Exercise 10 “Must Do” Gym Exercises To Look Great

must do gym exercises

As a Personal Trainer, I often get asked what my “must do” gym exercises are, or if I could only do one workout for the rest of my life, what would it entail? Well, in this article I answer both question. Here are my top 10 exercises that I would never skip (and I recommend you shouldn’t skip them either)!

Top 10 “Must Do” Gym Exercises:

1. Goblet Squat

Start your session with a goblet squat. It’s a great way to both mobilize and warm up the body for the big lifts to come. Not only is it a great warmup aid for the body, it also helps prepare the mind – taking you from ‘office mode’ to ‘workout mode’.

The goblet squat requires coordination through the knees, hips, trunk and upper body. But the best thing of all is that it’s extremely easy to perform.

How to do it:

  • Hold a kettlebell by the handle against the body at chest height.
  • Take a slightly wider than shoulder width stance with your toes slightly turned outwards.
  • Breath into the belly and gently brace the abs so the rib cage stays down
  • Then sit back as if you were sitting on a toilet, heading even pressure on your feet.
  • As you sink down keep your spine tall and your knees tracking out over your feet.
  • Return up in a smooth manner.

Reps/Sets:

As this is a warmup/activation exercise, start with a light kettlebell – 8-12kgs (10-20lbs), perform 15 reps with perfect form. Progressively increase the weight each set. Perform 3 sets.

2. Kettlebell Swings

Now that the anterior chain (i.e. quads) is nice and warm, we warm up and activate the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings etc.). The Kettlebell swing is another great warmup exercise that focuses on hip drive.

How to do it:

  • Pickup a kettlebell so it hands in front of you at hip height.
  • With a stance slightly wider than your goblet squat slightly bend the knees and push your hips back.
  • From here, powerfully drive the hips forward in a standing hip thrust fashion. Let the KB swing in front of you.
  • Your legs, hips and back should all be straight with your arms holding the KB at chest height.
  • Return to the start positioning in a fluid motion by pushing the hips backward.

Reps/Sets:

Like the goblet squat, start with a light weight and work your way up in weight. Prioritize form. Do 3 sets of 15 reps with a minute rest in between sets.

3. Front Squat

Now that we’re awake and warm, we move into our first big lift. The front squat is great for building mobility through the ankles, knees, hips shoulders and elbows, and is a great strength builder for the upper back, core and of course the quads!

How to do it:

  • The front squat has a similar setup to the Goblet Squat, but you will be using a barbell instead of a kettlebell.
  • Sit the barbell against your throat with your fingers supporting the bar (but not holding the weight – let your shoulders take care of that!) and your elbows high.
  • Then, as per the goblet squat, sit back by pushing the hips back and think about your torso dropping down between your legs.
  • Keep the spine tall and elbows up while the knees track out over the feet.
  • Return up in a fluid manner.

Reps/Sets:

As you are warm after the goblet squats, focus on a heavier weight here. Do 3 sets of 5 with a 2 minute rest period.

4. Chin Ups

A great test of one’s strength is to see how many chin-ups you can do! The classic chin-up is a great strength builder for your back, arms, core and grip strength. If you quite have the strength to perform a full chin-up just yet, try using some bangs to assist you.

How to do it:

  • Grab a chin-up bar with a supinated (underhand) grip.
  • Start from a dead hang and pull yourself up.
  • Keep your chest proud (don’t slump over) and aim to lift your chin up over the bar.
  • Control the descent.

Reps/Sets:

2 sets to failure is all you will need here. Take 2 minutes in between sets.

5. Over Head Press

Like the Chin-up, the overhead shoulder press is a another classic lift. There something about lifting a heavy weight above your head! And surprisingly the over head press trains more than simply your shoulder strength. Done properly you will  be working your triceps, upper back, core strength, coordination and stability.

How to do it:

  • Hold a barbell in front of you at throat height, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • With a slight hip drive (be sure to keep the knees straight) drive the bar up towards the ceiling.
  • Lockout the arms and pause for a brief moment before controlling the descent.

Reps/Sets:

If performed poorly, or with too much weight, overhead presses can be a slightly dangerous. For that reason, we will keep the weight a tad lower and the reps higher. I want you doing 3 sets of 10 with a 2 minute rest.

