Turn these eight classic moves into eight unique workouts that align with nearly any fitness goal.
Everywhere you turn, you’re bombarded by options — cars in every make, model and color imaginable; toothpaste that fights tartar, bad breath and gingivitis; and Nikes that you can design yourself, right down to the placement of the Swoosh. It’s enough to drive you mad. Working out is no less confounding, since there are literally thousands of exercises to choose from. Not that variety is bad, but when it comes to ultra-efficient moves that work multiple muscle groups, there are a select few that will do the job.
These eight exercises fit that bill, and while they aren’t the only ones on the map that can accomplish this aim, they are pretty darn awesome. Master these moves and then simply “plug ‘n’ play” them into these eight sample workouts that target just about any fitness goal. Whether you adopt this as your standard training plan or just dip into this list occasionally, you’ll find you can accomplish a lot with the bare minimum. Your life-addled brain will thank you.
Barbell Front Squat
The barbell squat may be the so-called king of exercises, but shifting the barbell from the back to the front comes with several unheralded benefits. “Front squats improve your core strength, increase flexibility and build beautiful, strong quads,” says Canada-based health and fitness coach Jess Callegaro, creator of The Progress Project coaching program.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell across your front delts and clavicle in a racked position — hands outside your shoulders, elbows flipped underneath. Kick your hips back and bend your knees as you drop your glutes straight down toward the floor, keeping your chest up, back neutral and abs tight. Drive through your heels and extend your legs and hips quickly to return to the start.
- Quick Tip: Keep your elbows lifted and your arms parallel to the floor throughout so the bar stays in place and does not roll forward.
- Make It Harder: “Adding a one-to three-second hold or pulse at the bottom of each rep creates more overall time under tension,” Callegaro says.
Sumo Barbell Deadlift
The conventional deadlift is the secret weapon for shapely glutes, but taking a wider sumo stance helps accentuate the outer glute area, according Heather Farmer, a national Olympic-weightlifting competitor and fitness coach based in New York City. “It’s also a good exercise for those who may lack the flexibility to achieve a flat back in a conventional deadlift with their feet together,” she adds.
Stand behind a barbell with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and your legs and feet angled outward slightly. Bend your knees and press your hips rearward until you can grasp the bar with an alternating grip and your hips are just below 90 degrees. Keep your chest lifted and back tight as you straighten your legs and hips to pull the bar straight up in a vertical path. Squeeze your glutes at the top, then slowly lower along the same path and repeat.
- Quick Tip: As you stand, make sure your knees press outward and track over your toes to keep tension in your glutes.
- Make It Harder: Manipulate your speed on the descent. “Lower the bar slowly so that the plates don’t make any noise when they touch the floor,” Farmer says.
Dumbbell Lateral Lunge
This popular unilateral exercise rocks each leg individually, meaning a stronger side can’t compensate for a weaker one, as can happen in a bilateral lift. “Holding a weight on the same side as your lunging leg pulls you deeper into that hamstring and glute, giving a stronger contraction on the way back up,” says Angelo Grinceri, movement specialist and high-profile trainer in New York City.
Hold a dumbbell in your left hand and stand with your feet together, shoulders back, core braced. Take a long step to the left, bending your left knee and tracking it over your toes until it makes a 90-degree angle while keeping your right leg straight, foot flat. Drive through your left foot to straighten your leg and push off the floor back to the start. Complete all reps on one side, then switch the weight to the other side and repeat.
- Quick Tip: “Keep your [working] shoulder blade pulled back, and focus on shifting your butt back as you lower down,” Grinceri recommends.
- Make It Harder: Secure an exercise band around your ankles to add extra resistance.
Pull-ups mainly hit your latissimus dorsi — the fan-shaped muscles that run along each side of your back — but they also involve your biceps, upper back, traps, forearms and obliques. “Pull-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises you can possibly master,” Callegaro says. “Adding them to your regimen will increase overall upper-body strength while increasing intensity in a fun, challenging way.”
Take a wide overhand grip on a pull-up bar and hang freely with your arms fully extended. Your legs can either be straight or crossed — whichever is more comfortable. Draw your shoulder blades together, then drive your elbows down and back to lift your body upward until your chin is above the bar. Slowly lower back to the dead hang and repeat.
- Quick Tip: If you can’t do a pull-up, build strength by performing scapular pull-ups, bodyweight rows and angled TRX or ring rows, Callegaro says.
- Make It Harder: “Burpee pull-ups are definitely my recommendation for advancing this move,” Callegaro says. “Other ways to create intensity are manipulating speed and incorporating five-second holds in the middle and top positions.”
Kettlebell Overhead Carry
It may seem a little silly at first glance to be walking around the gym holding a kettlebell overhead — but choose a challenging weight and you’ll quickly realize that this exercise is no joke. “Carries train shoulder stability and will challenge your core as it works to stabilize the muscles around your spine,” Grinceri says. “It’s a great pick to improve overall body strength in a controlled way, without the explosiveness required by many other functional moves.”
Hold a kettlebell in one hand and press it straight up over your shoulder. The weight should rest against the back of your arm, and your shoulder should actively press upward throughout the move. Walk forward taking small, controlled steps, for distance or time. Switch sides and repeat.
- Quick Tip: “Think about keeping your joints ‘stacked’— wrist over forearm, forearm over elbow, elbow over shoulder, and down through your body,” Grinceri suggests.
- Make It Harder: Perform the exercise with both arms simultaneously. “Doubling the amount of weight overhead increases the stress on your core and keeps your entire upper body working,” Grinceri says.
