The Fab 5 Moves: Must-Have Exercises for Everybody

The FIRM Master Instructor Team by The FIRM Master Instructor Team | December 17th, 2009 | 7 Comments
topic: Fitness, Weight Loss

nancyBy The FIRM Master Instructor Nancy Butts

No matter your fitness or weight loss goals, there are staple exercises that should be a part of every workout routine. These are my top five personal must-have moves. It was really hard to narrow it down, but after careful consideration, I believe these exercises will help you achieve the svelte and fit FIRM body you desire. We’ll count down to my No. 1 all-time favorite move. Are you as excited as I am?

5) Clean and press

This move works the biceps and shoulders — two muscle groups in one move. How can you beat that? The beauty of this move, as with all the exercises I chose, is that there are several ways to do it. Variations of the same move will keep you interested as well as forcing different areas of the muscle to engage.

1. Palms up for the biceps curl, followed by a rotation at the chest to palms out for the shoulder military press. This move engages the outer biceps head, the larger muscle, and the medial delt of the shoulder (or the center/top portion).

2. Palms up for the biceps curl, but rotated out 45 degrees. When the weight is at the outside corner of the shoulder, push the weight straight up to the goal-post position. This angle for the curl engages the inner biceps head, the smaller muscle. The shoulder muscle engaged remains the same.

3. Palms in for the curl, commonly known as the hammer curl. When the weight is at the chest, keep going straight up with the weight remaining slightly in front at the top of the move. This engages the larger biceps muscle, but by keeping the palms in on the way up, you activate the anterior — front — part of the shoulder.

4) Single-leg dead lift

This move really focuses on the hamstring, glute and abdominal muscles, and can be executed in two ways.

1. The working leg is straight with all your weight in the heel. The opposing leg is bent with the toe pointed. Hinge forward from the hip with a flat back. Squeeze the glute and hamstring on the way up.

2. As with option one, the working leg is straight with all your weight in the heel. The opposing leg is also straight and slightly behind the front leg, toe pointed on the ground. As the body hinges forward, the leg moves with it so at the bottom of the move your body and opposing leg are in a straight line. Press the heel in the ground, and squeeze the hamstring and glute as you come top. Changing your footing in the opposing leg makes the move more challenging and forces you to rely on your abdominal muscles to stay balanced. LOVE IT!

3) Push-up

I used to despise this move before I met The FIRM. I have really long arms. I am just shy of 5-foot-8 and have the wing span of a person 6-feet tall. I am not kidding! My long arms and weak upper body have always made this exercise super-challenging for me. I’m sure you’ve noticed this is a standard exercise in every FIRM workout, and being forced to do it on a regular basis made me understand how truly important it is. I saw major changes in my upper body very quickly, which made me become a FIRM Believer of the good old-fashioned push-up. It sculpts the chest, shoulders, triceps, abs and — depending on the variation — the glutes.

The push-up can be executed with the knees down or fully extended on the toes. It is effective either way. Head is aligned with the neck with abdominals always contracted.

1. Hands are under the chest, slightly more than shoulder-width apart, fingers forward. Lower the upper body until the arms are in a 90-degree angle. Chest, shoulders and abs are engaged as you lift the body back to the starting position.

2. Place the hands the same width as above, but turn the fingers inward. Lower the upper body until the arms in a 90-degree angle. By turning the fingers inward, the triceps are forced to kick in as well as the chest, shoulders and abs.

3. Bring the elbows in to the waist, with hands just under the shoulders. Lower the chest to floor. This is commonly known as the triceps push-up. This move is super-hard for me, but I try to do it as often as I can. It really gets the abs, triceps and chest in a different way.

2) Side lunge

I always try to do this move in my class. The main reason is that the entire leg, including the trouble zone that some people refer to as the saddle-bag area, is targeted. Not only is the working leg completely engaged, but the opposing leg is getting a nice little stretch each time you step out for the lunge. Most importantly, let’s not leave out your core. The powerhouse is vital to this move, as it is to all of our moves, but it is a major player in the side lunge. So, you have your calf, hamstring, quadriceps, glute muscles, abdominals and inner thigh of the opposing leg. WOW!

