20 Ways to Make Your Favorite Moves More Effective
Instead of: Squats Try This: Step It Up Squat
Squats are a great exercise for toning your glutes, but if you really want to take your workout to the next level, use this combo move to sculpts every muscle from your hip down to your heel.
To do it: Start facing a high step (3-5 risers depending on your height) or a bench (just be sure your bench isn't cushioned—those can be tough to balance on). Place your right foot on the middle of the bench and press through your heel to stand up on your right leg. Try to keep your left leg extended and dangling off the back of the bench.
From here, perform a single-leg squat by bending your right knee and sitting back into your hips. Pause for one second and then push your hips forward as you straighten your right knee (your arms can do whatever feels natural to help with your balance).
Finish the move by stepping your left foot back down to the ground, and then bringing your right foot back down to the floor. That's one rep. Try to work your way up to 15 consecutive reps on both legs.
Options: If the balance is too challenging to start, tap the left ball of your foot lightly on the inside of your right foot on the bench after you step up and during the squat. To add intensity, you can increase your resistance by holding onto a pair of dumbbells or a sandbag as you perform the move.
Instead of: Lunges Try This: T-Reach
Lunges are a great way to work your lower half, but if you're ready for something new, try this move to engage your glutes, legs, and core muscles in a whole new way.
To do it: Stand on your right leg and lift your left knee up to about hip height. Bend your right knee slightly and begin to hinge forward at your hips as you extend your left leg behind you and reach your left arm out in front of you.
Continue to lower your chest until it's parallel to the ground (keep your focus to the floor) and bring left your arm to the outside of your ear (palm facing in). Your body should resemble a letter 'T' in this position as you bend your right knee as much as you can (as shown).
From here, straighten your right knee and slowly return to start position, trying to keep your left foot off the floor as you bend your knee and bring it back in front of your body. That's one rep. Do 10 reps on one side before switching to your other leg for 10 more.
Options: If it's too hard to balance the entire time, tap your left foot on the floor at any point or hold onto a wall with your right hand. For more of a challenge, try holding a dumbbell in your right hand, keeping your arm extended down by your right leg as you move in and out of your 'T' position (and then switch hands when you change legs).
Instead of: PushupsTry This: Shape Shifters
Pushups are an amazingly effective exercise, but if you always do them the same way, you're missing out on some new ways to challenge your arms, chest, back, and core. Target your entire body with this press and push combo.
To do it: Start at the top of a modified pushup position with your hands wide (we recommend trying this move with your knees bent and then progressing your way up to straight legs).
Bend your elbows and lower your chest down and to the right, about an inch off the floor. Then, press your body to the left arm, extending your right arm as you shift your weight (don't let your body touch the ground, and stay low), then shift over to the right arm, extending the left. That's one rep. Try to do as many in a row as you can (you may need to build up to doing several in a row).
Options: This move can be super tough (even on your knees), so if you need to, start by bringing your chest all the way to the floor when you shift to the side, and then push off and over to the floor on the other side.
Instead of: DipsTry This: Kneeling Plank Ups
Dips can sometimes be tough on the wrists, and you may not always feel the burn in your triceps as much as you should. Try this plank up move to target your triceps and core muscles at the same time.
To do it: Start on all fours and then bend your elbows down until they touch to floor (directly beneath your shoulders as they bend). Bring your knees back slightly, so that you are in a modified elbow plank with your palms facing down.
From here, press down through your hands and extend your arms all the way up, keeping your shoulders over your hands as you come up, and then bend your elbows back down to the floor, touching the ground lightly before coming back up again.
Be sure to keep your abs drawn in tight and your shoulders over your elbows as you bend and press up (don't rock your weight forward and back). Try to do at least 20 reps in a row.
Options: Make it harder by moving your knees further away from your hands and/or extending one leg back behind you (switching half-way through the set). Watch the move in action here.
Instead of: CrunchesTry This: Elevator Reverse Curl
This controlled reverse curl maximizes the effort your abdominal wall puts into the exercise during the lowering phase (resisting gravity) and forces your abs to control the movement of your lower body—just like they do in everyday activity.
To do it: Lie on your back with both legs extended to the ceiling, feet flexed, arms extended overhead just above the floor, palms facing up.
Brace your belly button in tight to your spine and lift your hips up as high off the floor as you can.