Landmine Chest Press
The landmine apparatus is a simple sheath that anchors one end of a barbell to the floor while leaving the other end free. Two favorites for Dan Roberts, CSCS, founder of the Dan Roberts Group, are the chest press and the barbell rotation (next exercise). “The press develops your upper chest and triceps, but your scapular stabilizers and core are engaged, too, particularly the internal obliques and transverse abdominis in an anti-rotational capacity,” he says.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the bar at your chest with both hands at the end. (Note: Load any plates needed on the bar before lifting.) Walk your feet back a little so your body is inclined toward the barbell and makes a straight line from head to heel. Bend your knees slightly to load up, then powerfully push the barbell upward and forward until your arms and legs are straight. Lower the bar back to your chest under control.
- Quick Tip: “Engage your core before you start, and exhale as you extend your arms,” Roberts says.
- Make It Harder: Add a squat to each rep to make this a total-body move.
Landmine Barbell Rotation
You may know about working in rotation, but anti-rotation works your body in a whole new way, training your muscles to resist a force to create strength and stability. “This anti-rotational exercise stimulates the core and is a good option if you play a racket or throwing sport,” Roberts says.
Stand with your feet outside shoulder-width apart, and hold the end of the barbell overhead with straight arms. Rotate slowly to one side, lowering the bar in a smooth arc to hip level while keeping your arms straight and your feet connected to the floor. Return to the start and repeat on the other side to complete one rep.
- Quick Tip: Keep your hips square and stable throughout the move. “In addition, hold your breath for two seconds as you get to the end range of each rotation,” Roberts says.
- Make It Harder: Balance on one leg as you do the rotations to kill your core and work the glutes and ankle stabilizers, Roberts advises.
This combination upper-/lower-body exercise is an excellent way to incinerate calories while training for power. “If you’re aiming for maximal loads, you’ll need to increase your overall explosiveness and core control when bringing the bar overhead,” Farmer says.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold a barbell outside your shoulders in the racked position — resting on your clavicle and anterior delts with your elbows lifted underneath. Kick your hips back and bend your knees to drop your glutes straight down toward the floor, keeping your chest and elbows lifted, and lower into a deep squat. Drive up forcefully through your heels, extending your hips and knees and generating enough momentum, so as you approach full extension, you can transfer that energy to extend your arms and press the barbell straight up overhead. Lower the bar back to shoulder level and repeat.
- Quick Tip: “The entire action should be one fluid movement,” Farmer says.
- Make It Harder: Add a clean to the front end of the move. “Begin with the barbell on the fl oor, clean it to your shoulders and then complete the thruster,” Farmer says.
Goal: Basic Muscle Building
Nothing beats the basics when it comes to building a foundation for muscle, and this workout uses a good rep range for hypertrophy — i.e., growth. Use a moderately challenging weight for each of these moves, and rest 60 to 90 seconds between sets. If you want a little more of a burn, trim that rest down to 30 to 45 seconds.
Goal: Advanced Muscle Building
Playing with your tempo is a great way to engage all your muscle fibers — slow twitch, fast twitch and everything in between. For each move with an asterisk (*), perform two reps using a very slow, five-second concentric contraction and a very slow five-second eccentric contraction. Next, do two explosive reps — strong and powerful on the way up and carefully controlled on the way down. That completes one cycle; eight to 12 reps equals two to three cycles. The remaining exercises should be done with a steady cadence and no explosiveness.
Goal: Intermediate Muscle Building
Your body is a wonderful machine and will get used to whatever you throw at it in short shift. This workout throws your body a curveball to all but guarantee progress. For each exercise with an asterisk (*), you’ll begin with a moderately heavy weight and will build for the first three sets, decreasing your reps as you go. You’ll then strip that weight incrementally for two sets, increasing your reps accordingly. Rest up to 90 seconds between sets, if needed, in order to fully recover. For the remaining moves, perform them in straight sets, resting as needed in between.
Goal: Super Power
Training for power adds lean muscle to your frame, and the more weight you can lift, the denser and shapelier your muscles — and the faster your metabolism. Spend plenty of time warming up, building to a weight you can handle for five or 10 reps; this is your starting weight for each move (when applicable).
Goal: Endurance and Conditioning
Muscular endurance is important not only from a performance perspective but also from a lifting one: The longer you can last in a workout, the more time you can spend training and the more fat and calories you will burn. For this workout, your goal is to complete one set of 50 or 100 reps per move, so choose a moderately heavy weight and break the reps into manageable sets — for instance, five sets of 20 pull-ups. Stop for short 15- to 30-second rest periods, as needed, getting right back to it when you’re partially recovered. Do these workouts back-to-back with a little break in between, or perform them on separate days.
Goal: Fit and Fabulous
Supersets are a super-efficient way to elevate your heart rate and get your fit on, burning calories while saving time. Choose a moderate weight, and do the moves in each superset back-to-back with little to no rest in between. Rest 30 seconds between sets and supersets.
Goal: Metabolic Overload
This three-part workout hits your entire body and puts your metabolism into overdrive: The ever-changing pace and variable workload gives your body a new twist to handle at every turn.
Every two minutes, do the below workout. Complete four total rounds. Note: There is no rest between the kettlebell overhead carries and the start of the next round.
* Split your time equally between both arms.
Complete five rounds of the below workout and keep track of your time. Note: You’ll use the same weight on the barbell for all the moves, so defer to your weakest lift when choosing your load.
Complete all the reps for the below exercise using good form as quickly as possible. Keep track of your time and try to beat it at a later date.
Goal: Strong and Shredded
Being lean doesn’t mean sacrificing performance, and often the strongest women are also the most shredded. This workout targets strength first, then moves into a fast-paced, fat-blasting AMRAP wherein you complete as many rounds and reps as possible within the time frame given. You’ll finish up with some focused endurance work to kill your core, but good.
Running Clock: 10 minutes (5 minutes per move)
For each move, build to a heavy weight with which you can complete three continuous reps. The weight should be very challenging, but not so much so that you have to drop the bar in between.
Complete as many rounds and reps as possible of the below workout within the 15-minute time cap.
Complete three rounds of the below workout. Take your time and focus on executing each one with perfect form.
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Add a little oomph to your upper body with a strong finish to your workout.
