Walking into a gym when you don’t know what you’re doing is a bit overwhelming. Heck, walking into a gym when you know what you’re doing can still be overwhelming. There are just so many different machines, and the guys who obviously live by the free weights are a bit intimidating.
Thankfully, you don’t need to let the sheer volume of workout opportunities give you anxiety. This is the place to be when you want to crush anxiety and boost your confidence while getting into shape.
Now, you’re gym workout is going to vary a bit depending on your ultimate goal (such as if you want to build muscle, improve strength, drop weight or a combination).
You also need to tailor the exercises a bit in order to better fit your particular fitness, current health and any injuries you are dealing with (even if it’s a reoccurring knee issue, for example).
With all of that said, we have some great ideas and examples for you, most of which are multi-joint lifts and exercises, to help blast more muscle, burn more calories and get you into shape faster.
Best Gym Exercises With Weights
We’ll break up the best gym exercises into a few different categories.
After all, depending on what you’re looking for, you may not want weights in your training (we recommend it, but it’s not for everyone and you know your body type and your final workout goals).
In terms of exercises with weights, we find the best options are those that not only fire up the larger muscle groups, but fire up several different groups at the same time.
After all, while the curl is great for building your bicep, that’s only a small area of your body, and in reality, it doesn’t burn many calories.
We’re aiming at the go-big-or-go-home kind of exercises here. The kinds where if you only have 20 minutes at the gym, these are the exercises you need to squeeze out.
Dumbbell Front Squat Into Shoulder Press
You won’t always combine leg day with upper body lifts. However, there is a time and a place for everything. The dumbbell front squat into shoulder press is something that burns your entire lower portion of the body while blasting your shoulders and upper back. You can combine this with a deadlift in the same day, as the deadlift is another exercise that works multiple muscle groups.
With this lift, stand with our legs slightly wider than shoulder width. Hold the weights just above your shoulders, in line with your neck. Ideally you will not rest the weights on your shoulders.
By not resting the weights on anything you’ll increase the strain on not only your shoulders but your forearms as well, keeping your entire body engaged. Now, lower yourself down until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
You don’t want to go too much further down as this places additional strain on your knees. If you don’t have knee joint problems you can go lower (as you’re not using as much weight as you would with a standard squat).
Push yourself back up, then when you’re back in standing position press the dumbbells up like a shoulder press.
There are a few variations to this. You can spread your legs out extremely wide to perform a sumo squat.
This blasts your booty, if that’s your main target area. You can also add in a little pulse (lower yourself down, begin to move back up but then go back down, before going back up completely).
Squat and Calf Raise
If you’re like many of us, you don’t spend as much time on the calf. Even during leg day, those pesky calf muscles just don’t receive the kind of attention they need. But much like the bicep, it doesn’t take much to target and really hit that area of the body.
In fact, you can do it when you squat. You can even tack this onto the squat/shoulder lift if you’d like (although we like to lift bigger here to really put added weight on the calf).
Basically, you just do your normally squat, however you do it, but instead of stopping, you push yourself up and perform a toe raise. This way, you knock out your squat and your calf raises at the same time without even adding another lift.
Bicep Curl and Shoulder Press
Perhaps you’d rather keep your leg and arm days separate. If that’s the case, the squat into shoulder press wouldn’t really work. Instead, go with this helpful combination. You’ll perform a standard curl, and at the top of the curl, press up into a shoulder press. With this move you’re basically performing a curl into an Arnold press.
You can add a variation of this by performing a hammer curl (where instead of curling up the handle of the dumbbells to your shoulder, the disc of the weight is curled to your shoulder) and into a shoulder press.
With the Arnold press you hit the side of your shoulder and with the hammer curl into your shoulder you’re hitting the front of the muscle. It’s a great way to hit two different sides of your biceps and shoulders at the same time.
Again, these lifts are all about killing two birds with one stone and offering maximum effort for maximum gain.
There are all sorts of cardio options out there. You can basically fit in cardio to your personal needs. Some people love running, others biking or the row machine. It’s always best to switch it up so your body doesn’t become accustomed to the same movements over and over, as this reduces possible results.
If we had to go with one just basic form of cardio, we’d always go with swimming. It literally hits every single muscle in the body and is easy on the joints.
Of course, not all of us are blessed with having a pool around. Working out in the pool also has another benefit: resistance. You’re not just moving your muscles against air and gravity. You’re moving it against water.
