It’s always interesting when a client asks me to pin down a single exercise as the one that will help lose the most fat or sculpt the quickest. I’m always slow to answer.
You see, I’m acutely aware of the fact that though an exercise may be perfect for Client A, it may not be the best choice for Client B—which makes me hesitant to label any exercise as the universal best.
That being said, there are exercises that are better than others. And, yes, there are even a few that I would label as the best.
What makes an exercise the best?
When deciding which exercises to include in your routine it is important to consider the type of movement involved. The simpler the movement, the fewer calories you’ll burn. On the other hand, the more complex the movement, the more calories you will burn.
Simply stated, exercises that use complex movements will deliver better results than exercises that use only simple movements. Complex movements recruit multiple muscles, some to stabilize and others to perform the movement. This process keeps your heart rate higher than a simple exercise would, giving you a more intense workout.
What is a complex movement?
A complex movement is a multi-joint movement that recruits large portions of the body to complete the exercise. Let’s compare a simple movement leg exercise with a complex movement leg exercise:
The leg extension machine uses a simple, isolated movement to work the quadriceps. You’re in a seated position moving only your knee joint. There isn’t much involvement, if any, from other muscles and it doesn’t burn very many calories.
Now let’s look at a free weight walking lunge. You start by standing with your feet together and a dumbbell in each hand at your sides (or a barbell across your shoulders, or a medicine ball held at your chest, or even with no weight at all). You take a large step forward and lower your back knee, keeping your front knee at a 90 degree angle. Now you push off your front foot and pull your back leg forward, repeating the movement.
How many muscles did you utilize while performing the lunge? Probably too many to count.
You certainly worked your quadriceps, gluteus, hamstrings, calves, abdominals, supporting muscles in your shoulders, arms and back—just to name a few. You also raised your heart rate and really kicked your metabolism into high gear. That’s what I call a great exercise.
Other ways to increase intensity
Using complex movements are just one of many ways to kick your workout intensity up a notch. Try incorporating a Super Set into your routine. To do so simply perform two or more exercises in a row and then take a short rest.
Or how about a Compound Set? Perform one exercise, rest, then perform an exercise with opposing body parts. To find exercises that compliment one another, choose ones that have similar but opposite motions such as a chest press and a row.
The key to finding the best exercise is to find the ones that bring your workout intensity to a whole new level.
I’d be shortchanging you if I named any exercise as the best. The fact of the matter is that it is a combination of changing your workouts up, using interval training, and even some good old cardio that will ultimately see you to your goal.
These methods will help you to burn more calories, increase your metabolic rate, and will stimulate the production of more fat burning and muscle toning hormones. Of course, there is more involved to achieving your fitness goals. You need to incorporate fat burning into your routine. You need to consistently challenge yourself during workouts. You need to take control of your eating habits and to get your diet dialed in.