I realized while I was writing this post that I need to take new fitness photos. This one has nothing to do with any of my total body workout favorites! I’ve used the good ones I have, and the others are grainy, but I digress. I’ve worked hard to become strong. I have varied my workouts between isolation exercises and full body workouts over time depending on what I was trying to achieve. I tried extremely hard to gain bulk and weight but other than five pounds, it was impossible. Once I realized that I wasn’t meant to be the size I hoped for, I shifted my focus to strength and overall health and well-being. I prefer overall body workouts. They make me feel good.
Over time I’ve chosen the total body workouts that work best for me. I find the ones I am better at have more of a rhythmic movement than the ones that don’t, like burpees.
In my post, Spice up your life – your fitness life that is! I talked about the five essential elements of fitness: cardio, strength, core, balance, and stretching/flexibility. All five are key to maintaining a healthy routine.
Here are some of my favorite overall workouts and why I like them best. Not included on this list are the fusion fitness classes my sister taught since she doesn’t anymore. Hopefully, she will start it again one day. Just know that it was TOUGH and fun and awesome.
I’m ranking them in reverse order because I feel like being suspenseful today, and I’m trying to make you wonder which one will triumph in the end. I will also pretend that you won’t just scan the clearly marked headings to see it all at once!
Number 4: Pull ups
- Elements: Strength and core
- Focus: Arms, shoulders, back, core and your glutes to a lesser extent
Pull-ups are one of the best upper body exercises of all time. I hated pull ups when I first tried them. But because I had always heard that they were almost impossible for women to do, I knew I had to master them no matter what. If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that you can’t tell me that something is too hard for women to do, so I had to be successful at it. And I was. Granted, I haven’t been able to do more than 10 in a row, but I’m very proud of being able to do them.
How to do a pull-up: Hang from a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from you. Keep your chest up, your shoulders back, squeeze your glutes and cross your feet. Next, pull yourself up so that your chin rests over the bar. Lower yourself back down steadily with control. You have to make sure to set your shoulders and keep your elbows close to you.
Pull up modifications:
Jumping pull ups: Jump from the ground or an elevated surface. Use momentum to help propel yourself up to the bar and into the top of a pull-up position. Next, slowly lower yourself down with control. The same proper form from above applies.
Use bands: Loop a band around the pull-up bar and then again around your feet, or knees, to help you push past the tough point of the pull-up. It takes some of your body weight, so you’re not pulling up as much of it.
Read more about pull ups and proper form.
Number three: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- Elements: Cardio, strength, core, flexibility (based on your program)
- Focus: Core, back, biceps, triceps, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves (based on your program)
I’m relatively new to HIIT, so we’ll see if it moves past number two on my list with time. It is a fantastic workout so far. There are many different types of HIIT workouts including ones for beginners.
HIIT alternates between intense work periods and recovery time. The intense work periods may range from five seconds to eight minutes long, usually completed at 80% to 95% of your estimated maximal heart rate. That’s the maximum number of times your heart will beat in a minute without overexerting yourself. The recovery time may last as long as the work periods, and usually performed at 40% to 50% of your estimated maximal heart rate. The workout continues with the alternating work and recovery periods.
Regardless of the type of program you use, some of the benefits include:
- aerobic and anaerobic fitness
- abdominal fat and body weight loss or maintenance
- muscle mass maintenance
- blood pressure and cardiovascular health
My program was built with my trainer to account for my strengths and weaknesses, and to fit into my lifestyle. If it’s in your budget, I recommend working with a trainer, at least in the beginning and especially if you haven’t worked out before or are coming back from an injury. They can build a program for you as well as make sure your form is correct. You can injure yourself with some of the aspects of the program if your form is off or if you start with a program you aren’t ready to handle.
Here are some samples of HIIT workouts:
Number two: Deadlifts
- Elements: Strength, core, and balance
- Focus: Back, core, calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes and forearms
I love deadlifts. At the gym, these are my favorite exercise. The deadlift builds total upper body strength. It’s an amazing exercise, but it does come with risks. You can injure your back with the wrong technique, so it’s imperative that your form is accurate, you lock your core, and keep your back flat throughout the lift.
The movement is relatively simple, and with the proper focus and attention to technique, you can avoid injury. The goal is to lift a bar with weights off the ground and bring it up to your thighs using your whole body. In the end, you will be standing upright and your arms straight with the weight hanging.
I recommend working with a trainer for these, or with someone that can spot you and make sure you’re doing them right until you perfect the form. I would also recommend that someone spot you as you’re increasing your weights until you’ve completely mastered this exercise.
Read more about deadlifts and proper form on bodybuilding.com.
Number one: Ballet
- Elements: Strength, balance, flexibility, stretching, core and cardio
- Focus: Core, back, biceps, triceps, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that has read my other fitness posts that ballet ranks as my favorite workout. It’s not just because I wanted to be a ballerina, but it’s a total body package that covers all elements of a healthy fitness program when done properly. To sum it up, ballet is pure awesomeness. And it’s just as tough for men as it is for women. See the links below for additional information; I’m not just completely biased!
In a nutshell (because I can talk about ballet all day long), it involves poses with arm and foot positioning and movements.
- Foot positions: There are five positions in ballet that are common across teaching methods.
- Arm positions: There different types of arm positions that depend on the teaching method.
- Movements: plièr: bend (like a squat), etendre: stretch, relever: to rise up, sauter: jump/leap, elancer: dart, glisser: glide, tourner: turn
They work in combination to make up the routines.
Ballet also involves an excellent barre warmup routine, which you can do as a standalone warmup if you don’t want to get into a full routine.
If you’re interested in trying ballet, research to find the right fit for you. Because it’s become popular with some celebrities in the past few years, it’s opened up many variations of styles of classes. Some of the classes out there today are focused on only some of the elements, and won’t give you the real experience. But you may only want to focus on some things and not the full ballet program. The information in the links below provide a basic overview.
Ballet information for adults from The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) in the UK. I’m a RAD trained dancer, so I had to link to this information since I know it best. There other major ones are the Balanchine Method used at New York City Ballet, the Vaganova and Legat Methods from Russia, The Cecchetti Method from Italy, the Bournonville Method from Denmark and the style used at the Paris Opera Ballet.
Ballet information for men from Men’s Health
I’m officially done talking about ballet now. I guess I could have written an entire post on it alone!
These are my four favorite total body workouts so far. I left squats off the list because you can get them with ballet and HIIT, and pushups because they’re also done with HIIT.
As with any workout, I like to remind people to check with your doctor before you start something new or intense to make sure it’s appropriate for you.
The total body workouts I haven’t tried yet that I want to try: Kettlebell swings and boxing.
The ones I don’t like: Burpees. That is all.
What are your favorite total body workouts and why?