Slowly start to lower back down as you count down from three, lowering down a few inches with each count (imagine you're like an elevator stopping at each floor on the way back down). That's one rep. Work your way up to 10 reps in a row.
Options: If it's too hard to do with your legs straight, bend your knees into your chest instead. You can also hold onto the edge of a couch or place a weighted object like a sandbag in your hands to help keep your arms steady. Pressing your arms on the floor by your sides will also make this move easier.
Instead of: Arm CurlsTry This: Single-Arm Curl and Press
This exercise emphasizes your biceps' effort during the eccentric (lowering) phase while also targeting your legs, core, and shoulders all at the same time.
To do it: Stand in a split stance with your left foot in front of your right, holding a heavy dumbbell with your right hand.
Keeping your weight forward and into your left foot, allowing your right heel to come off the floor, press the dumbbell up and slightly in front of you with your right arm.
Slowly and with control, bend both knees and start to lower your body to the floor as you bend your right elbow, resisting gravity as you slowly start to draw the dumbbell down to the front of your shoulder. Lower as deeply as you can, keeping your back straight and your abs drawn in tight.
Stand up out of the squat and quickly press the dumbbell back up and out (take four counts to lower, one count to press up). That's one rep. Try to do up to 15 reps on one side, and then try 15 on the other.
Options: You can also do this move with a barbell or a body bar by placing one end on the floor in front of you and holding the other end in your hand. Be sure to choose a weight that is heavy enough to be challenging but not so heavy that you lose control at any point.
Instead of: BurpeesTry This: Donkey Kick Up
Burpees are a killer, total-body cardio move, but if you aren't a fan of the plank/pushup part, or just want to mix things up, try this donkey kick version instead.
To do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms down by your sides. Quickly bend your knees and lower your body to the floor, placing your hands under your shoulders, keeping your arms straight and strong.
Shift your weight into your hands and kick both heels up as close to your body as you can (like an upside down tuck jump).
Then, quickly lower your feet to floor and jump up, reaching both arms up to the ceiling. That's one rep. Do as many as you can in a row or continue for 30 seconds, whichever comes first.
Options: If you don't want to add the jump at the top, simply stand up and quickly reach your arms overhead and do a calf raise (go up on your toes) each time you stand up.
Instead of: Squat JumpsTry This: Land Swimming
Squat jumps are an excellent way to use your lower body to elevate your heart rate. But if you need to keep things low impact, or just want to switch to an upper-body cardio move, try this exercise instead (it's harder than it looks).
To do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, both arms extended out in front of your chest, palms facing down, thumbs touching.
Squat down by bending your knees and sitting back into your hips as you quickly sweep your right arm down and back, making a circle from back to front, bringing your right arm on top of your left. Immediately switch to your left arm and do the same (like you are swimming).
Continue alternating arms, making your circles as large and as quick as you can, powering through your legs with each stroke. Try to do this for 60 seconds.
Options:For more intensity, make this a plyometric move by adding a little hop at the top of your squat as you finish each stroke.
Instead of: Dumbbell RowTry This: Lawnmower Lunge
Spice up your dumbbell row with this lawnmower lunge to target your core, back, and legs, while improving your balance and coordination at the same time.
To do it: Start standing with your feet together, holding a dumbbell with your left hand.
Step back with your right foot and lower into a lunge by bending both knees about 90 degrees as you hinge forward from the hips with your back straight, reaching your left arm slightly in front of your left leg.
Hold the lunge position, reaching your chest forward and perform a row with your left arm, drawing the dumbbell to the outside of your ribs. Extend your left arm back out in front of you and quickly stand back up, keeping your spine straight and abs tight, and bring your right foot back into your left. That's one rep. Repeat this 15 times in total, and then repeat on the other side.
Options: If it's too much to come up and down out of your lunge each time, you can start by simply holding your lunge position as you perform the row. Or, if you've already fatigued your legs, maintain a split stance position without lowering down into the lunge during the rows.
Instead of: Chest PressTry This: Chest Press Punch Up
Punch up your chest press with this move that targets your chest, abs, and back.
To do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat, and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
Brace your abs tight as you open both arms out to your shoulders, elbows bent and just above the ground (arms should resemble a goal post).
