Top fitness experts share their favorite effective—and just plain awesome—go-to move
Medicine Ball Slam
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The medicine ball slam is a great full-body, compound, multi-joint exercise that generates explosive power from your core in a downward direction (most other movements focus on the upward drive), and it builds strength in your legs as you drive the ball back up overhead, explains certified trainer Sean Piazza, fitness manager at Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa in San Diego. "It's perfect for HIIT training or to cap off any workout with a great cardio burst,” he says.
How to do it: Hold a medicine ball and stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Explosively press ball overhead, then immediately slam it to the floor by driving ball downward. As you do, follow the ball with your body, avoid bending at the waist, and end in a low squat position with head up, chest and glutes low (almost like frog pose in yoga, Piazza says). Scoop the ball up on the first bounce and explode upward, driving the ball back overhead and fully extending body and arms. Do 1 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps. As your strength and cardio improve, substitute a heavier ball or increase reps.
Tips: Establish a rhythm to keep up momentum. The harder you slam the ball, the easier it will be to scoop it back up.
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"The Russian twist is a challenging abdominal exercise that incorporates all the muscles of the core: the lower back, abs, obliques, diaphragm, and inner thighs," says Jodi Sussner, director of personal training for Snap Fitness 24/7. "Unlike crunches in which you rest your back on the floor between reps, the Russian twist forces you to hold your spine off the floor the entire time."
How to do it: Sit with knees bent, feet lifted from floor, and torso at a 45-degree angle. Hold fists together (or for more challenge, hold onto a medicine ball or light free weight), elbows tucked into sides. Twist torso from side to side, abs engaged. During twist, exhale as you pull abs in to support the spine. Do 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps on each side.
Front Squat to Push Press
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When pressed for time, this efficient and effective move is a top pick for Glen Watson, a certified personal trainer at the Reebok Sports Club/NY. "It works your legs, core, and shoulders all in one movement," he says.
How to do it: Using an overhand grip, hold onto a barbell with hands and feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend arms and position barbell in front of shoulders. Lower into a squat until thighs are at least parallel to the ground. Stand up out of squat and press barbell overhead. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.
Wall Sit Curl
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"This is my go-to move to finish a leg routine," says Josh Anderson, a certified personal trainer and owner of Always Active Athletics in Russellville, MO. Not only does it torch your legs (quads, calves, glutes), it also takes your mind off the fire in your lower body when you concentrate on the biceps curls, thus allowing you to perform it longer. "Any movement you can do that works numerous parts of the body at once is tops in my book. Plus the isometric squat is really safe for people who have joint problems," he explains.
How to do it: Holding dumbbells, lean against a wall and squat down as if sitting in a chair (try to bend knees at a 90-degree angle), feet hip-width apart. Holding this position with elbows against wall, perform biceps curls for 30 seconds, eventually working up to a full minute. Anderson recommends adding 3 sets of this exercise to finish off a lower-body workout.
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A burpee to chin-up is a high-intensity exercise that is great for metabolic conditioning and fat loss, says Jenny Skoog, a personal trainer in New York City. Plus it targets the whole body—the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, core, lats, shoulders, biceps, and triceps.
How to do it: Stand behind a sturdy pull-up bar and perform a full burpee. At the top of the squat jump, grab onto a bar and do a chin-up. Skoog recommends incorporating this move into your existing program twice a week, starting with 2 sets of 10 reps, building up to 3 or 4 sets total.
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"The band hammer is not only an amazing core toner, it also integrates all of the muscles in the hips, abdominals, upper back, and shoulders. When your core is properly integrated, you get much more bang for your buck on every other exercise in your arsenal and help prevent many common overuse injuries so you can keep doing what you love," explains Brian Durbin, M.Ed., co-owner of Fitness Together in Mount Pleasant, SC.
How to do it: With feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, hold both ends of an anchored resistance band (or the handle from a cable machine) in front of body with hands two inches in front of chest. Tighten upper back, relax shoulders, and drive elbows in by sides. (The band should have a moderate amount of tension in it—add resistance by stepping further away or make easier by moving closer.) Once body feels stabilized, extend arms, and let band all the way out in front of chest, engaging core. Hold for 1 count. Raise arms overhead lining hands up with the midline of body, upper arms in line with ears. Hold for a 1 count. Keeping arms extended, lower band back in line with chest and hold for 1 count. Pull band back in toward chest returning to start, holding for 1 more count to complete the rep. Do 2 sets of 15 reps on each side.
Sandbag Reverse Lunge Lift
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"Because of their non-uniform weight, sandbags require more muscle engagement to move them. The reverse lunge lift is a more advanced move but offers a terrific full-body workout. Because you are working the entire body, including the core and lower back, to stabilize the movement, you get a bigger return on the number of calories burned during and after the workout," says Jeff Deal, owner of Ideal Fitness in Virginia Beach, VA.
