When it comes to strength training, knowing what to do can be more challenging than knowing how to do it. We all understand that resistance training can play an important role in everything from weight loss and maintenance to building lean mass and overall fitness, but you may still find yourself asking, “How do I actually create a strength-training program that helps me meet my individual goals?”
If your main objective is weight loss, focusing on compound exercises is a great place to start. Resistance training is often broken down into two categories: isolation and compound exercises. While isolation exercises employ movements that involve a single joint, like a biceps curl, compound exercises require the use of multiple joints, like a squat to overhead press, done in one fluid movement.
While both isolation and compound exercises are important for overall fitness, the latter are usually favored when weight loss is the goal. Compound movements require you to utilize multiple muscle groups, thereby offering a greater total-body workout in less time. When you’re looking to shed a few pounds, the more muscles you can work, the more calories you burn. Compound strength training also offers additional benefits, like improved balance, enhanced coordination and increased joint stability.
Even better, these exercises can be done in the comfort of your own home with a simple set of dumbbells. Done 2–3 times per week in conjunction with some cardio training, research shows that you can both shed fat and gain muscle simultaneously, something that cardio workouts alone can’t do as efficiently.
Start out with one set of this routine and graduate to 2–3 sets as you get stronger. Remember that you should finish each exercise feeling somewhat tired but not so fatigued that you can’t maintain proper form. If you think your technique is suffering, reduce either the dumbbell weight or the number of reps.
Squat to Overhead Press
Works: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, core, biceps, shoulders, upper back
Complete: 8–12 reps
How: Hold a weight — either a kettlebell or dumbbell held vertically — at chest height. With your feet hip-width apart, bend your knees and lower your backside down into a squat. Keep your knees in line with your feet and your abs pulled in. As you stand back up, press the weight over your head in a smooth movement before returning it to your chest.
Works: Abs, lower back, hips, glutes
Complete: 8–12 per side
How: On your hands and knees, situate your knees beneath your hips and your hands beneath your shoulders. Pull in your abs as you raise and extend your right arm out in front of your body. At the same time, raise your left leg and extend it directly behind your body. After extending, bring your right hand and left knee to meet beneath your torso and repeat. Then switch sides.
Lunge to Curl
Works: Quads, biceps
Complete: 8–12 per side
How: Standing with a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, step forward with your right leg, and lower your body down until your left knee nearly touches the ground. As you return to the starting position, curl the dumbbells up toward your chest. Bring them back down to your sides, and repeat on the other side.
Works: Abs, obliques, lower back, quads
Complete: 15 per side
How: Take the position you would for a normal crunch with your hands resting lightly behind your head. Be careful not to pull on your head and neck during this exercise. Take your feet off the floor and bend your knees to 45-degree angles. As you lift your head and shoulders off the ground, engage your core and draw in your right knee toward your chest, meeting it with your left elbow in a slight twisting motion. Bring that leg and arm back to the starting position, and alternate sides.
Works: Quads, hamstrings, abs, deltoids, pecs, triceps
How: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down, put your hands down on the floor and step back into a push-up position. Do a push-up and then step your feet back to your hands one at a time. As you come back to the starting position, jump up into the air and then repeat the entire sequence in a continuous movement.
Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She contributes to a variety of magazines and websites including TheAtlantic.com, OutsideOnline.com, espnW.com, Runner’s World and Triathlete Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running, and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.