Press your right arm straight up to the ceiling above your chest and lift your right shoulder blade completely off the floor. Quickly bend and lower your right arm and shoulder back to start and then reverse the move with your left arm. Repeat this move, alternating sides quickly, 20 times in a row.
Options: Be sure to keep the weight lined up above your chest at the top of your press, and keep your neck relaxed as you lift. You can add a challenge by lifting your feet off the floor (bringing your legs into a lifted 90-degree angle or table top position) or try this move laying back on a stability ball for a greater core challenge.
Instead of: Leg PressTry This: Pistol Squat
The leg press is a great way to challenge your lower half with a lot of extra resistance, but sometimes your body can get the job done even better. The pistol squat is a killer way to develop muscular strength, balance, and coordination and keeps your entire body engaged (unlike the leg press machine).
To do it: Start standing on your right leg and extend your left leg straight out in front of you.
Reach both arms out to help you balance as you sit back into your hips, bending your right knee as deep as you can without letting your right heel come off the floor.
Squat as low as you can, and then press down through your right foot to stand all the way back up. That's one rep. Try to work up to 10 reps in a row on one leg, and then the other.
Options: This exercise is much harder than it looks so feel free to start by keeping your extended leg low to the floor, and only squat as deep as you safely can. You can also hold onto a wall with one hand for extra balance support.
For a seriously tough challenge, try holding on to the bottom of your extended foot with your hands during the full down and up movement.
Instead of: Upright RowsTry This: Upright Row Burpee
Shake up your upright row with this combo exercise that is guaranteed to spike your heart rate and tone your hamstrings, back, and shoulders!
To do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding one dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your thighs.
Squat down to the floor and place the dumbbells under your shoulders, pressing them down into the floor, keeping your arms straight and strong the entire time.
Keep your weight over the dumbbells, brace your abs in tight, and jump both legs back into a plank (top of a push up) position.
Quickly jump both feet back into your hands and stand up out of your squat with a flat, strong back (abs still tight).
Perform an upright row as you stand all the way up by bending your elbows and pulling the weights up the midline of your body to chest level. Quickly lower back down into your squat, extending your arms again.
Repeat up to 20 times in a row (if you can) without rest.
Options: This move is a challenge, so if you're not ready to jump your feet back into your plank, simply step one foot back and then the other, and then step back in to stand up. Only go as quickly as you safely can, without losing your form or control during any part of the movement.
Instead of: Inner Thigh MachineTry This: Plie Squat to Attitude
We're not big fans of the hip adductor (inner thigh) machine at the gym—for starters, its an isolation machine, which means the rest of your body is resting (and not burning any calories for you). Plus, it's just not the most attractive move to do in front of a gym full of people. This combo exercise will target your inner thighs, hips, quads, and core muscles and the total-body movement will boost your calorie burn too.
To do it: Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart, toes turned out about 45 degrees, hands on your hips.
As you begin to rise up out of your plie, push off your right foot and sweep your right leg up and across the midline of your body as high as you can, bending the right knee out to the side and lifting your right heel towards the ceiling (Think back to those childhood ballet classes).
Step your right foot back out to your plie stance and repeat with the left leg. That's one rep. Continue alternating sides for 20 reps total.
Instead of: DeadliftsTry This: Deadlift Split Squat
Deadlifts are a great exercise for your back and buns, and adding this slight variation can help maximize this move's benefits even more.
To do it:Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand in a staggered stance with your right foot forward. Your left foot should be about one step behind you, heel lifted. Reach both arms out in front of your legs, palms facing in towards your thighs.
Bend both knees and sit back into your hips, lowering into a squat, as you hinge forward with a straight spine.
Press down through your right foot to extend your legs and return to standing, keeping your back flat and abs tight the whole time. Your arms stay extended in front of you the entire time (be sure to lean forward with your torso on the squat to avoid hitting your knees with the dumbbells).
Try to do 10 reps in a row with your right foot forward, and then 10 with your left.
Options: If it's too tough to add the squat, simply do the deadlift (bend forward), but maintain your split stance to keep the core activated even more.
Instead of: Overhead Shoulder PressTry This: Vertical DB Single-Arm Press
Sculpt sexy shoulders faster with this move that turns your basic overhead press on it's head.
To do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees soft, and abs tight. Hold one dumbbell in your right hand, gripping it at the base of the weight so that the dumbbell is in a vertical position (depending on the shape and weight of your dumbbell, you may need to hold it in the center vertically instead, as shown).
