Women’s Fitness Week: Seven essential exercises

This is the first in a four-part series on women’s fitness tips. I have spoken with trainers and female athletes to help come up with today’s list of seven essential exercises women should do.

1. Cardio – Women should get cardio exercises in at least 3-4 times a week for sessions of 15-minutes or more depending on your age, fitness level and how hard you work out. Treadmill, elliptical machine, walking, jogging, cycling and swimming are some of the many ways to get a good cardiovascular workout.

2. Squats – This is arguably the single best strength training exercise you can do because it engages so many body parts. You can do squats without any weight at all to start and then step it up by using a home gym or free weights. Squats will strengthen and tone your legs, engage your abs and also provide a cardio workout all in one. Make sure to keep your back straight and don’t go down past a 90-degree knee angle on your descent.

3. Lunges – A great functional exercise, lunges are super for the legs, too, and mimic walking in an exaggerated fashion. They also help improve your balance. Take a long step forward, while keeping your back in a straight position. Bend the front knee to 90 degrees and keep your weight on the back toes and at the same time lower your back knee toward the ground.

4. Push-ups – Whether you do them with perfect form a Marines drill instructor would approve of, or with an “assist” by having the knees on the floor, push-ups are still a great way to strengthen the chest, shoulders, triceps, traps and abdominal muscles.

5. Abdominal exercises – The biggest area most women say they want to improve is their stomach. You need to be doing ab exercises and pick which ones work for you, and of course improve your diet, too, to tone abs.
Two of the best exercises are “The Plank” and ab crunches on a fitness ball.
For the Plank, lay face down on the floor or use an exercise mat. Place the elbows and forearms underneath your chest. Prop yourself up to form a bridge using your toes and forearms and keep your back flat and hips parallell to the ground.

6. Biceps-triceps dumbbell exercises – Besides wanting a flat stomach, the next biggest complaint for many women is that they want to tone up their arms, especially the flab on the back of the arms. Perform biceps curls with a dumbbell and also do triceps kickbacks with dumbbells.
Some people may not be as familiar with how to do triceps kickbacks, so here’s how: To work your left arm, place your right hand and right knee on a bench for support; slightly bend your left leg; Keep the left arm at a 90-degree angle for the shoulder, and maintain a 90 degree angle at the elbow; with your upper arm parallel to the floor, move the lower arm up and down to work the tricep. If you feel a burn in the triceps, you’re doing it right. Reverse the instructions to work out the right tricep.

7. Bent-over rows – Tie it all together by doing this great exercise for the back, which also works the biceps too and improves overall posture. Get in a stance with feet shoulder-width apart, then bend the upper body forward so you’re close to a 90-degree angle. With ab muscles engaged, grasp dumbbells or barbells and lift them up to a point between your chest and belly button.

It’s extremely important to use correct form for all these exercises, so if you’re not sure exactly what you’re doing ask an expert. And it’s just as important to properly stretch before and after exercising.

At Home Fitness consultant Aaron Dorksen’s blog deals with a variety of fitness topics, ranging from workout tips, motivational ideas and feature stories on how exercise impacts people’s lives. E-mail him with comments, questions or ideas for future blogs at aaron@athomefitness.com