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8 Exercises to Master Before Trying a New Workout

Never Look Like a Rookie

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Everyone is the new person once in a fitness class or when training for a race, yet you can bypass the learning curve—and get a head-start on your fitness goals—by doing a little prep work. Nail these exercises prior to taking on CrossFit, Pilates, a triathlon, and more, and you'll avoid injuries and look like a proand have the body of one too.

RELATED: The 12 Biggest Myths About CrossFit

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Kettlebell Workout

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The move: Hip-hinge thrust

This motion is key for correctly performing the classic kettlebell swing, which is more similar to a deadlift than a squat. [Tweet this tip!] “You must send your hips and glutes backward with a slight knee bend to activate the glutes and hamstrings," says Michele Olson, PhD., professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery and creator of the "Perfect Legs, Glutes & Abs" DVD. "This puts you in perfect position to explode your butt muscles forward and upward, straightening your hips with a vigorous thrust." It’s this thrusting actionnot your armsthat will move the kettlebell forward during the swing movement. 

How to do it: Stand with hands on hips. Engage abs and push glutes back with soft knees and spine naturally straight. Quickly squeeze and push glutes forward, under, and up until hip joint is straight (or lined up under shoulders). Do 2 sets of 10 reps, rest, and repeat. Once you feel like you can do the hip-hinge thrust correctly, use this movement as a warm-up before picking up your kettlebell for your workout.

Photo: Vanessa Rogers Photography

Bikram Yoga

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The move: Chair pose

“The first half of a Bikram class requires a lot of leg strength for standing and balancing,” says Ashley Turner, a certified yoga instructor in Los Angeles and star of the "Element: Targeted Toning Pilates for Beginners" DVD. Chair pose is essentially holding a squat position, so it helps quickly build strength in the ankles and quads particularly while working your hips, hamstrings, and butt as well, Turner says. Chair is also very similar to awkward pose and eagle, two of the first poses in the Bikram sequence.

How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart (for a bigger challenge, stand with inside edges of feet touching) and against or close to a wall for support. Bend knees and sink hips low, moving weight into heels and using wall to support hips or back as needed. Lift arms overhead high and hold the pose for 3 to 5 breaths. Practice twice a day, three days a week, Turner says. You're ready for Bikram when you're able to hold the pose without any support for up to 5 full breaths at a time.

Photo: Vanessa Rogers Photography


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The move: Single-leg bench squat

"Too many runners avoid strength training, especially glute work, which can make or break your training,” says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist and author of Swim, Bike, Run—Eat: The Complete Guide to Fueling Your Triathlon. Weak glutes can lead to lower-leg problems including injuries to the knees and hips, so as you build up your mileage, target those muscles with single-leg bench squats.

How to do it: Stand facing away from a bench or chair that is approximately knee height. Raise right foot off the floor slightly, reaching arms in front of body for balance, and sit down slowly on the bench or chair. Pause for 1 second, then push through left heel to return to standing. Two or three nonconsecutive days a week, do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps on each leg.

Photo: Vanessa Rogers Photography


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The move: Air squat

“CrossFit is heavy in Olympic movements, which all require you to engage your hips, extend your low back, and feel the weight in your heels,” explains Alfonso Moretti, a certified personal trainer and CrossFit Level 1 Coach. Air squats will teach this basic form technique that is the base of other CrossFit staples like wall balls, thrusters, cleans, sumo deadlift high pulls, box jumps, and kettlebell swings (just to name a few). Read: Perfect the air squat, and chances are you'll have great form for just about every other exercise. [Tweet this tip!]

How to do it: Stand with feet hip- to shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly out. On inhale, bend knees and send hips back as if sitting back into a chair, keeping weight in heels and chest up with a neutral neck position. Lower as far as possible with back straight, pushing knees slightly outward to keep them in line with feet and hips, and reaching arms overhead. Return to starting position, squeezing glutes tight at the top. Do 5 sets of 15 to 20 reps.

Photo: Vanessa Rogers Photography


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The move: 2-minute plank

A strong core is crucial for running, swimming, and biking, Holland says. Add in the endurance factor of a triathlon, and it's a no-brainer that adding two-minute planks to your routine is the perfect way to build the lasting strength you'll need for peak performance during all three parts of a race.

How to do it: Get in forearm plank position so body forms a straight line from shoulders to heels. Hold for two minutes, taking rest breaks as necessary. Do this three nonconsecutive days a week as part of pre-race training, Holland recommends, working up to the ultimate goal of two full, uninterrupted minutes. 

RELATED: 6 Yoga Poses for a Rock-Solid Core

Photo: Vanessa Rogers Photography

Pilates Apparatus Workouts

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The move: Roll-up

Pilates workouts that include a reformer, Cadillac, chair, or other apparatus call for strength, stamina, and flexibility to flow from one exercise to the next. The roll-up teaches that fluidity and strengthens the deepest abdominals, says Elizabeth Ordway, a Pilates studio owner and star of the "Element: Targeted Toning Pilates for Beginners" DVD.

How to do it: Lie faceup on a mat with arms overhead and legs extended straight, feet pressed together and toes pointed. Inhale and begin to reach arms toward toes, lifting head and curling chin in toward chest. Exhale, pulling abs in deeper as if someone is pulling back on your waistline, and begin to curl spine off the floor, reaching arms closer to toes. Roll all the way up, rounding into a C-curve with spine, with arms reaching to toes and parallel with legs. Slowly reverse movement to starting position. Four or more days a week, do 3 sets of 6 reps. Sign up for that Pilates class once your movement is fluid and controlled. "Make sure there is no pulling forward, yanking your torso up from your shoulders, or use of momentum,” Ordway says.

Photo: Vanessa Rogers Photography

Contact Boxing

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The move: Jab cross punch

"If you can’t keep your wrist in proper alignment or aren’t using your body properly to power your punches, your risk of injury jumps much higher once you start making contact with a heavy bag or an actual opponent,” says Guillermo Gomez, a boxing instructor, fourth-degree black belt, and creator of Martial Fusion. Start with two basics—the jab and the cross—before you try anything else.

How to do it: Stand with right foot forward, elbows bent “on guard” in front of ribs, and hands in fists. Throw a jab punch by extending right arm out, turning palm toward the floor, then immediately drawing elbow back into guard. Throw a cross punch by extending left arm forward, turning palm toward the floor, rotating left hip into punch, and lifting left heel off the floor. Return to starting position. Continue alternating jab and cross for 1 minute, then switch sides and repeat with left foot forward and using opposite arms. Work up to 3 sets (resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets), focusing on keeping wrists straight and in line with forearms the entire time.

Photo: Vanessa Rogers Photography


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The move: Burpee

Tabata may be a short workout, but it’s only effective if you push yourself to the limit, which can be tough to do with certain exercises or cardio equipment. The burpee is a total-body move that requires maximum effort to perform when done correctly, making them perfect for Tabata-style intervals, says Lisa Kinder, a certified personal trainer and star of the "10 Minute Solution: High Intensity Interval Training" DVD. [Tweet this tip!]

How to do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Lower into a squat until thighs are parallel to the ground. Place hands on the floor and quickly kick legs back into a plank position. Perform a pushup, keeping body in a straight line from heels to head and abs tight. In one continuous motion, jump legs back into squat position and jump straight up, swinging arms overhead to get off the ground. Land in squat and immediately repeat. Work up to 15 to 20 reps or 5 to 8 reps on 20 seconds.

Photo: Vanessa Rogers Photography