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And honestly, we’re not even sure if those exercises are all that effective. The good thing is it’s easy to figure out the best moves for your body and switch up your routine—without a personal training certification or advanced degree in kinesiology.
Building your own workout is not only straightforward, but it’s also important. “Programming gives you a purpose,” says Noam Tamir, owner of TS Fitness in New York City. “Otherwise it’s like going on a road trip without a map.”
The easiest way to get started is to learn your basic movement patterns. The ones we’ll include here are:
- Lower-body push
- Hip hinge
- Single-leg movement
- Vertical push
- Vertical pull
- Horizontal push
- Horizontal pull
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll realize there’s a near endless number of exercises that fall into these patterns—and that’s the beauty of designing your own workout. Sayonara, boredom.
How to use this list: Below we’ve provided a brief explanation of each movement followed by beginner and advanced exercise examples. Do at least 1 exercise from each section for a well-rounded workout.
How it works: Pick a medium-heavy weight that will fatigue you by about 8 to 10 reps. If you’re new to working out, do 2 to 3 sets. More advanced fitness fans can do 4 sets. Don’t forget to warm up first (here’s a dynamic warm-up you can do before any workout), and cool down and stretch out those tight spots after.
This movement targets the lower-body powerhouse muscles plus core (think glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calf muscles). The most well-known example is a squat. We’ve included two options below, but our list of squat variations has plenty more ideas.
Beginner: Goblet Squat
Stand with feet hip width and hold the weight with both hands at chest level. Brace core, send hips back, and lower, bending knees and making sure knees don’t go past toes. Keep chest up and back straight (no hunched shoulders). Try to bend knees to at least a 90-degree angle before returning to starting position.
Advanced: Overhead Squat
Stand with feet hip width and hold a weight overhead in each hand, keeping biceps in line with ears. Squat down, holding weights steady overhead throughout movement.
A hip hinge is any movement that involves flexion or extension of the hips. Even though you’re working a lot of the same muscles as a squat, you’ll engage them in a different way.
Beginner: Romanian Deadlift With Dumbbells
Stand with feet hip width and hold dumbbells so they rest against front of thighs. Brace core, send hips back, and lower weights toward ground. Keep spine neutral (no rounding), and if you need to, bend knees slightly in order to get weights to ground. Engage glutes and hamstrings to return to starting position, squeezing glutes at top of the movement. Find a more detailed explanation of how to do a perfect deadlift here.
Advanced: Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift With Dumbbells
This move is almost the same as the last, except you’ll be performing it on one leg to work on your balance. Begin with both feet on the ground and hinge forward, allowing right leg to lift behind you, keeping hips square toward ground. Think of lifted leg as a counterbalance to torso bending forward. Return to starting position by lifting torso and bringing leg back to floor. Do all reps on left leg then switch sides.
This benefits the posterior chain but also engages core and stabilizers since more balance is required. You do this every time you walk, run, or climb stairs. Try our two lunge options below or get more ideas here.
Beginner: Reverse Lunge
Stand with feet hip width and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Shift weight slightly to right side and step left foot back, dropping into a low lunge with both knees bending to 90 degrees. Engage right glutes as you push off left foot to return to starting position. Do all reps on left side then repeat on the other side.
Advanced: Lateral Lunge
Start with feet together, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Shift weight to right foot and step to the side with left foot. Send hips back and bend left knee, while keeping right leg straight as you sink into a side lunge. Allow right hand to naturally slide to the front of body and left hand to slide behind torso. Press off left foot to return to starting position. Do all reps on that side, then repeat on the other side.
The upper-body movements below will build strength in a lot of the same major muscle groups. However, like the hip hinge and lower-body push, you’ll engage those muscles differently—and it’s that variability that makes your workout well rounded. For the vertical push, you’ll use shoulders, upper and middle back, and arms.
Beginner: Half-Kneeling Overhead Press
Kneel with right knee and left foot on the ground, holding a dumbbell in right hand. Left arm can hang at side. Bend right arm to 90 degrees, then push weight overhead, fully extending arm and keeping biceps in line with ear. Bend arm and lower weight to shoulder height to return to starting position.
Advanced: Standing Overhead Press
Repeat the same movement as above, but this time stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a weight in each hand. Bring elbows out to sides at 90-degree angles as you push up (sometimes called a military-style press). Remember to engage core and keep hips level (don’t stick your butt out).
This move works your upper and middle back, shoulders, and chest. The most classic example of this exercise is a pull-up. Learn to do a perfect pull-up here or check out this list of moves to do when you can’t yet do a pull-up.
Beginner: Single-Arm Resistance Band Pulldown
You’ll need to anchor a resistance band overhead for these. Start in the same half-kneeling position as you did previously: left knee and right foot on ground. With back straight and core engaged, hold the resistance band with left hand, light tension, and arm extended. Pull band toward torso, keeping elbow close to body. Extend arm to return to start.
Advanced: Two-Hand Resistance Band Pulldown
From the same position, hold both ends of the resistance band. Pull bands downand toward torso, keeping elbows close to ribcage. Extend arms to return to starting position.
This movement will help strengthen the front of your body and engage your shoulders, upper back, and arms.
Beginner: Modified Kneeling Push-Up
Start in a high plank position and carefully drop both knees to the floor. Lift feet off the ground (optionally, cross ankles). Keeping elbows pulled tight to body, engage core and bend elbows to lower chest to ground. Extend arms to return to starting position.
Start in a high plank position and, with core tight, bend elbows to lower chest to floor. Straighten arms to return to starting position. Get more details on how to do the perfect push-up here.
Put your back into it. That’s the idea with this movement that will build strength in upper and middle back, plus shoulders and triceps.
Beginner: Single-Arm Bent-Over Row
Stagger stance so right leg is forward, left leg is behind you. Bend right knee slightly and hinge forward at hip, resting right forearm on right thigh. With dumbbell in left hand, do a row by pulling the weight up toward the right side of torso, keeping arm inline with rib cage. At the top of the row, hand should be near ribs, not shoulder (it’s not a biceps curl). Return to starting position by straightening arm.
Advanced: Bent-Over Row
Stand with feet together and a dumbbell in each hand. Send hips back and bend knees slightly, hinging forward from the hip. Do a row with both arms simultaneously, focusing on squeezing shoulder blades together and using back to lift weights.
Looking for More?
If you read this and thought: What about plyometrics? What about my abs/butt/biceps? We hear you—and we didn’t forget.
Plyometrics fall under a category referred to as power movements, Tamir says. Add them to your workout once you’ve reached an intermediate level and do them first when you have the most energy. Want to give it a shot? Pick 2 to 3 exercises from our list of 19 explosive movements. Do 5 or 6 reps and repeat for 2 to 3 rounds total.
As for your triceps, biceps, abs, thighs, or calves? Working these muscles individually is often referred to accessory work, Tamir says. Remember these muscles are getting worked in the larger movements described above, but you can add on more specific moves to target them if you have the time.
- For abs exercises, take your pick of these 100+ abs moves anyone can do.
- To give your lower body some TLC, check out these exercises for inner and outer thighs, the best bodyweight butt moves, or a whole lot of lunge variations here.
- Targeting your arms? Find some great upper-body exercises here.
Special thanks to certified trainer and owner of TS Fitness Noam Tamir, who designed these moves and modeled them for us. Tamir wears a shirt and shorts by Lululemon and his own Reebok sneakers. You can follow TS Fitness on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.