Bring the end of the dumbbell to shoulder height, and then press it overhead, extending your arm up to the ceiling but keeping the weight slightly in front of you at the top. Bend your elbow and lower to start position. Repeat up to 15 times and then repeat on the other side.
Instead of: Lat PulldownTry This: Dumbbell Pull Over
Lat pulldowns are a great way to strengthen the large muscles in your back, but many people do them with improper form (ie using your arms, not your back, to pull the bar down) or strain their neck while doing them. Try this dumbbell pull over instead.
To do it: Lie down on a bench or step, both knees bent, feet flat on the floor, holding onto the end of one heavy dumbbell with both hands.
Carefully bring the dumbbell over your head, extending both arms out with your elbows soft and lowering the weight just to the edge of your bench.
Press your shoulders down toward your hips and begin to pull the dumbbell towards your belly, keeping your arms extended the whole time. That's one rep. Try to do 15 reps in a row.
Options: You can also do this with a medicine ball or sandbag instead of a dumbbell, and be sure to keep your abs tight and avoid arching your lower back when you raise the weight overhead.
Instead of: PlankTry This: Plank Pull Through
While they're a great core exercise, static planks can get boring. That's why we love this plank with a purpose
To do it: First, place a dumbbell or small weighted object (such as a weighted ball or sandbag) to the left side of your torso. Bring your body into a full plank (top of a push up) position with your hands directly below your shoulders, abs tight.
Shift your weight to your left as you grab the weight with your right hand and slide it to the right side of your body. Repeat with the left. That's one rep. Continue alternating sides for up to 10 reps.
Options: This takes a lot of core control so if you need to modify, start with a bent-knee plank instead.
Instead of: BridgesTry This: Single-Leg Bridge and Kick
Bridges are an awesome way to target your glutes, and this version kicks the burn up a notch.
To do it: Lie on your back with both knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms extended by your sides, palms facing down.
Press your left heel into the floor (lifting your toes off the floor) and bend your right knee in towards your chest, flexing your foot.
Press your hips up off the floor as you extend your right leg out beside your left knee, pressing out through your heel.
Lower your hips and bend your right knee back in, only tapping the floor with your tailbone (don't lower all the way back down). That's one rep. Repeat up to 20 times and then switch sides
Options: If the kick is too complicated, just work on a single-leg bridge and keep your right knee bent into your chest as you lift and lower.
Instead of: Bicycle CrunchesTry This: Standing Bicycle Crunches
Bicycle crunches are one of the best abs exercises you can do, and you can challenge your body in a whole new way with this same move by simply taking it off the ground.
To do it: Start standing with your feet together, hands clasped behind your head, elbows out to the sides. Shift your weight to your left leg, bend your right knee, and draw it up as high as you can to your chest as you turn your ribcage in toward your raised knee, drawing your left elbow to the outside of your right knee.
Slowly lower your leg back down and then repeat again on the same side. Do 15 reps with the right leg up, and then switch to the left.
Options: If it's too hard to balance right away, practice these with your right hand against a wall to start.
Instead of: Leg LiftsTry This: Roundhouse Kick Stair Drill
Lying on the floor doing a bunch of leg lifts isn't the most effective (or efficient) way to slim down your hips and thighs. Instead, get multiple muscle groups firing at once and burn up more calories with this Roundhouse Kick Stair Drill instead.
To do it: Stand on your left leg with your left foot slightly turned out, both elbows bent, hands in fists by your chin.
Bring your right knee up into a 'chamber' position by lifting it to hip height and pulling your heel in and behind you (toward your butt), creating a straight line from your hip to your knee joint.
From here, extend your right leg out with your toes pointed, as if you were tapping something with your shin. Bend your knee back into chamber position and then lower your foot to the floor, only lightly tapping it down (don't put weight on it). Repeat again, but this time, extend from the chamber two times before lowering your leg. Repeat again with three extensions before lowering.
Continue repeating until you have worked all the way up to 10 extensions in a row, and then reverse the stair drill on the other side.
Options: If you need help with your balance, stand next to a wall or lightly hold onto the back of a chair (about 2 ft. away from it). Be sure only to use the wall or chair for light support; Don't start to lean on it when you get tired! Keep your abs in tight and your body upright as you do each drill.