Twenty years ago, we were concerned with our fat-burning zone. We thought the effectiveness of our workout was dictated by the heart-rate zone that we were aiming for.
It turns out, however, that endless hours spent slouched over a stationary bike or leaning over the stepper are not only terribly boring, but also not the best way to lean out, tone up and look sexy.
Quick Workouts, Quick Results
In recent years, research has shown that total energy expenditure (a.k.a. how many calories you burn) can be increased with short bouts of anaerobic exercise. This type of exercise is short and intense, and relies mostly on sources of energy other than oxygen – some examples are lifting heavy weights or sprinting across a soccer field. Researchers have found that when women participate in resistance training at higher intensities (with heavier weights and shorter breaks), they sizzle more calories postworkout!
So what does that mean for you? Steady-state exercise, such as 45 minutes on the elliptical trainer, does not torch as many calories as would a session of similar length spent lifting weights in a circuit. Since the total amount of calories you burn is what’s important (not the percentage that comes from fat), you should increase your exercise intensity with more-bang-for-your-buck routines – like the exciting finishers we’ve provided for you here.
Bring Up The Burn
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that, when compared to traditional straight-set workouts, exercises performed at a high intensity with short recovery periods (which these finishers prescribe), caused more calories to be burned during the workout, while also increasing the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which dictates how much energy your body uses after exercise in order to return to its preworkout state.
The Magic Method
A finisher is basically a circuit done at the end of a regular workout. These two finishers mesh body-weight, free-weight and band exercises to improve upper-body strength and definition. Add one (or both!) of these to your program when your metabolism needs a boost; the best part is, they can be tacked onto the end of any routine.
When doing your finisher sets, keep these points in mind:
- Choose one finisher and go through all four exercises as quickly as possible with correct form.
- Do not rest between exercises, except at the end (to ramp up the EPOC and burn more calories).
- Take a 30- to 60-second break after your first circuit before performing the second round.
Benefits Of Finishers:
- Better at burning calories compared to steady-state aerobic exercise for the same duration.
- Enhanced fat loss while developing strength; these ones target your upper body and core.
- Improved aerobic (fueled by oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) fitness levels.
Finisher 1: Core Biceps, Delts
Repeat the circuit once, staring with Seal jumps.
*ALAP = as little as possible.
Target Muscles: whole body
Set Up: Stand with your feet together and your arms extended in front of you; your palms should touch as shown.
Action: Jump, bringing your legs out to the sides as if doing a jumping jack. At the same time, move your arms out to the sides. Land with your body in a “star” position, then jump your legs and hands together; repeat.
Tip: make your reps explosive and speedy!
Incline-Bench Dumbbell Curl
Target Muscles: biceps brachii, brachialis
Set Up: Lie faceup on an incline bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward.
Action: Bend your elbows to curl the dumbbells. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top, then lower until your elbows are semi-straight. Repeat.
Barbell Overhead Press
Target Muscles: anterior and lateral deltoids, triceps brachii
Set Up: Hold a barbell, keeping your hands shoulder-width apart and your palms facing forward. Keep your elbows pointed down while maintaining neutral wrists.
Action: Press the bar overhead; your arms should finish beside your ears. Lower to chin level and repeat.
Target Muscles: scapular stabilizers, abdominals
Set Up: Stand tall with feet together, then squat down as shown.
Action: Walk your hands forward until they are in front of your shoulders. Carefully reverse, stand and repeat.
Tip: As you walk forward, brace your core and squeeze your glutes.
Finisher 2: Core, Triceps, Pecs and Back
Repeat the circuit once, staring with Mountain Climbers.
*ALAP = as little as possible.
Target Muscles: abdominals
Set Up: Start at the top of the push-up position. Keep your elbows locked, with your hands directly under your shoulders.
Action: Quickly alternate bringing one knee towards your chest, maintaining a neutral spine as you “climb.” Continue alternating for your entire set.
Tip: Your back should remain flat as you move your legs forward and back.
Rolling Triceps Extension
Target Muscles: triceps brachii
Set Up: Lie faceup on a bench. Hold a dumbbell in each hand straight over your chest, with your palms facing each other.
Action: Without moving your upper arms, lower the weights towards your forehead. Roll your elbows behind your head in the bottom position, then reverse fluidly. Repeat.
Tip: You’ll press up rather than extend your elbows if the weight is too heavy.
Target Muscles: pectoralis major, triceps brachii, anterior deltoids, serratus anterior
Set Up: Get into push-up position, with your hands slightly turned out and roughly shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, and keep your legs and feet together.
Action: Bend your arms, keeping your elbows slightly tucked, to lower towards the floor. Extend your arms, then protract, or press your shoulder blades away from each other; it will look like you are slightly rounding your upper back. Repeat.
Tip: the rounding of your back is subtle, but you should feel it.
Target Muscles: rotator cuffs, posterior deltoids
Set Up: Anchor a band at a point higher than your height. Hold one end in each hand, with your palms down, facing the floor.
Action: Pull the band towards your face, leading with your thumbs. Flare your elbows out and rotate through your shoulders. Finish with your hands near your head. Extend your arms to return to the starting position, then repeat.
Tip: Don’t pull too low towards your chest because you will not externally rotate your shoulders, and you will lose the effect on the rotator cuff muscles.
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Get into fighting shape — fast! — with this boxing-themed workout.
At the end of a long day, who doesn’t want to punch something — or someone? In the interest in avoiding a battery charge, you might want to try this quick, stress-relieving workout instead.
“Boxing is incredible for building cardiovascular strength, losing overall body fat and toning muscle, but its benefits extend beyond the ring,” says Tommy Duquette, co-founder of FightCamp and former member of USA Boxing. “It can be incredibly liberating to learn how to punch, jab and block an opponent’s attack, and it can lead to improved confidence and empowerment as well as mental clarity and stress relief.”