1. With toes facing forward and feet side by side, step out with one foot until the legs are in an “L” position. The working leg is at a 90-degree angle and the opposite left is completely straight. Push off with the heel and come back to the starting position.

2. Proceed as instructed in option one, but instead of going back to start, lift the traveling leg side and then lower down again. You are really activating your core this way.

3. Same as option two, but lift the knee and twist the torso toward it before lowering down again. This engages the obliques.

OK, get the drum roll going, sit on the edge of your seats and give a great big cheer for …

1) The plank

If you are serious about getting into shape and want to change your body, you need to start with the midsection of your body called your core. Your core encompasses all the abdominal muscles that go down the center, side and back of your body between your chest and hips. These muscles are engaged in every move you make, so keeping them strong is essential. A strong core will give you good posture and balance, decrease potential injuries to the low back, and help you develop rock-hard abdominals. There are so many variations to this one exercise I can’t begin to describe them all.

1. Your upper body is resting either on the forearms or the hands, while your lower body is on the knees or toes. Pull your abdominal muscles into your spine; your entire middle section is engaged. Now just hold that position. Easy set up but extremely challenging! You may add variety to this move by doing the following:

  • Pull your knees into your chest either straight (lower abs) or at an angle (obliques)
  • Alternate leg lifts to engage the glute muscles
  • Alternate arms to the side to engage your upper back muscles
  • Lift opposing leg and arm (glutes and upper back)

2. While in the above position, rotate to one side. Your legs may either be crossed or resting one on top of the other. This move focuses on the oblique muscles down the side of your body closest to the floor. For variety:

  • Lift the hips up and down to intensify the move with the opposing arm extended toward the ceiling
  • Put the opposing hand behind the head, and turn toward the floor intensifying the move
  • Lift the top leg toward the ceiling, engaging the abductor muscles
  • Pull the knee into the chest, engaging the lower abdominals
  • Combine the last two moves into one

There you have it: my five essential moves for a FIRM body. Love them or hate them, but don’t work out without them.

the-firm-logoThe FIRM Master Instructor Team blog is shared courtesy of The FIRM Believers Club, an online community that helps you reach your fitness goals. With maximum-efficiency home workouts, support and motivation from The FIRM Master Instructors, daily tips, personalized workout rotation calendars, and access to other members through discussion boards, The FIRM Believers Club provides all the tools you need to get in the shape you want.


  1. I had stopped doing the plank, last night I started again after months of not doing it and I really felts it. I used to be able to hold this pose for at least 30 seconds, last night I was lucky to hold for 5 seconds. But it does work.

    Sheila | December 23rd, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. Pictures should be included of these exercises

    T | December 23rd, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  3. Yes, please post pictures with this article!

    dlc | December 23rd, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  4. I’d have to ad a regular squat or forward lunge in there b/c a side lunge will only mimic a movement pattern that is less common in our daily lives. e.g. getting in and out of the car. A regular squat and/or lunge would mimic a more common movement pattern, such as sitting at our desk, couch (squats), and lunges would be closest to a sprint.
    Thanks for the list!
    Nick Outlaw

    Nick Outlaw | April 24th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  5. Nancy you ROCK! I love every one of those exercises except the pushups. It’s my goal to be able to do regular pushups in October for the next FB Trip. Great advice!

    VeeJae | May 4th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  6. Thank you for the very well covered exercises; I like them !

    However, for readers who are more visual, video presentation will be perfect, though a picture will be better than none.

    But to lose weight or getting six pack abs, exercise alone is not enough, you have to watch out your diet also.

    Try to select as natural and unprocessed food as possible.

    alfred | July 25th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  7. I do think squats should have made an appearance but other than that it looks pretty good.

    I think some people are scared of weight training when trying to lose weight and just stick to boring cardio sessions, but it is definitely important to get a good mixture of weights and cardio to reap the full benefits.

    Theo | January 9th, 2011 | Comment Permalink

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