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Revamp Classic Exercises to Add Depth to Your Workout

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Revamp Classic Exercises to Add Depth to Your Workout

When you picture going to the gym, what exercises do you see yourself doing? Do the classics, such as push-ups, sit-ups, bench press and others come to mind? These exercises have become staples in countless exercise routines over the years, and Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer Melissa Stansell explains why they’ve stood the test of time.

Improving Physical Fitness

“When we think about ‘training’ the body, we want to mimic how the body moves,” explains Stansell. “Movements like the classic push-up or pull-up do just that by asking the body to perform pushing and pulling actions with its own weight.” As fitness training has evolved we've gained more knowledge about the human body, more of an emphasis is placed on functional training, which includes putting the body in dynamic positions that recreate activities of daily living. This focuses more on engaging core and stabilizer muscles, such as the abdominal muscles and those found in the lower back. “'Classic' exercises build underlying strength and improve functional movement,” says Stansell. “There are definite benefits to incorporating them into your workout.”

Resistance training in general has numerous benefits. The body naturally begins to lose lean muscle mass as we age, so it becomes essential to use resistance training to fight this muscle loss. “Adding load—weight—to the body can help increase muscular fitness, increase bone density and decrease risk of heart disease,” explains Stansell. 

Exercise Modification

Exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, bicep curls and other “classic” exercises can be modified to fit each person’s needs and abilities. Manipulating the position, weight or time under tension are all ways to make these exercises more or less challenging. For example, decreasing the effect of gravity acting on the body plays a role in difficulty. This means push-up beginners may start on a wall to maximum effectiveness. Then, over time, the client should be able to move to lower inclined positions and eventually to a standard push-up on the ground.

More modern twists on these classic exercises have made their way into trainers’ arsenals. “Putting the body in dynamic positions requires it to fire more stabilizers and engage the core muscles,” says Stansell. “Equipment such as the BOSU ball, kettlebells, TRX suspension trainers, sandbells, stability balls and ViPRs are just a few that can add twists to classic exercises.” Try doing a push-up with your hands on the upside-down BOSU ball. The unstable surface makes the exercise much more challenging, and asks the body to recruit more muscle help in order to stabilize.

Incorporating Classic Exercises into Your Routine

Proper form is important when exercising. For example, when doing a classic push-up, make sure the hands are stacked beneath the shoulder and there is a straight line from the neck to the shoulder and down to the hip. “Think about the joints being aligned and all the trunk and core stabilizers being engaged before beginning,” explains Stansell.

The number of reps for each exercise depends on the client’s specific goals and abilities:

  • Endurance: 12-20 repetitions, 1-3 sets at a light load
  • Hypertrophy (muscle growth): 6-12 repetitions, 3-6 sets at a medium/heavy load
  • Strength: <6 repetitions, 2-6 sets at a heavy load
  • Power: 1-5 repetitions, 3-5 sets at a heavy load

“There’s plenty of room for creativity when adding these exercises into a routine,” says Stansell. “Start with the large muscle groups, or primary movers, and then taper down into the smaller stabilizer muscles.” You can put these exercises together for a circuit or high intensity interval (HIIT) routine, depending on your goals. An example of a HIIT circuit could be the following:

  • Run 100 yards 
  • 20 body weight squats 
  • 20 body weight rows 
  • 20 push-ups 
  • 10 stability ball hamstring curls 
  • Repeat 3-5 times

Although many classic exercises are still incorporated into training routines, Stansell cautions against flexion in the spine. “Classic sit-ups have come under fire lately because of the strain they can put on the lower back,” she says. “If one needs to establish core strength and motor control, it would be better to do exercises like glute bridges and planks.” These are anti-flexion, anti-rotation and anti-extension exercises that can reduce the risk of injury while still developing core strength.

For more information about professional training  at Cooper Fitness Center, visit or call 972.233.4832.

Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications