Picking the exercises you need for big results is no small task. Simply entering the gym is a great first step, but the exercises you choose can make or break your results.
Exercise selection influences how productive each minute in the gym will be, the hormonal response to your workout, your metabolic rate, your anabolism, and ultimately how fast you reach your goals.
Simply put, if there's one thing you need to get right with your workouts, exercise selection is it. Luckily for you, there's only one exercise you need to steer clear of, but five that you should absolutely have in your program, hands down.
Shhh—The Exercise That Must Not Be Named
Okay, I'll tell you only once. Beware of one exercise: Smith machine squats. It's the Voldemort of weight training. Don't do it, don't say it, and don't think it. Why?
The biggest problem with Smith machine squat is that the machine locks your body into a path of motion—which could be entirely wrong for your body. So if you're taller or shorter than the ideal fit for the machine, you could wind up with a knee, back, or hip injury due to excess strain.
Sure, the Smith Machine has a self-spotting mechanism to make it "safe"—but there's more to lifting safely than just making sure you don't crumple to the floor with a huge load on your back. You can also injure yourself when the apparatus doesn't fit your body and your form sucks.
Free barbell squats are a much better option; the range of motion allows you to squat according to your body's structure. But if you aren't comfortable with free squats yet, build up with leg presses; perform your free squats using just the bar to get the hang of the movement. Then slowly add weight to your free squat until you're matching your leg press amounts while still squatting with confidence and proper form.
The VIES (Very Important Exercises)
1. The Lunge
The first exercise on your must-do exercise list is the lunge. These are perfect for hitting the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, and will also call your abs into play as you struggle to maintain balance. There are many variations of lunges, including walking lunges, stationary lunges, and reverse lunges, so switching it up is a great way to avoid hitting a plateau. They are also especially nice because they can be performed at home or the gym and with or without weights.
2. The Pull-Up
Pull-ups are often ignored because they don't look as cool as lifting a barbell with a bunch of weight on it, but they are one of the best picks for any upper-body workout.
Pull-ups really work your lats overtime, and since you pull your entire body weight, it'll be plenty challenging. And if you want a quick variation on this exercise, you can reverse the hand position to an underhand grip and blast your biceps with some chin-ups.
3. The Plank
We're not talking about walking the plank on the high seas, you scurvy dog. The plank is the perfect exercise for total core-strength development, and can be performed with many different variations. You can balance your legs or arms on an exercise ball, lift a leg or arm off the floor, or move across the floor with small side steps while staying in the plank position! Regardless of the variation, the plank will always let your body know it trained that day.
4. The Burpee
This move is excellent for not only strengthening almost every major muscle in the body, but also for upping your overall metabolic rate to burn calories quickly. Since burpees are so intense, performing 10-20 consecutively can keep your metabolism going long after your workout, and you'll get the added benefit of cardiovascular endurance! Burpees are an awesome fit for any circuit training workout, helping to keep your heart rate up and your intensity high.
5. The Squat
The last exercise your workout routine should not be without is the squat. It's one of the single best exercises for initiating a strong muscle growth response in the body, and it stimulates every single muscle fiber in the lower body while working your core to the bone.
When you perform the squat, make sure to do a full range of movement, squatting all the way down to ensure strong glute activation from the lift. Remember to do both front and back squats in your overall workout routine over time to mix it up and promote constant muscle stimulus.
Bottom line: Remember to keep these five foundational exercises on your radar and Smith machine squats OFF the docket!