How to do it: Stand with the feet together, holding sandbag directly in front of chest with arms extended. Step right leg back into a reverse lunge, lowering the sandbag to the outside of left thigh. Push off front heel and stand up, swinging the sandbag up to chest height (while keeping your back straight) to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side. That's one rep. Do 2 sets of 10 reps.
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"I love this high-intensity twist on the tried-and-true lunge, as it not only strengthens your calves, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core, but it also kicks your heart rate into high gear, helping you burn major calories and sculpt a sexier physique in less time," says Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.
How to do it: Begin in a low lunge position with right leg back, left knee bent 90 degrees, and hands on either side of left foot. With the abs engaged, exhale and jump straight up, driving right knee and left arm forward, swinging right arm back, and keeping both elbows bent and close to sides. Land in starting position. Quickly jump and switch feet to repeat on the opposite side. Matthews recommends doing timed intervals of this move (repeat for 30 seconds, rest for 15) or incorporating it into an existing circuit-training routine.
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Barbell deadlifts strengthen the hamstrings and glutes, and shape the perfect behind, says Elizabeth Hendrix Burwell, co-owner of High Performance Gym in Greenville, SC. "The rep scheme most effective for strength building is 5 repetitions; you'll eventually want the barbell to be so heavy you couldn't do more than 5 reps," she says. "And make sure that your weight is evenly distributed on the whole foot, as most people have a tendency to place too much weight in the toes."
How to do it: Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Bending at the hips and knees and maintaining a neutral spine, squat down to grab the barbell with hands outside legs. Lean back and stand up, keeping the barbell in a straight line as you travel up. Stop at the top for 1 count, then lower barbell to the floor to return to starting position. Do 5 sets of 5 reps.
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"This is a great move because it combines speed, agility, and strength," says Michael Feigin, owner of the Fitness Guru Gym in Brooklyn, NY. "Trying to complete as many reps as possible in 20 seconds challenges your balance because all the work occurs on one side of the body, testing your strength as the pushups accumulate," he says.
How to do it: Balancing on one leg, squat down to the floor and place hands under shoulders. Quickly jump back to a plank position, landing with one leg. Perform a pushup, then immediately jump back into a squat and stand up. Continue on the same leg for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then switch legs. Feigin likes to do this exercise using a Tabata-style interval: 8 rounds of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, switching legs with each round.
Walk Out to Pushup
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Certified trainer Cindy Whitmarsh, star of the UFIT DVD series, loves this exercise because it's not only multi-functional but also pretty fun to do. "This exercise works your upper body, and really trains your core. My clients love this move," she says.
How to do it: Begin kneeling behind the stability ball with hands on top of it. Push off feet and, in an exploding forward movement, roll body on top of ball, landing in a plank position with hands on the ground and feet on top of ball. Engage abs and do as many pushups as possible with good form. Finish the set by walking hands back toward the ball and rolling back over it to return to start. Repeat 8 to 12 times.
Tip: Too challenging? Whitmarsh recommends beginners keep thighs or knees on the ball for more support during the pushups.
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Robert Sherman, a certified personal trainer and area group fitness manager for Equinox, loves this exercise because it builds total-body and core strength all in one move. "And it’s great for rotational strength, which is needed for so many sports," he says.
How to do it: From a full plank, bend right knee in and under body, kicking right leg out to the left and extending it fully under the body while lowering arms into a pushup. Push back up into plank, bringing right leg back behind hip, before lowering it foot to start position. Repeat on other side. Do 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps on each leg.
Photo: Casie Mace
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
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"This is one of my favorite lower-body exercises because it simultaneously improves single-leg squatting strength, dynamic core and hip stability, and hip mobility," says Jon-Erik Kawamoto, a certified personal trainer and owner of JKConditioning.
How to do it: Stand in front of an exercise bench or step. Extend one leg behind body, placing foot on the edge of the bench. Squat down, lowering back knee toward the floor, finishing with a 90-degree angle in the front knee. Lean torso slightly forward with shoulders back and front knee behind toes. Extend front leg and stand. Try 3 or 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps on each side.
Photo: Mark Burnham Photography
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"The plank is such an effective core-training exercise that engages your deepest abdominal muscles to help tighten your abs like a corset. If you're used to doing planks with straight arms or simply holding the isometric move, this is a great variation that helps increase flexibility of the hamstrings while also improving shoulder stability," says Nicole Nichols, fitness expert for sparkpeople.com and creator of the SparkPeople: Total Body Sculpting DVD.
