From mountain climbers to jump squats, there are a number of effective exercises that put your physical fitness—and mental toughness—to the test. Check out the four moves that fitness experts love for the results they produce but hate because of just how challenging they can be.
Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat (a.k.a. Bulgarian Lunge or Bulgarian Split Squat)
What’s to love: This is a go-to move for DB Strength founder Doug Balzarini, who is also head strength and conditioning coach for Alliance Training Center. “I hate this move because no matter how hard I work at it, this exercise always humbles me, yet I love it because it’s such a great combination of core and hip stability, unilateral strength, and even flexibility. And because it’s a fairly simple exercise to learn, it’s great for all levels.”
How to: Stand approximately three feet in front of a bench. Place top of left foot on top of the bench. Cross arms in front of chest and slowly lower into a lunge, keeping right heel down on the ground and right knee tracking in line with second toe. Press back up to starting position. Do 12 to 15 reps and repeat on the opposite side.
Single-Arm Kettlebell Snatch
What’s to love: There are few movements more anaerobic than the kettlebell snatch—often referred to as the king of the kettlebell lifts—according to Steve Cotter, founder and director of International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation (IKFF). “When done fast with a challenging load, this exercise will have your lungs screaming if you push yourself. But if repeated for a longer period of time at a slower pace, this move becomes an aerobic activity.” Since you can change up the load, duration, and/or speed to meet your level of fitness and athleticism, the move continues to challenge and produce results. Cotter adds that while this move is highly effective, you should master the form of the movement first before you start sprinting with a heavy kettlebell.
How to: Stand with feet hip-width distance apart holding kettlebell handle in right hand with an overhand grip. Swing kettlebell back between legs as you hinge at the hips. Thrust hips forward using the power of your lower body to swing the kettlebell up. To perform the snatch, allow right hand to move inside of the handle so that the kettlebell moves smoothly around your wrist with the bell touching the outside of your forearm as right arm extends fully overhead. Once again move your hand inside the handle, returning the bell back in front of the body as you prepare for another swing. If you’re new to this move, start slowly, aiming for 12 reps per minute, either completing all reps on one side before switching to the other or alternating sides each time. As you master the form of the movement, you can try “sprints,” aiming to complete 30 reps in a minute.
Foxhole Push-Up Sprint Drill
What’s to love: For Army Master Fitness and Resilience Trainer and six-time Solider of the Year Ken Weichert—a.k.a. “SGT Ken”— tactical fitness training that focuses on metabolic conditioning with a strong need for balance and power is a must. “Soldiers train as they would fight, making it possible to reduce combat injuries caused by poor physical preparation. They must be ready for any situation at any time, such as jumping out of a foxhole and sprinting across the field of battle. This drill provides the opportunity to develop controlled strength, speed, and agility in a short period of time.”
How to: Lie facedown with hands on the ground outside of chest. Using upper-body strength, quickly press yourself up to a standing position and sprint forward 10 yards, moving as fast as possible. Once at the other side, crouch down and turn to face the direction you just came from as you drop down to the ground and perform a pushup. Repeat the sequence back and forth for 60 to 90 seconds.
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What’s to love: Violet Zaki, Equinox group fitness instructor and owner of Zaki Fitness, teaches this creative move in her Asset Management class, which focuses on challenging students’ strength, power, flexibility, cardio, and core stability. “I love this exercise because it is a dynamic move that requires no equipment and combines several moves—squat, plank, split dog, low lunge, pushup, and plyometric jump—into one.”
How to: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, reach down to place both hands on the ground between feet. Step back into a plank position and lift hips up and back, moving into downward facing dog. Raise right leg toward the ceiling keeping hips square to the floor, then drive leg forward, steeping right foot outside of right hand into a low lunge. Bend elbow and lower body toward the floor for a pushup. As you push back up, step back with right foot, then jump forward with both feet into a low squat. Rise up to standing and jump up with arms extended overhead. Complete this sequence on the right side for one minute, then repeat on the left.