Here’s my list of the top 7 exercises for you to incorporate into your 2014 fitness regime. My personal training clients in London will recognise most of them.
Running is a great test of fitness. If you’re not used to running, start off by alternating a slow run for 5 minutes then walk for 5 minutes, until you’ve done 30 minutes. Then build up to running 10 minutes, walk 5 minutes, run 10 mins, walk 5 mins. When that gets too easy, start running constantly for 30 minutes at a gentle pace. Then start timing yourself over 5 km. Some of my personal training clients run round Highbury Fields, London N5. Five laps is 5 km.
Running is one of the best ways to increase your cardiovascular fitness.
Don’t underestimate this low-intensity exercise, particularly useful if you’re obese and your joints can’t bear the impact of running. I had a personal training client in Holland Park, London W8, who was around 22 stone, and he walked for an hour a day every day. He lost weight steadily as a result, combined with intensive weekly PT sessions with me, and a healthy eating plan.
3. The plank
For core strength, the plank is hard to beat. Lie face down, then raise yourself on your elbows and toes, keeping your body straight, and time yourself to see how long you can maintain this fixed position. I have a personal training client in London EC2 who can now do a 3 minute plank. Pretty impressive.
4. Rowing machine
This is another great form of cardio exercise, better than running in the sense that you’re working your whole body more intensively, not just the legs. I recommended a personal training client in Chelsea, London SW3, to buy a Concept 2 rowing machine (the best rowing machine on the market), and he uses it every other day.
As well as being great cardiovascular exercise, rowing at a high resistance is a good workout for the muscles of your whole body, particularly legs and back.
Squats are a very versatile exercise for leg strength. Start with just your own body-weight, then buy some dumbbells for added resistance. Vary the width of your feet, so you target the leg and glutes muscles in different ways, but make sure you squat with good form so as not to damage your knees. A personal trainer or gym instructor can teach you the right technique.
Again, you can do lunges anywhere, just like squats. Great exercise for legs and glutes (bum muscles). When lunging with just your body-weight gets too easy, lunge with a pair of dumbbells. Then try the walking lunge, where you lunge forwards for 10 steps. This is a great way to build good balance skills, as well as being an excellent lower body strength workout.
If you suffer from lower back pain, a physiotherapist will often recommend a programme of lunges to strengthen your glutes muscles. Strong and flexible glutes ease the strain on the lower back, by acting as a shock-absorber and bearing the load when you walk, run, and climb up and down stairs. They enable correct posture when you move around, and poor posture in movement leads to lower back pain.
Your glutes (gluteus maximus, medius and minimus) are the largest and strongest muscles of your body, and enable movement around the hip joints (abduction, extension, and rotation of your upper legs; particularly running, climbing, walking up-hill, and standing up from a seated position). Their importance is underestimated by most people, hence the prevalence of lower back pain in the UK. Lunges are one of the best exercises to strengthen your glutes. I’ve had several personal training clients in London come to me with lower back pain, and lunges are a great way of addressing the root of the problem.
7. Push-ups (also known as press-ups)
A great upper body strength exercise, with many variations. Most of my personal training clients in London work out at home with little equipment, and I include push-ups as a key component of upper body strength training. They target your back, chest, shoulders and arms. This is one of the most under-rated exercises of all.
If you lack the upper body strength to do a full push-up, start with push-ups from the knees. When you can do 20, build up to full push-ups. Get a personal trainer to check your technique, and teach you more advanced variations of this great exercise.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London.