Boxers have to be able to think quickly on their feet with minimal rest, which is why Duquette recommends an EMOM (every minute on the minute) programming format. “The progressively shortened rest periods keep your heart rate up and your head in the game since you have to focus on giving the maximum effort every round,” he says.
Forward/Backward Lunge and Punch
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands in a “ready” boxing position — fists closed, elbows bent, arms in close to your body to protect your face and head. Take a large step forward with your right leg, bending your knees to lower into a deep lunge while simultaneously throwing a straight punch with your left hand. Return to the start, then step your right foot back into a reverse lunge and throw a jab with your left hand. Return to the start. Repeat with your left leg/ right hand and continue, alternating sides.
Tip: Make sure you’re stable in your lunge before throwing your punch. Otherwise, you might lose your balance and compromise your form.
Forearm Plank Punch
Get into a forearm plank with your elbows underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Brace your core and keep your hips stable as you punch forward with your right fist, arm parallel to the floor. Return to plank and repeat on the left side to complete one rep. Continue, alternating sides.
Tip: Don’t allow your body to rock back and forth. Drive through your heels as you punch forward to stiffen your core and keep your body stable.
Power 180 + Hooks
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, core tight, arms in the boxer’s ready position. Quickly bend your hips and knees to load your posterior chain, then jump into the air and turn 180 degrees to the left. Land softly, load up and jump 180 degrees back to the start. Hold here as you throw a hook punch with each arm — shoulder level and parallel with the floor, elbow bent — driving across your body — to complete one rep.
Tip: Generate more power and engage your core with a pivot: Drive through your same-side foot and turn your hips in the direction of the punch as you extend your arm.
Get into plank with your fists underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Bend your elbows and lower your body in a push-up, keeping your elbows in tight until your chest almost touches down. Extend your arms forcefully to return to the start and punch forward with your right hand. Keep your arm extended as you open your chest to the right and pivot into a side plank, hips and shoulders stacked. Return to the start and continue, alternating sides.
Tip: Don’t rush this move. Complete each portion with precision to maintain balance and be efficient.
Lie with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent and your fists in front of your shoulders, elbows bent. Sit up quickly and throw a straight jab with each arm before lowering back to the floor. Continue, alternating lead arms with each rep.
Tip: If you’re having trouble sitting up from the floor, anchor your feet underneath a set of dumbbells for additional stability and support.
At the top of each minute, begin the programmed task. On the odd minutes, perform Couplet 1 and rest any remaining time. On the even minutes, perform Couplet 2 and rest any remaining time. At the end of 10 minutes, perform the finisher. Record the number of reps you got and try to beat it next time.
Couplet 1 (minutes 1, 3, 5, 7, 9)
Couplet 2 (minutes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10)
Finisher: 1-Minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible)
You can do these moves with or without the gloves, but the gloves add a little weight, making the moves that much harder.
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Skip the old-school wrist curls and use these two moves for bigger lifts and a more balanced physique.
Form: Zottman Biceps Curl
Training forearms is a hard sell for women on the whole, but when it comes to aesthetics and physique-driven competitions, it’s all about balance. However, if you’ve ever played a sport, driven a car or used a computer mouse in the last few decades, your dominant side is probably more developed. While you probably don’t need to add much mass to your forearms, you’ll want them to look — and be — balanced because your stronger side will tend to take over on many lifts, leading to further physical and strength imbalances in the long term.
Since your forearms are synergists and stabilizers for many upper- and lower-body lifts, simply changing your grip on exercises you already perform will do the trick. For example, the Zottman biceps curl. Named after George Zottman, a strongman from the 1880s renowned for his massive forearms and grip strength, this biceps curl variation involves both pronation and supination of wrists, placing more emphasis on the forearm muscles like the brachioradialis, pronators and supinators, and even the wrist extensors for stability, giving your forearms a 360-degree workout.
- Hold two dumbbells just in front of your thighs with your palms facing forward, and pin your elbows to your sides. Don’t draw your elbows back or drag the dumbbells upward, which gives your biceps a mechanical advantage and detracts from the forearm stimulation.
- Curl the dumbbells up toward your shoulders while keeping your wrists neutral, straight and steady. This is the most stable and least risky and won’t overstretch those small forearm muscles, potentially irritating your joints.
- At peak contraction, pause a moment and then flip your wrists over so your palms are facing downward in a “reverse curl” position. Here, your biceps are at a mechanical disadvantage because their tendons attach to the underside of the radius bone, leaving the brachialis and brachioradialis to control the weight on the way down.
- Slowly lower the weights back to the start, then flip your wrists over again to palms-up before starting the next rep. This palms-up/palms-down action teaches those tiny rotational muscles in your forearms to maintain control.
- Move slowly and deliberately with your reps. Because your biceps defer the work to the brachialis muscles in the lowering portion, you’ll want to use a lighter weight than with a normal curl.
- Since you won’t be using a Zottman biceps curl to hit a personal record, position it at the end of your workout as a burnout or finisher with a light-to-moderate set of dumbbells.
Function: Plate Grip Farmer’s Carry
Grip is one of the easiest measures of strength to test and can be an indicator of overall total-body functional power. However, grip strength among millennials is significantly lower than it was in the 1980s, and the expectation is that it will only continue to decrease as technology reduces the need to carry heavy objects around on a daily basis.
In the weight room, the forearm muscles control your grip, and if your grip is weak, it could be limiting your bigger lifts like deadlifts and pull-ups. A farmer’s carry strengthens your grip functionally for carrying and pulling heavy objects — even your own bodyweight — especially if the object you’re gripping is of an odd shape or circumference.
Dry your hands and choose two moderately heavy bumper (rubberized) plates of equal weights to use. You can chalk up to help absorb moisture, if needed, but that chalk also could work against you and make the plates slipperier, depending on the rubber used to make them.
