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The Fab Five Best Exercises

by StephenKelly

In our last installment of Worth The Weights, we examined the five worst exercises you could have as part of your workout routine. Judging by the comments and e-mail I've received, a lot of guys have been performing many of these culprits on a regular basis.

When discovering the awful truth, some guys' reaction was akin to finding out about their cheating boyfriends. "I had no idea" was a typical response. Fortunately, most comments I received had guys dropping the main offenders in favor of some of our suggested alternatives.

So, in the spirit of fair play, and in an effort to alleviate your rattled nerves, we give you our list of the five best exercises, chosen not for their popularity but for their functionality — that is, how well the exercise strengthens muscles used in daily life, and how many muscle groups each exercise incorporates.

Squats
There's no better exercise for building and developing the lower body than the squat, which incorporates nearly every major muscle of the legs and trunk, including the much-coveted gluteal — or butt — muscles.

Squats are performed by standing with a loaded barbell across your upper shoulders, your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed outward, and your back naturally arched. Slowly bend at the knees, lowering your body until you are in a sitting position, or about 90 degrees. You should always be able to see your toes during this exercise, so stick your butt outward on descent as if you're sitting in a chair. Once at 90 degrees, slowly push upward until you are again in a standing position. Keep your knees slightly bent at this point — do not lock them out.

As functional as they are, properly performed squats can be difficult to master, especially for beginners, who may want to start off by using dumbbells. Squat machines are a staple of most gyms, and they can also be a nice starting point for beginners.

Dumbbell Hammer Curls
Hammer curls are another multitasking exercise that isolate the muscles of the biceps and forearm. They can be performed either simultaneously or alternately, in either a standing or seated position. Start by holding a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing inward and arms at your side, elbows slightly bent. Slowly curl the weights upward to your shoulders, inhaling as you go. Hold for a second and lower the weights to the starting position, exhaling and remembering to avoid elbow lockout. Do these slowly and you'll really feel those arms start to burn, baby.

Pushups
Ah, the good old pushup — the bane of countless high school gym classes. But this venerable exercise is excellent at working the muscles of the chest, triceps, shoulders and upper back, and can be performed almost anywhere. Start by balancing your body on your hands, with your arms straight and shoulder-width apart (or wider) and your feet tight together. Your back should be in a straight line, so avoid sagging at the middle or sticking your butt in the air. Inhale and slowly lower your body to the floor. Hold for a second and push upward to the arms-extended position, exhaling as you go.

Seated Cable Back Rows
All gyms come equipped with multifunctional cable machines, and the seated back row is an excellent exercise for working all the major muscles of the back, as well as the biceps and triceps. Sit on the bench and place your feet on the footrests in front of you. Lean forward and grab a close-grip V-shape bar attached to a cable. Pull yourself back, pushing with your feet until your legs are almost straight. To perform this exercise, simply pull the handle toward you until it touches the lower ribcage/belly button area, pushing the elbows as far back as possible. Exhale and return to the starting position, arms fully extended while keeping your back straight at all times.

Planks
This exercise focuses on the deep abdominal muscles, and we chose it over ab crunches because it also challenges the arms, legs and back. An exercise found in most Pilates and yoga programs, it is easier said than done. The starting position of the plank is the same as that of the pushup, except that you rest your body on your elbows rather than on your hands. And there you will stay, as there is no actual movement to the plank. Sound easy? After about 15 seconds you will find your body trembling, and staying in a straight line will take all your concentration. You may or may not whimper like a 2-year-old, but you will feel every second of this intense core exercise. It's recommend that you do as many of these as you can at one-minute intervals, but beginners may want to aim for 30-second sets until their strength increases.

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