Let me start by saying this: There are a ton of tips and tricks out there on how to achieve your “best” physique. But when all’s said and done, how do you know which ones to listen to? How do you know which ones will put you on the straight and narrow to your “best” you?
News flash. You don’t.
It’s like finding a man or that perfect little black dress. It’s not always what looks good on paper — you have to try a bunch on before you find the one that fits you just right. There’s no steadfast plan. No secret method. It all comes down to old school trial and error. Like that man or that dress, no one exercise will work for every woman’s body because we’re all built differently; therefore, we’re all going to respond differently.
It took me a long time to understand that patience is key in building your “best” body. I know plenty of people who threw their weights in frustration and quit when they didn’t see gains from what they thought they should be doing. Or what they thought was “best” based on someone else’s routine. So my intention is not to dictate what you should be doing, but to break you out from that line of thinking and give you some new ideas and moves to try on for size.
For a lot of us ladies, the backside is a tough area to tackle. Having always had more of an ample posterior, I’m constantly looking for new ways to target and strengthen the glutes. They’re comprised of the Gluteus Maximus, Medius, and Minimus, with the Maximus being the largest of the three. In order to hit all of those, squats and hip thrusts are great choices to add into your training repertoire.
When working the butt, using enough weight is critical. I used to think low weight/repping my face off was the way to go. But I’ve seen the most gains after adding more weight into my sets, so it’s something to consider.
Starting with squats. They target your hips and thighs, in addition to your glutes, so you get a lot of bang for your buck. You can do them on a Smith machine for more control, a squat rack, or by holding dumbbells to each side or on your shoulders. Whatever you choose, keep your back straight and your weight evenly distributed through your feet and heels. Drop your butt down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, without letting your knees go past your toes. Keep those glutes tight throughout the movement.
Onto hip thrusts. A good friend of mine showed me this move, and I fell in love with it right away. A variation of butt bridges, which are done completely on the floor, hip thrusts have you sitting on the ground with your shoulder blades against a flat bench. With your feet flat on the floor, have a straight bar or loaded barbell ready to go. Place it over the top of your thighs, and roll it up so it’s just at your hips. Then, power through your feet and drive your hips straight up, squeeze and hold for five seconds before bringing your hips back down. Again, squeeze those glutes the entire move to really make them work for it.
My recommendation is to mix up your quad/ham/adductor exercises, so you’re always challenging your thighs. A good overall burner is the lunge and they have a ton of variations: to the front, side or back, and with either a barbell across your shoulders or holding dumbbells. If you really want to bring the pain, try walking lunges. (Hold some dumbbells while taking wide steps across the gym.) Rule of thumb for whichever you choose…don’t hyperextend your knees. Make sure they don’t go past your toes.
For hitting those abductors and adductors, I like dumbbell plie squats. Keep your stance wide and hold/dangle a dumbbell between your legs. Lower yourself, like a squat, as far as you can comfortably drop, and push back up with the weight in your heels. And just to reiterate…don’t be afraid to grab a heavy dumbbell. Your inner thighs will hate me, and then thank me for it.
Now to hit those hams. I love some heavy stiff-leg deadlifts and standing single-leg hamstring curls. My tip would be to compound set those. Try running 4 sets, and go for 10-12 reps. On the deads, keep your legs stiff and your back straight. For the curls, point your toes for max contraction.
The typical ab adage is that they’re “made in the kitchen, not in the gym.” And there’s a ton of truth to that. But since I’m gearing this article toward training, I’ll give you my picks for a few good stomach smashers.
Know this going in: I train abs every workout. Few will tell you to do that, since abs are just like any other muscle that needs rest. But I follow my own advice and do what works for me.
Let’s start with weighted stability ball crunches. These really target the upper abs. Hold a dumbbell (make sure it’s a decent amount of weight to provide resistance) at the top of the chest and lay back on a stability ball with your shoulder blades. Crunch up by bending at the hips, keeping the back as flat as you can and pulling your abs tight. Be sure you’re only bending at the waist…no movement from the shoulders. It should be very controlled and focused.
Another good option is an incline push sit-up. Grab a weight plate and lay back on an incline bench. Hold the plate out in front of you, keep your arms straight and crunch, pushing up with the weight. Take note: you’ll definitely feel this one.
Moving on to obliques. Try dumbbell twists. Sit on the floor, knees bent, holding a dumbbell in front of you. Lift your feet off the ground a few inches, and twist the dumbbell side to side. Keep your body facing forward as you twist, as opposed to jerking your upper body back and forth.
And perhaps the most difficult part of the abs, the part we all love to hate...the nether ab region. A super-intense lower move is the hanging leg raise. You can hang from an abs chair or, if you have arm slings, clip them to a pull-up bar and stick your arms through each sling.
With your ankles together and your legs hanging straight down, bend your knees and bring them up toward your chest. Lower your legs to starting position, keeping your abs tight. Just be conscious of form here and keep the rocking under control, because your body will want to roll forward.
Another good one is the incline leg hip raise. These don’t look so hard at first, but trust me. They are. Lay back on an incline board and grab onto the top handle or feet pads. Keep your ankles together, and roll yourself up, raising your knees to your chest by flexing at the hips. Then roll back down into starting position. Keep your feet neutral, but not using them to lead the movement. Keep all of the pull from your middle.
And now, my favorite. The delts. Having full, round shoulders is boss in my book. They make you look a little broader up top, which makes things like your waist look smaller. To make sure you build them up from all angles, you need to hit them from the front, sides and rear.
So, try compound setting three exercises. For front, do seated dumbbell military presses. (You can do them one arm at a time, or both at the same time.) Next, go into dumbbell lateral raises. Bend a little at the waist when doing them. And finish with cable one-arm rear lat raises. For these, stand next to a low pulley with a stirrup or D-handle attachment. Slightly bend over with a bit of a bend in your knees, and pull the attachment out to the side, raising your arm until your elbow is up around your shoulder. Keep the move slow and controlled on both the way up and down.
While some of these tips may lead you to your “best,” remember…the name of the game is trying new things to see how they work for you. Challenge yourself. Don’t get sucked into promises or “shoulds”. Get out there and define your own “best” you.
written by Heather Leff