Hold the plates with a “pincer” grip by squeezing the rims between your thumb and first three fingers. This grip prevents you from fully flexing your fingers or relying on gravity to cradle the weight across your knuckles and instead uses the force of your digit-flexor muscles to secure the vice. This engages your adductor pollicis muscle, the one that brings your thumb into your hand, and can improve grip strength and endurance when holding a barbell or dumbbell.
- Pinch the plates evenly with your thumbs and fingers as you take several quick steps across the floor, walking heel-toe and using a shorter stride than normal. Try to walk so that your head stays in the same line for a given distance or number of steps.
- Keep your shoulder blades down and back, chest lifted, core braced and chin level with the ground. Consciously engaging all these muscles will keep the plates from swinging around at your sides, making them harder to grip and giving you some lovely bruises on the outsides of your legs.
- Plate carries train your muscles isometrically, so use plates of different widths and/or weights to change things up and keep your muscles guessing. If you don’t want to use a heavier weight, increase the plate width by using a folded towel over the rim.
- You also can perform a farmer’s carry with dumbbells, kettlebells, or sandbags. With these, you can wrap your fingers around the object, enabling you to use more weight. So not only are you training those small wrist and hand muscles but also your shoulders, upper back and core.
- When done properly, farmer’s carries will blow out your grip, so put them at the end of your workout so you don’t fail at your bigger lifts.
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Coupled with the power of Pilates, this band workout will give your midsection a unique pick-me-up.
Resistance bands, although frequently used for legs and arms, rarely get used in ab training. But these take-anywhere tools offer continual tension throughout the concentric and eccentric parts of a repetition, resulting in better strength gains. Now pair these bands with Pilates exercises and you’re talking serious results. Many exercises done on a Reformer can be performed with bands to add resistance, and because Pilates emphasizes proper position from beginning to end, your abs will be continually engaged while preventing the use of momentum.
- Choose a band with a resistance appropriate to your strength and fitness level. Anchor the band securely around a stable object to ensure it does not slip. Adjust the tension — and therefore the difficulty — of the move by shifting closer to or farther away from the anchor.
- Borrow the mindful breathing techniques used in Pilates to properly oxygenate your muscles while connecting to your body more completely: Inhale as you prepare to do the move, then exhale fully as you execute it. Imagine emptying your body of air as you draw in and contract your abs, doing each move deliberately without rushing.
- Pilates is based in dance, so be graceful and extend your limbs completely with each rep to develop that long, lean look. Reach your toes away from you as far as you can, sit up as tall as you can, and emulate proper posture with your shoulders drawn back and your neck long.
Leg Lift to Frog Drop
Setup: Lie faceup with your head toward the anchor and secure your feet in the band handles, extending your arms out to the sides.
Move: Keeping your legs together, raise them 90 degrees, lift your hips off the ground a few inches and press your feet toward the sky. Slowly lower your hips and bend your knees, opening them wide. Then extend your legs out so they’re straight and about 45 degrees to the ground to complete one repetition.
Tip: Don’t rush this move. Do each part with intention and remember to breathe.
Setup: Lie faceup with your head toward the anchor and secure your feet in the band handles. Place your hands lightly behind your head for support and bend your knees, lifting them over your hips.
Move: Alternately extend one leg away from you while drawing your opposite knee in and reaching your opposite elbow toward that knee. Continue, alternating sides.
Tip: Keep your chin lifted off your chest to protect your cervical vertebrae. Imagine an apple under your chin to maintain that space and length in your neck.
Reverse Crunch and Extend
Setup: Lie faceup with your head toward the anchor and secure your feet in the band handles, legs extended along the ground and arms out to the sides.
Move: Draw your knees into your chest, then slowly extend them out completely so they are about 6 to 8 inches above the ground.
Tip: Make sure your core stays tight and that your lower back does not overarch when you’re lowering your legs.
Setup: Facing the anchor, get into a side plank on your elbow with your head, hips and heels in line. Hold both ends of the band in your top hand with your arm extended at shoulder height.
Move: Drive your elbow directly backward, pulling the handles in toward your rib cage. Pause and squeeze at peak contraction, then slowly return to the start.
Tip: If you’re losing your balance, drop your bottom knee to the ground for better stability.
Setup: Lie faceup with your head toward the anchor and hold the ends of the bands along your sides, arms straight.
Move: Curl up one vertebra at a time until you’re sitting erect with your back straight, and press your arms forward from your chest until they, too, are straight and parallel to the ground. Slowly lower back down to the ground and extend your arms along your sides once more.
Tip: To make this easier, do it with your legs spread in a V to create a larger base of support.
Static Arm Hold and Leg Extension
Setup: Lie faceup with your head toward the anchor, legs lifted straight up over your hips. Hold the band handles with your arms extended.
Move: Keeping your arms straight, press them forward and curl up off the floor as you lower your legs slowly until they are about 45 degrees from the ground. Hold here for three full breaths, then return to the start.
Tip: Engage your lats to keep your arms in position.
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These exercises will hit your core — and more — in 15 minutes or less.
It’s pretty easy to do an ab workout anywhere
— a hotel, a gym, the beach — just hit the deck and begin. These 10 awesome exercises can be done anywhere by anyone at any level of fitness and are just what you need to bring the heat. Some of the moves require nothing more than your bodyweight and some floor space, while others use gliding discs to double your core engagement and strengthen your supporting musculature. No gliding discs? No worries: Paper or plastic plates work in a pinch on carpet, and a small, folded towel is perfect for wood or tile. You also can use the “Disc-Free” modification in place of the illustrated move. Use one of the five sample workouts post-cardio or strength training for a little extra ab attention, or string a couple of them together for a longer finisher.
You don’t need weights or machines to train your abs and core. In fact, all you need is a little floor space and your own body to whip your midsection into awesome shape!
Lie faceup with your legs together directly over your hips, feet flexed, and extend your arms along your sides, palms down. Press your heels straight up toward the ceiling by tucking your pelvis and contracting your abs, lifting your glutes and lower back off the floor a few inches. Pause briefly, then slowly lower to the start.