6. Deadlift

Gym goers often brag about their Bench Press weight, but the deadlift is the quintessential test of true strength. You are simply picking up a weight from the floor and in the process strengthening your glutes, trunk, legs, shoulders grip strength and a multitude of other muscle fibres in the body.

How to do it:

  • Start with the barbell on the floor, step close so that your shins touch the bar.
  • Grab the bar with your arms outside your knees.
  • Using a similar setup to the kettlebell swing, slightly bend the knees and push the hips back.
  • Pulling the bar in you and keeping the chest up and proud slowly start to stand up, lifting the weight up (keeping it in contact with the legs)
  • Stand tall and proud at the top and gently lower back to the floor.

Reps/Sets:

We only need one set here. Pick a weight were you can perform 7 quality reps and aim for 8!

7. Push-ups

The ultimate bodyweight exercise! No equipment needed, just your body and a floor! The push-up hits the chest, shoulders, arms and if done properly is a great core exercise.

How to do it:

  • Setup face down on the floor
  • Have your hands on the floor slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Brace the abs, squeeze the glutes and quads (think of your body as one long plank)
  • Then driving your hands into the ground push up until your arms straighten.
  • Slowly lower to the floor and repeat.

Reps/Sets:

We have performed our big strength lifts, now we are going for more conditioning and volume. I want you to perform 3 sets of 12 with a 60 second rest in between. If you find this easy, try a pause and explode push up – whereby you pause one inch off the ground at the bottom and explode upwards with as much force and speed and possible.

8. One Arm DB Row

The One Arm Dumbbell Row is not only a great back builder, but as it is a unilateral lift (i.e. you only use one arm at a time), you can focus on strengthening any left/right muscle imbalances in the upper body. Plus the muscles in your torso will be working overtime to stabilize the body given the uneven load!

How to do it:

  • Setup with your left hand braced on a dumbbell rack or a bench, the other hand should be holding a dumbbell.
  • Your left foot should be flat on the floor under your chest, and your right foot extended behind you up on the balls of your feet.
  • With a straight spine, drive the elbow back and up towards the hip.
  • Control the descent.
  • Perform all reps on one side then repeat with the other side.

Reps/Sets:

If you’re not sweating by now this exercise will open up the sweat pores. I want you to perform 15 reps on each side with only a short 60second rest. Do 2 sets.

9. Farmer’s Walks

If you meet anyone who works on a farm you will notice they have broad shoulders, great grip and a strong handshake! Why? Because they are carrying heavy loads around all day. But you don’t have to move to the farm to reap these same benefits. Instead, all you need are some heavy dumbbells and room to walk.

How to do it:

  • Holding 2 heavy dumbbells by your side, walk for as long as possible.
  • Keep your chest up tall and grip the handles as hard as possible.
  • Count your steps.

Reps/Sets:

Perform 2 sets of Farmers Walks. Count the number of steps you take (you should have a weight that allows you to take 40-60 steps) on the first set, rest for 90seconds then try and better that number in the second set.

10. Hollow Holds

Hollow holds are an extremely underrated ab exercise. Like the push up, all you need is your body and some floor space to lie on (and I’m certain that after performing the 9 exercises above you’ll be longing for a lie down!) But you’re not quite finished yet…

How to do it:

  • Lay on the floor facing up at the ceiling.
  • Crunch the abs hard so that your lower back is pressed against the floor.
  • From here, raise both your legs a few inches off the floor and hold this position.
  • Then straighten your arms behind you and lift them a few inches off the floor as well.
  • Continue to crunch the abs (do not let the lower back arch!)
  • Hold for the allocated time.

Reps/Sets:

To finish I want you performing one set of hollow holds for as long as you can manage. You only have one set and this is the final exercise so give it all you’ve got!

And that’s it!

I can assure you that if you perform the above workout you would have hit every muscle in your body and should leave the gym feeling like you left no stone unturned!

With a workout like this you will need a few days to recover, so take it easy. You could perform a session like this every 4-7 days, or you could break it into two workouts and alternate sessions with 2-3 days rest between each one.

When you try this workout, please let me know how you get on! And if you have any questions be sure to leave them below.

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