A Good Way to Keep Muscles Challenged

When it comes to working your body, my common refrain is "variety is key." That's because your muscles respond better when you work them from different angles with different exercises.

If you do the same movements over and over, your body gets used to them and you may stop seeing improvement. To make sure that doesn't happen, I like to come up with new ways to challenge your muscles. One sure-fire method is to do compound movements. This means you engage multiple muscles all at once. These moves feel much different from those isolation exercises that target just one muscle group at a time, so be prepared to concentrate on several things at once.

With the following multi-move, you'll simultaneously strengthen your arms, shoulders and legs while giving special attention to firming your buttocks--pretty handy now that swimsuit season is here.

Another benefit to doing this compound move is that since you are standing in an upright position, as opposed to sitting on a bench or lying on the floor, you'll recruit your abdominals and back muscles. They have to stabilize your spine throughout the entire exercise, so another big payoff is that your midsection and lower back muscles will get strong too.

Dumbbell Squat With Overhead Press

A. Stand with your feet a little wider than hip width apart. Point your toes out slightly. Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands just above shoulder level, elbows bent in front of you, palms facing in. Inhale and hold your breath briefly as you engage your abdominals by pulling your abdomen toward your spine. Maintain this posture as you bend your knees as if sitting back on a chair. Keep your heels on the floor and your body weight evenly distributed over both feet. Allow your torso to lean slightly forward as you bend, keep your head up and don't round your back.

B. Next, exhale as you press the dumbbells straight up until they are above your shoulders. Your arms should fully extend, but check that you don't "lock" your elbows. Keep your upper arms near your head. At the same time, straighten your legs to a standing position, contracting your buttocks on the way up. Remember to keep your heels on the ground and your abdominals pulled in toward your spine.

Do one or two sets of 12-15 reps each. As you become stronger, progress to three sets and gradually increase the depth of your squat toward 90 degrees. Choose a weight that causes you to fatigue at 12-15 reps. You could start with 3-5 pounds and work up to 8-10 pounds.

If your knees start to hurt, do this exercise without weights and try lowering your body to a lesser angle. Stop before you feel any pain. To reduce stress on your knees, make sure they never go beyond your toes and don't let them roll inward or bow outward.

It is crucial that you do these dumbbell squats slowly. Hold your position at the bottom of the squat for a count of two seconds. Maintain control and make sure your posture is perfect throughout the move. If you do these squats too quickly, not only will you miss out on the benefits, you may even injure yourself.

What could be more efficient than a single smooth move that will tighten your butt as you get the rest of your body in better shape? Executed carefully, compound exercises such as this are a great way to reach many muscles in a short period of time. That means you'll have more opportunity to get outside and enjoy your favorite form of summer fun.

Next month: Shoulders. Previous columns in this series can be found at http://www.latimes.com/rightmoves.

* Joan Voight, a San Francisco-based journalist, contributed to this column.

* Karen Voight is a Los Angeles-based fitness expert whose latest video is "Abdominals & Back." She can be reached at kvoightla@aol.com. Her column appears the first Monday of the month.

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