Lie faceup with your legs together and positioned directly over your hips, feet flexed. Extend your arms along your sides, palms down, and press your lower back into the floor. Keep it in this position throughout the move. Slowly lower your legs as far as you can without allowing your lower back to lift from the floor, then reverse the move to return to the start.
Lie on your side with your legs and feet stacked and place your bottom hand directly underneath your shoulder, arm extended. Lift your hips to align with your head and heels and place your top hand on your hip or extend it over your shoulder perpendicular to the floor (harder). From there, lift your hips up a couple of inches, then lower back to neutral without tipping forward or backward.
Gliding discs make your abs work harder to keep you balanced and steady while executing an exercise. And since your feet and hands never leave the floor, you’re talking constant core engagement with no impact and a killer recruitment of all the stabilizing muscles around your joints and spine.
Plank Disc Hold
Place the toes of each foot on a disc and get into plank with your hands underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Brace your core and keep your spine and neck neutral as you actively press down into the floor through the heels of your hands to spread your shoulder blades apart. Hold and breathe.
Disc-Free: Simply perform without the discs.
Plank Slide Jack
Start in plank with your hands just outside shoulder-width apart and your head, hips and heels aligned. Keep your hips low and steady as you slide your legs apart as wide as you can, then squeeze them back together.
Disc-Free: Jump your legs apart and together, keeping your hips low and your core tight.
Plank Slide Tuck
Start in plank with your head, hips and heels aligned. Hold your upper body steady over your hands, and keep your hips low as you bend your knees and slide the discs underneath you toward your hands. Extend your legs back to the start.
Disc-Free: Jump your feet toward your hands and back out again while keeping your hips low.
Get into plank with your head, hips and heels aligned. Keep your hips low and your head neutral as you alternately drive your knees into your chest using an even pace.
Disc-Free: Alternately “run” your knees into your chest without sliding your feet along the floor.
Get onto all fours with your knees underneath your hips and a hand on each disc directly underneath your shoulders. Keep your spine neutral as you slowly slide the discs forward, keeping your arms straight and opening your hips as you extend. Go as far as is comfortable for you, then reverse the move, pressing down into the floor as you pull the discs back to the start.
Disc-Free: From all fours, slowly walk your hands out in front of you as far as you comfortably can, then back in again.
Reverse Plank Hold
Sit with your legs extended and a disc underneath each heel, feet flexed. Place your hands on either side of your hips, fingers forward, then straighten your arms, open your chest and lift your hips to align with your head and heels, head neutral (reverse plank). Hold and breathe.
Disc-Free: Simply perform without the discs.
Reverse Plank Slide-Through
Sit with your legs extended and a disc underneath each heel, feet flexed. Place your hands on either side of your hips, fingers forward, then straighten your arms, open your chest and lift your hips to align with your head and heels, head neutral (reverse plank). Keep your arms straight as you tuck your pelvis, lower your hips and pull your lower body backward through your arms as far as you can.
Disc-Free: Wearing only socks, place each hand on a thick book or similar elevated surface and straighten your arms. Execute the move as described above.
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Break out of the gym and into the beautiful weather with these five high-intensity, fat-burning cardio workouts.
We spend more than half of the year waiting for sweet summer to arrive. Then when it does, we persist in trudging to the stale, dank confines of the gym to do cardio on the same old machines we labored on over the endless frigid months. Nothing against treadmills, but it’s time to kiss them goodbye (well, not literally — yuck).
The following five expert-designed workouts will free you from the gym without compromising your fitness-building fat-burning efforts. Go outside and try them today because as we learn all too quickly each year — summer is fleeting while winter is (seemingly) forever.
This on-the-oval regimen is the go-to of Samantha Clayton, vice president of Worldwide Sports Performance and Fitness for Herbalife and a former Olympic track athlete. “Think of sprinting as the weightlifting of the running world,” says Clayton, who competed at the 2000 Olympic games in the 200 meter and 4×100 meter relay events for Great Britain. “It’s high intensity and high impact and promotes muscular growth — especially in the posterior-chain muscles like the glutes and hamstrings.”
- Jog two laps (800 meters).*
* One time around a standard track oval on the inside lane is 400 meters.
Do the following moves in order for 30 seconds each. Complete three rounds.
- Walking Lunge
- Running With High Knees
- Side Step
- Butt Kicks
Repeat the below sequence eight times through.
- Walk two laps (800 meters).
Training Tip: “If you’re a more advanced athlete, finish up with four 50-meter sprints with a 60-second recovery between each one,” Clayton suggests.
“Distance running is great for your body and your mind, and I like to think of steady-state runs as meditation in motion,” Clayton says. Even so, if you aren’t game to just lace up and run for 60 minutes straight, use the following workout, which includes running intervals and an exercise interlude to further engage the lower body. “Intervals help you build the stamina and confidence to work progressively up to longer-distance runs,” Clayton explains.
- For 10 minutes, alternate between walking and jogging in 60-second bouts.
Repeat the below workout for six rounds, or a total of 30 minutes.
Perform the below strength workout, resting as needed.
- For five minutes, alternate between walking and light jogging in 30-second bouts.
Training Tip: Eliminate a one-minute recovery walk each week. “That way, at six weeks, you’ll be running the full 30 minutes straight,” Clayton says. “This will equate to about a 5K — or 3.10 miles — distance.”
Though Spin classes are as popular as ever, the indoor cycling experience just can’t compare to riding a bike outdoors. Encountering real hills and physically propelling the bike forward requires insane intensity and focus. (There’s a reason that completing the Tour de France is one of the most difficult athletic achievements in sports.)