So while you may not have a pool nearby for cardio training, you can always pick up a medicine ball.
There are tons of different cardio trends out there, but one trend that’s likely going to always remain is Pilates. It’s basically the cardio fitness version of yoga with resistance training. Pilates uses some resistance training to kick it up a notch. You can combine resistance training to nearly any kind of cardio with it. You can even find some great medicine ball workouts online through YouTube.
It’s one of the best pieces of workout equipment you can purchase that only costs a few bucks and yet instantly upgrades every single bit of indoor cardio you’ll do.
Let’s say you live in an apartment though and doing medicine ball jumping jacks doesn’t really work for the people living under your unit. Not a problem there.
You can grab ankle weights for when you walk the dogs. That little bit of resistance not only amps up the amount of calories you burn but it helps with muscle growth.
Want to really super charge it?
Pick up a weight vest.
We actually like using a well built backpack and slipping a weight plate in it. So then when out walking the dogs you’ve got 25 pounds in the pack. Or if you have an elliptical or treadmill, boost the incline and work with the weights. It’s like walking uphill in sand.
Even if your goal is to build muscle and to be the biggest guy or gal in whatever gym you walk into, it’s very important to add cardio to your workouts. Because here’s the thing. You can have all the muscle in the world, but if you don’t have cardio endurance, you’ll struggle with other activities a super skinny person may not have issue with.
Take, for example, a mountain hike. If you’re the super buff dude who doesn’t put in cardio, you’ll have an extra 50 to even 100 pounds of muscle on your frame than the person next to you.
That’s a considerable amount of extra weight to carry. And while you do great in short, explosive moves like lifts, the longer burn cardio becomes a challenge. You want to be a well-rounded individual that can excel not only at the gym but also in more general physical activities.
One of the best ways to boost your physical fitness as to help with this is through interval training.
The beauty of interval training is you can incorporate it into really anything. Basically, with interval training, you’re going to combine explosive moves with slower burn cardio. Your muscles are made up of quick twitch muscle fibers and slow twitch muscle fibers. Quick twitch muscle fibers are used for explosive moves, such as sprinting, power lifting, ankle-breaking crossover pull-up jumpers and so on.
However, quick twitch muscle fibers burn through energy faster, which is why you can only sprint for so long. Slow twitch muscle fibers burn through energy slowly and are used for endurance exercises. With interval training you’ll work both muscle fibers.
We’ll use an easy interval training of sprinting/jogging. Again, you can use this general setup for any kind of cardio you prefer (and we highly recommend switching it up so not only do you prevent your muscles from becoming accustomed to the moves, but you’ll keep your cardio interesting). With this, you’ll want to spring for as hard as you can for 45 seconds.
This burns through your quick twitch energy while elevating your heart rate.
Now, slow to a jog. Really anything above a fast walk will walk here. It forces your body to instantly go from fast twitch to slow twitch. This kind of workout actually works better than the high intensity interval training (or HIIT) because you don’t just stop and break for 15 seconds.
With this sprint for 45 seconds, then slow jog for another 45. It’s alright if when you’re starting out you extend it to 90 seconds. Just work your way back down to 45 seconds or so over time.
Now, repeat this process.
Aim for 30 to 45 minutes of this kind of cardio. Of course, when you first start out it’ll be tricky to have half of this explosive, quick twitch sprinting. So adjust the interval training to better fit your fitness level.
Here’s one of the problems people run into that reduces possible results. They sprint for a set amount of time, even when they know their body can go further. So if you reach 30 seconds of sprinting and yet know you still have more in the tank don’t just stop.
You’ll see the greatest results when you push yourself. So when you reach the point where the amount of time you’re putting into the quick twitch moves is no longer challenging, increase the amount of time, or reduce the amount of time you’re performing the slower twitch moves.
All of this goes a long way in increasing your endurance levels, burning more calories and improving overall conditioning.
Just remember to mix up your cardio and don’t do the same thing every day.
This way, you’ll see maximum results and avoid those dreaded strength and endurance plateaus common to those who perform the same lifts and exercises without switching it up.
The best gym exercise is the one that works for you. No two people are alike and no two workouts should be exactly the same.
However, take these gym exercises and mold them to fit your needs. You can also use the exercises and workouts as examples to build your own custom workout. This way, you’ll see an improvement in not only your overall performance but your overall physical appearance as well.