Strength Training: Exercises to Help You Tone Up

Sculpt that physique

by SHFamily | Thu, November 16, 2017

Now that you’ve explored some of the benefits of lifting for your physique, let’s run through a couple quick exercises to help you tone those arms, sculpt those legs and more. Harrison Liao walks us through some of the most important exercises to do just that!

1. (Single-leg) Hip Thrusters

Every personal trainer you’ve ever met probably preaches the squat as gospel. The squat’s involvement of your entire lower body, and abs to a lesser degree, are unparalleled. But it’s not the most effective way to build a bigger butt.

Dumbbells

For many people, squatting is biomechanically quad-dominant (the front of your thighs), and anyone just starting to squat will have a hard time activating their hamstrings and glutes in the movement. If you don’t know how to get your bum into the action, it’s easy to neglect it entirely, even while becoming very good at squatting. Plus, a squat rack can be kind of intimidating.

We recommend hip thrusters instead. They isolate the glutes almost entirely, and are easy to do with just a bench (weights optional).

1. To perform the movement, simply lie perpendicular on a flat bench with just your upper back making contact with the bench. Plant one foot on the ground in front of you, keeping your butt off the ground while maintaining a comfortable bend in the knees.

Single Leg

With just your bodyweight by driving up through the heel of your planted foot, and squeeze at the top.

2. Squeeze at the top of the movement for two full seconds, then lower back to the starting position slowly. Repeat for a set of 10-15 repetitions. If you get to rep 10 and it feels easy, use more weight or contract at the top longer, with more intensity. Aim for four sets with 90 seconds of rest between them.

Single Leg 2

You can also place a plate/small dumbbell on your hip, while perform the same movement. We prefer the single-leg variation of this exercise, as it allows you to use a lighter weight. Heavier ones can be uncomfortable, but can be done with both feet on the ground, if you want.

2. Walking Lunges

This is a more versatile lower-body movement than the hip thrusters, which are all about the bum. You can perform walking lunges in a number of different ways, depending on if you want to emphasize your quad, hamstring, or glute development.

To target the quads, take shorter strides. To target the hamstrings and glutes, lean forward slightly on the way down, take longer strides, and try and drive through the heel of your lead foot.

1. To perform the movement, find a long strip of space – at least 15 feet in length – that you can walk down and back again. Stand up straight, putting you in your starting position.

Walking Lunge

2. Take one step forward, landing with your heel before your toes. Your back knee should not touch the ground: this is the end position. Drive through your planted foot to stand back up while bringing your back foot together with your lead foot. Keep your spine upright at all times. That’s one rep. Repeat, but this time with the other foot as your lead and make your way down the path. Aim for a 12-16 rep range. If you get to rep 12 and it’s easy, use weights by holding two dumbbells in your hands. Go for four sets with 90 seconds of rest between sets.

Walking Lunge 2

What about the upper body?

One area that often doesn’t get the proper stimulation is the pectoralis major, a.k.a. the chest. Again, the at bench gets all the praise here, but EMG (electromyogram) tests have shown it not to be the be-all-and-end-all of chest hypertrophy. You’ll want to incorporate pressing movements, whether that’s with a chest-press machine or the classic barbell bench press, into your routine. But there’s a lot of other movements that you should supplement pressing with to get a tight, defined chest. One great isolation exercise for that: cable flys.

3. Cable Flys

To perform a cable fly, you’ll need a gym with a cable machine. Use the handle extensions, not the ropes or bars, and set the height of the cables to where you can grip the handles at about chest-height, like so:

1. Stagger your feet for balance. This is your starting position. Load up an equal weight on both sides.

Cable Flys

2. From here, bring the handles together while keeping your shoulders back, your back straight and your head up.

Cable Flys 2

Focus on keeping only a slight bend in the elbows and hold the final position for two seconds before slowly returning to the start. It shouldn’t hurt your elbow joints, and if it does, try lowering the pulley height. Repeat for eight to 12 reps for one set. If you get to rep eight and it’s easy, up the weight. Aim for four sets with 90 seconds of rest in between them.

4. Leaning Cable Lateral Raise

For those sculpted shoulders, we love lateral raises. A lot of people have trouble hitting these safely with dumbbells, or they feel like they’re putting their shoulder joints in an uncomfortable position. If that’s the case, the leaning cable lateral raise is an excellent variation.

To perform the movement, find a cable machine and set the pulley height all the way down to the bottom. You’ll only need one side of the machine for this. Fix a handle onto it – not a rope or bar – and grip the handle between your legs.

1. Using your free hand, grab onto something and lean away from the machine. Sounds complicated, but it’s pretty simple and looks like the images below.

Leaning Cable

2. From here, pull the handle out and away from your body, keeping a slight bend in your elbow and your hand in line with the center of your body. Squeeze at the top of the pull before lowering the weight slowly in a controlled fashion. This will also be your end position.

Leaning Cable 2

The reason for putting the weight between your legs is the angle allows your shoulder joints to rest at the starting position. It’s more in line with how your torso naturally rests and makes for a safer movement. The reason for leaning away from the machine is it creates an extra range of motion to add stress to the medial deltoid (your shoulder muscle), which is what lateral raises are designed to do.

Focus not only on moving the handle up but also away from your torso. If you’re not feeling it in your shoulders, one good mental cue is to think about starting the movement from the back of your palm. Try not to “shrug” your way to the top. If you’re doing so, you need to lower the weight. Shoot for four sets of eight to 12 reps with 90 seconds of rest in between. If you get to rep eight and it’s too easy, you know what to do: up the weight.

But what if I like cardio?

Weight training and running aren’t mutually exclusive! However, if you’re only really interested in building lean muscle efficiently, there’s a growing body of evidence that shows cardio will impede those goals. That being said, if you want to be a well-rounded athlete, it’s best to combine strength exercise with cardiovascular.

Weight Training

There is no doubt, though, that if you have a target area on your body that you want to build up, and the key word here is “build” not “trim,” your best bet is to train with weights. Hopefully, we’ve helped point you in the right direction with both the science and workout inspiration to get you started. Most importantly, be safe and have fun!

Hit the ground running!

The great thing about Shanghai is its huge number of gyms to check out:

  • For all the essentials– squat/bench racks, dumbbell rack, yoga/stretching room – try Anytime Fitness (1188 Biyun Lu, 2nd floor) in Pudong Jinqiao. anytime-fitness.com

  • The newly-opened Bambu gym (698 West Nanjing Lu, 2nd Floor) also has everything you need for a full workout.

  • For a comprehensive, five-star gym that doubles as a spa, check out Alexander Health in Xuhui. alexander.cn

  • And another Shanghai regular is Will’s, which features over 20 locations across Shanghai. willsgym.com