Patricia Friberg, group fitness manager at Equinox in Westlake, California, and creator of the Bottom Line & A Core Defined and Belly Beautiful workout DVDs, devised the following cycling regimen that will burn max calories in minimal time. “Cycling also helps build lean muscle, improves mental well-being and reduces stress,” she says. Plot a route ahead of time that’s at least 1 mile long and includes a hill that is about 1/10 of a mile with a 20 to 30 percent grade incline.
Training Tip: “To increase the intensity, time yourself on the uphill sprints, striving to beat your time within the session and workout to workout,” Friberg says.
There’s nothing easy about carrying your bodyweight upward at an incline against gravity. “No gym equipment can simulate a lung-busting, total-body, muscle-burning stair workout,” says Teri Jory, a Los Angeles-based personal trainer, fourth-degree black belt and creator of the Poise method. “It’ll also burn fat quicker than many other types of cardio. For instance, a 155-pound woman will burn more than 1,000 calories in an hour of running up and down stairs.”
For this workout, source out some stadium stairs at a high school or college, or find a traditional staircase in a high-rise, parking garage or public monument. Since the size and number of stairs will vary, perform each section of this workout for 12 to 15 minutes.
Perform each section for 12 to 15 minutes.
Section 1: Single-Step Run
- Sprint up the stairs as fast as you can, hitting every step. Jog back down.
Section 2: Double-Step Run
- Sprint up the stairs as fast as you can, skipping every other step. Jog back down using every step.
Section 3: Two-Legged Hop
- Stand facing the staircase with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms in front of you. Quickly push your hips back and swing your arms behind you to load your posterior chain, then swing your arms forward, extend your knees and hips, and jump onto the first step, landing softly.
- Pause briefly, then repeat on each step all the way to the top.
- Jog back down
Training Tip: Don’t look down, which can throw off alignment and balance. “Pull your core in tight with your shoulders down and your eyes straight ahead as you climb the steps,” Jory says.
Looking for a one-stop outdoor option that combines resistance training and cardio? This boot-camp routine designed by Friberg requires nothing but a loop band and hits the whole body with extra focus on the glutes and core, and the high-intensity Tabata-style training maximizes calorie burn and incites a fat burn like no other. Do each part twice through with a short one- to two-minute rest in between rounds.
Part 1: Banded Bodyweight Workout
Perform each exercise for 50 seconds, then take 10 seconds to rest and/or transition to the next move (for a total of one minute each).
- Secure the band loop around your thighs above your knees and stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms in front of you for balance. Push your glutes back and bend your knees to lower into a squat, going as low as you comfortably can while consciously driving your knees outward to create tension. Return to the start.
- Keeping the band around your thighs, stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes forward. Lower into a squat so your glutes are just below the level of your knees, and hold here as you step 10 times in each direction.
- Keep the band around your thighs and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly. Squat down to parallel or slightly below, and as you rise, extend your right leg straight behind you, keeping it low. Replace your leg and then continue, alternating sides.
Alternating Arm Plank
- Loop the band around both wrists and assume a high plank with your shoulders over your wrists and your head, hips and heels aligned. Keeping your feet in place, step your right hand out to the side and place it firmly on the floor. Pause for one count, then return to center. Continue, alternating sides.
Lateral Shift Bow and Arrow
- Hold a band with both hands at shoulder level and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step back 45 degrees on the diagonal with your right foot and stretch the band apart as if shooting a bow and arrow. Return to the center and then continue, alternating sides.
No band? Do the moves without and simply perform more reps.
Part 2: Tabata-Style HIIT
Perform each move Tabata style, doing 20 seconds of work with all-out intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest. Complete two rounds for a total of four minutes.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and push your hips back to load your posterior chain, back straight. Stay low as you spring laterally to the right, landing on your right foot, swinging your arms to the right and crossing the left behind you on a diagonal. Continue, alternating sides.
- Stand with your feet in a wide lunge, with your right leg forward, right knee over your toes, and your knees and hips at 90-degree angles. Explode into the air, using your arms to help generate momentum, and switch lead legs so you land with your left leg forward and your right leg back. Land softly and repeat right away.
- Get into plank with your head, hips and heels aligned and your hands directly underneath your shoulders. Keep your hips stable as you alternately drive your knees into your chest, going for speed and precision.
- Skip across a field or down a sidewalk or street. With each step, leap as high into the air as you can, driving your knee up and reaching as high as you can with your opposite arm. Go for height rather than distance.
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Whether you want to develop explosive power or just want to have an awesome rear view, these two moves can (ass)ist.
Form: Banded Donkey Kickback
Squats, lunges and good mornings are leg day must-haves, but though they do engage the glutes, they don’t really emphasize them over the quads and hamstrings. A banded donkey kickback provides that unique stimulus, building your butt and balancing out your gains on both sides. You can use a cable machine for this move, but a band offers an added bonus: You’ll get more resistance at the top when the band is fully stretched, amping the intensity just at the point that your hamstrings are the least involved and the glutes are the most engaged.
- Attach a resistance band around a rig or another stable object at floor height by looping it through itself, and secure the other handle around the arch of one foot. Stand facing the object and hold lightly onto it for stability. Don’t pull on it or use it to create momentum, or you’ll detract from the focus of the exercise.
- Hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back flat to get into a tabletop position, with your torso parallel or nearly so with the floor. This allows you to activate your glutes through a greater range of motion than if you were standing upright.
- Lift your working knee in toward your chest, then extend your leg backward and slightly upward until your leg is parallel or nearly so with the floor. Keep your knee slightly bent, even at the top, to keep the tension on the glutes and reduce hamstring involvement. Squeeze your glutes to get your leg as high as possible and then control the move back down.
- Imagine driving the hipbone of your working leg toward your opposite foot. This helps keep your hips level, maintaining gluteal tension while protecting your lower back.
- Brace your core to keep your back from arching, especially at the top of the move to maintain focus on the glutes without involving your lower back.
