoulders with hands about shoulder-width apart. Flex your
elbows, and lift both hands toward the sides of your body. Pause, then slowly
lower hands to the starting position. (Beginners should perform the move
These seven exercises are excellent, efficient choices, the experts say. But
with just about any strength or resistance exercise, says Petersen, the
question is not so much whether the exercise works as how well you execute.
"Done with good technique, all exercises do what they're supposed to do,"
The trouble is that poor form can change the whole exercise, putting
emphasis or even strain on different areas than intended. This can hurt, rather
than help you.
So especially if you're a beginner, it's a good idea to seek the advice of a
fitness trainer - whether it's a personal trainer or a trainer at your gym --
to be sure your form is safe and correct.