How to do it: Start in a forearm plank position with weight in the balls of the feet, inner thighs squeezed together, shoulders relaxed, spine neutral, and abs engaged. Keeping shoulders away from ears and back and legs straight, scoop abs in tighter and pike hips up to ceiling, reaching chest slightly toward thighs. Return to the start. Do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
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"I love the Turkish get-up because it works the entire body and develops functional strength between the hips, spinal stabilizers, and shoulders; I hate the Turkish get-up because it's challenging and can only be done for a few reps at a time when using proper form," says Pete McCall, a personal trainer in San Diego. McCall recommends first learning the move without using added weight, practicing with a waterbottle to master 5 or 6 reps using good form on each side before trying it with a kettlebell.
How to do it: Lie faceup with legs extended and holding kettlebell above chest with right arm straight. Extend left arm out to side and bend right leg so foot is flat on the floor. Engage abs and use left hand to sit up while keeping right arm extended overhead. Push hips off the ground using right leg and left arm, and quickly swing your left leg under body to end in a kneeling position with right foot forward and left knee on the ground. Still holding right arm overhead, stand up, quickly stepping left foot into right. Stand tall while holding weight in extended arm. Reverse the move and return to start. That’s one rep. Do 2 to 4 sets of 4 to 6 reps on each side, resting up to 45 seconds between sets.
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Fitness expert Kori Lyn Angers, who trains professional athletes, loves the low-impact, functional cross-over step-up because it’s easy to do and shapes the buns and thighs.
How to do it: Stand on the left side of a box, step, or bench with feet parallel to box. Cross right foot over and place it on top of box with knees, toes, and torso facing forward. Step up onto box, fully extending hip and knee. Lower back to starting position with control (keep top foot on box for entire set). Repeat on opposite side. Do 2 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps. For more of a challenge, try holding weight.
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Holly Perkins, a Promax Fitness Ambassador, loves walking lunges because they mimic natural forward movement and create a nice lifted and rounded booty.
How to do it: Take a large step forward with left leg. Land on heel and lower down into a lunge. Press down through left heel to stand up and step forward with right foot, bringing legs together. Repeat, switching legs each time. Perkins recommends 20 to 30 reps total.
Toe Touch Bridge
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Certified trainer Shanna Ferrigno, (daughter of fitness guru Lou Ferrigno) of Ferrigno FIT in Los Angeles, loves this simple total-body move that blends breakdancing and yoga.
How to do it: Sit on the floor with legs bent, feet flat, and arms supporting body from behind. Activate glutes and tighten core to lift hips up into a bridge position. Lift left leg, bringing left foot close to right knee, and touch left foot with right hand. Return to bridge position. Repeat, alternating sides each time, for 1 minute.
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"I love the beast flip-over because it works your entire body, requires no equipment, and improves your balance, flexibility, and strength," says Michelle Dozois, owner of Breakthru Fitness in Pasadena, CA.
How to do it: Begin on all fours. Engage core and lift knees a few inches. Pivot through hips and bring left foot under body to the right, lifting right hand off the floor to flip body over. Place both feet flat, balancing on left arm and bending right elbow toward right hip. Extend the hips and spine, reaching right arm behind body (modify by adjusting how much the hips lift and spine extends, if needed). Lower hips and pivot back to start position. Repeat, alternating sides, for a total of 12 reps.
Kettlebell High Pull
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This multi-functional exercise hits the legs, glutes, and shoulders, and translates nicely to everyday life because it mimics the action of picking things off the floor, says Josh Bowen, national fitness director for Compel Fitness in Lexington, KY.
How to do it: Straddle a kettlebell with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Squat down and grab kettlebell handle in both hands with an overhand grip (make sure thumbs are wrapped around handle). Keeping heels on the floor and glutes engaged, stand up and raise the kettlebell to chin level, leading with elbows. Lower arms and repeat. Do 10 to 15 reps, or try 5 to 8 sets of as many reps as possible for 20 to 30 seconds, resting 10 seconds between sets.
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Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery and certified strength and conditioning specialist, loves the dumbbell snatch because of its numerous training benefits. "It's a functional movement, and it engages a variety of muscles in the legs, hips, abs, back, and shoulders," she says. This kettlebell-style move also accelerates the heart rate to burn major calories.
How to do it: Stand with feet wider than shoulders, holding a heavy dumbbell in right hand and left arm extended to side. Keeping head level, chest up, and knees tracking straight ahead, push glutes back to lower into a squat. Explode through hips as right arm performs an upright row. Once dumbbell is at shoulder level, rotate hand up and press weight overhead powerfully (as if punching knuckles through the ceiling). Olson recommends learning the move first, trying 1 set of 10 on each side, and then adding an 8- to 10-pound dumbbell and doing 2 sets of 10 on each side.