Sample FORM Glute Workout
Since the banded donkey kickback targets the gluteus maximus (hip extension and hyperextension), include moves that tax the gluteus medius (abduction and external rotation) like clamshells or banded monster walks to round out your posterior in the same workout.
Sample function Glute Workout
Target power, endurance and metabolic conditioning with this glute-centric circuit. Do these moves in order, and rest no more than 30 seconds in between. Rest one to two minutes between circuits, and repeat the circuit two to three times.
Function: Banded Kettlebell Swing
The kettlebell swing is a conditioning staple for most athletes, targeting your posterior chain and developing hip extension power — a prerequisite for jumping high, sprinting fast or hitting your next power clean personal record. Swinging is also metabolically demanding and a great low-impact way to do high-intensity interval training, cardio or a metcon without stepping foot on a treadmill.
- Anchor a band loop around a low bench, rig or other stationary object. Position the band around your hips right in the crease where your hips hinge. If the band is too high, it will simply pull you backward and throw you off-balance.
- Face away from the anchor and take a few steps forward to create tension in the band. Resist the urge to lean forward or rise onto your toes, which creates instability. Maintain an upright posture and control the backward pull of the band by squeezing your glutes throughout the move and bracing your core.
- Hold a kettlebell in both hands, arms straight, then swing it back between your legs, hinging at the hips while keeping your back straight. Snap your hips forward forcefully against the band so the kettlebell swings upward to about shoulder height or slightly higher. The variable resistance of the band means it’ll be tightest at the top of the swing, giving you that extra resistance for a really hard gluteal contraction.
- Keep your glutes contracted as you swing the kettlebell back down and through for the next rep to maintain control and prevent the band from pulling you backward.
- Exhale at the top of each swing to engage your internal obliques, optimizing spinal stability when the band is at its most taut. It also creates a nice rhythm and helps you focus your kinetic chain of power and drive — from the ground, through your hips, through your arms and out the kettlebell.
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Carve shapely delts and deftly handle a handstand with these two moves.
Form: Standing Arnold Dumbbell Press
A standard overhead press recruits more of the medial delts, but back in the day, Arnold Schwarzenegger found a way to tweak this move by essentially combining a front raise, an overhead press and a shoulder rotation. The resultant Arnold press effectively works all three heads of the deltoid group, primarily hitting the anterior and medial delts on the press, and the posterior delts during the rotation and for stabilization.
Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your shoulders, elbows down, with your palms facing rearward as if you have just completed a biceps curl. Positioning the weights in front of you means more shoulder flexion and a greater range of motion with an emphasis on the anterior delts during each rep.
Grip the weights as if punching the sky — knuckles up — and don’t let your wrists flex or extend. Shifting the dumbbell in space can stress the wrists and could potentially pull your shoulders out of alignment.
Press the dumbbells overhead, simultaneously rotating your wrists so that at the top, your palms are facing forward. Perform the press and the rotation as one fluid movement to ensure the anterior delts remain the targeted muscles. End with the dumbbells straight overhead, biceps aligned with your ears, shoulders stable and locked down, spine neutral.
Slowly lower the weights back to the start to keep tension on your anterior delts, and pause at the bottom before the next rep. This prevents you from bouncing or using momentum and keeps your muscles — not your joints — under stress.
Exhale forcefully with each rep, which activates the deep-seated core muscles to help maintain spinal stability, keep your rib cage from flaring out and prevent your lower back from arching.
You also can do this move seated, which allows you to focus on your shoulders without worrying about balance and core control.
Function: Pike Push-Up
Want entry into the handstand club? This progression can help get you there, teaching you proper hips-over-shoulders positioning while setting your deltoids on fire. Regardless, it’s a kick-ass workout for your entire upper body, training scapular and shoulder stability while also activating your core as you hold that pike.
Choose a high box or bench, then place your hands on the floor and extend your legs behind you so your toes are on top of the box, feet flexed. Walk your hands backward and, as they come closer to the box, lift your hips up until they are stacked over your shoulders and your body makes a 90-degree angle at your hips (a pike). This vertical torso positioning is ideal for training your shoulders — not your chest or back — to do the move.
Position your hands outside your shoulders and rotate them internally a bit for optimal stability, then spread your fingers and press them into the floor so your bodyweight isn’t focused in the heels of your hands.
Lock your shoulder blades into your back and brace your core to ensure the focus is on your delts and your balance is solid. Look straight ahead — not at the floor or underneath you toward your hips — to avoid arching and straining your neck and traps.
Lower slowly toward the floor until your elbows are bent 90 degrees or your head touches down (whichever happens first), keeping your torso vertical throughout. The more angled your hips are toward the bench, the more of a chest exercise it becomes.
Imagine pressing the floor away from you as you push your hips straight up toward the ceiling and extend your elbows to come to the start.
Your wrists have to be able to go into a full 90-degree extension, so if you struggle with wrist mobility, turn your fingers outward to relieve some of the tension.
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Bring your heart rate down this summer with these cool-down exercises that require virtually no equipment.
Let’s be honest. Most of us only have an hour to spend at the gym, if that. To ask for a warm-up and a cool-down is a bit of a stretch (no pun intended). Where do we find the time?
Listen up: It’s not always appropriate to cool down after a workout, but during the summer months, I personally think a cool-down becomes more of a necessity because of the conditions in which we’re working out. Moving from a cool gym to the hot outdoors, running outside or even working out in a space without air conditioning like a garage, park or CrossFit gym is cause for extreme changes in temperature, which can lead to venous pooling in the lower extremities and increased risk of fainting.
Cooling down after high-intensity workouts makes most sense. Going from redline to rest is never a good idea but should especially be avoided during hot summer months. Lowering your heart rate and incorporating mobility is a much better idea than getting in your car or heading to work or home. Take advantage of the pliability of your muscles when they’re nice and warm. Plus, cooling down allows your body to return to homeostasis and improves your recovery outside the gym.
Here are some suggestions for a full-body cool-down with minimal equipment.
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