Five Multi-Muscle Moves to a Stronger You

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

September 14, 2005

Looking to add some strength training to your fitness regimen, but don’t have a lot of time after your cardio workout? Good news! You’re only five multi-muscle moves away from a stronger, fitter body.

“Multi-muscle moves are a very efficient training tool since they utilize many muscle groups at the same time,” says New York City fitness professional Christopher Warden, CSCS. “The deadlift is a great example. With that one exercise alone, you can work about 75% of the muscles in your body.”

Instead of isolating individual muscle groups, which we rarely do in real life, multi-muscle exercises encourage the body to move in a functional way (which translates into making everyday activities like carrying groceries or mowing the lawn easier). “While multi-muscle moves lead to a quicker workout, they also teach the exerciser to use and appreciate the body as an integrated working unit,” says Warden. “Additionally, they strengthen your stabilizing muscles which will put you on the path to better posture and a stronger overall physique.”

With Warden’s help, we have created a multi-muscle workout that actively targets all the major muscle groups in five moves. “A great deal of energy can be expended working these large muscles, and as these muscles grow, they’ll demand more energy which will lead to an even greater opportunity to burn fat.”

The Exercises

Depending on fitness level, complete 1-3 sets of 15 repetitions for each multi-muscle move.

1. Modified Push-ups (works chest, front of shoulders, core stabilizers) – Supporting weight on hand and knees, lower hips and walk hands forward until arms are straight under shoulders. Body should be a diagonal from crown of head to knees (no swayed back). Keeping abdominals tight and eyes forward, inhale and bend elbows to lower body towards floor. Stop when upper arm is parallel to floor (any further stresses shoulder joint). Exhale while straightening arms to return to up position.

*Note: More advanced exercisers can do push-ups with straight legs, but be careful to maintain a straight body. Don’t let hips dip.

2. Bent Over Rows (works complete musculature of upper and lower back, back of shoulders, core stabilizers) – Holding a 5-10 pound dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in towards body (or a barbell with hands spaced shoulder-width), stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, shoulders over hips and chin neutral. With abs tight and back flat, hinge forward from hips until torso is just above parallel to floor, arms hang down naturally from shoulders. Keeping arms tight to torso, simultaneously retract shoulder blades and bend elbows while pulling weight up towards bottom of ribcage. Pause, squeezing shoulder blades and elbows towards each other. Lower arms. Complete all repetitions before returning to upright standing position.

3. Step-Ups (works glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, core stabilizers) – Stand in front of a sturdy step/box, hands on hips, focus front, abs tight, right foot placed flat on step/box, right knee bent and left knee soft. Pushing off right foot, and engaging right glute muscle, bring left foot up to meet right foot until body reaches upright standing position on top of step/box. Step back and down off step/box with left foot, leaving right foot on top through all 15 repetitions on that side. Switch legs and repeat step-ups with left foot remaining on top of step/box throughout.

*Note: Ideal height of the step box/bench is a height where, when your foot is on the bench, the thigh of the corresponding leg is parallel to the floor.

4. Dumbbell Deadlifts (works glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, core stabilizers) – Place a 10-20 pound dumbbell on floor (standing on its end). Stand over dumbbell with feet aligned on either side of the weight, just wider than shoulder-width apart, and toes slightly turned out. Keeping abs tight and back flat, bend knees and drop hips towards floor, as if squatting. Torso tilts naturally forward. Grasp weight, keeping arms extended. Straighten legs while picking up dumbbell and resume an upright standing position. At top of move, contract glutes and push pelvis slightly forward. Bend knees once again, following the same path to return dumbbell to floor. mmediately start next repetition from this bent-knee position.

5. Plank-Cobra Combo (works abdominals, lower back, glutes, core stabilizers) – Lie on stomach with weight on forearms, elbows directly beneath shoulder joints, hands clasped and head aligned with spine. Tuck toes under, engage abdominals and lift body off floor (pushing shoulders down) so that your body is in a straight line from head to toe. Don’t let back sway or hips pike. Hold for 10 seconds; release. Unclasp hands, rest torso and forehead on floor, and open arms to 90-degree angles by shoulders, palms down. Keeping hipbones pressing into ground, simultaneously extend and lift head, shoulders, arms and legs a few inches from floor. Don’t "crunch" neck by tilting head too far back. Pause, feeling a squeeze in glutes and lower back. Lower slowly. Re-clasp hands to return to plank position and repeat.

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