The Man Maker Exercise Is a One-Two Punch of Intense Strength and Cardio Training

A fluid combo of three strength-building moves, the man maker exercise will train your entire body and leave you breathless after just a few reps.

Shot of a sporty young woman doing planks with dumbbells in a gym
Photo: Getty Images

Ask any fitness enthusiast to name the hurts-so-good exercise they despise the most, and there's a good chance they'll call out burpees. And understandably so: The exercise is a killer form of cardio and core training and leaves you breathless after just one set. But once you try out manmakers (aka human makers or people makers), burpees will feel like child's play.

A man maker is a full-body, weighted exercise that's essentially a slower, more thoughtful burpee, says Michelle Razavi, a fitness and yoga instructor at Equinox and co-founder of ELAVI, a protein snack company. In just one rep, you'll perform three different exercises, including high planks, single-arm rows, and thrusters, and seamlessly transition between them. As such, the man maker is an advanced exercise, and you shouldn't perform it if you're brand-new to fitness, she adds.

But if you're ready to take your workouts up a notch, how do you actually do the man maker? Here, Razavi and Nikki Elliott, a fitness instructor at Equinox and ELAVI's co-founder, share the key muscles manmakers work and step-by-step instructions that will help you master the move. Plus, they provide tips on how to modify the man maker when you're first giving the challenging exercise a shot.

What Muscles Does the Man Maker Exercise Work?

A compound exercise of three different movements, the man maker truly provides a full-body workout. Your upper back muscles, including the lats, traps, deltoids, and rhomboids, help you power through the single-arm rows, while your glutes, quads, and hamstrings allow you to rise up and out of the low squat. Then, your shoulders, triceps, biceps, and upper back muscles help you press the dumbbells overhead. Throughout the entire exercise, though, your core (which, BTW, includes your abs and lower back muscles) works to keep you stable, says Razavi.

Even though the man maker is a slow-and-steady, strength-focused exercise, it'll still leave you feeling winded after just a few reps, says Elliott. "It really elevates your heart rate…[and] you don't necessarily need to move fast," she explains. "Just having a weight that you're moving from a plank to a standing position is immediately going to increase your heart rate because you're pushing blood from all different muscle groups of the body." Thanks to this combo of muscle-building moves and the cardio challenge, man makers make for an incredibly efficient exercise, too, says Elliott.

How to Do the Man Maker Exercise

Before you even consider trying out the man maker exercise, Elliott recommends nailing the traditional burpee first. Though set to a quicker pace, burpees teach you how to maneuver from a plank position to a standing position, all while keeping your core engaged. If you were to skip over burpees and immediately start off with man makers, which traditionally require dumbbells, you may be increasing your risk for injury, particularly in the lower back, says Elliott. "We see a lot of times in classes that once you start to throw dumbbells into the mix if you don't have the foundation down, it's just very chaotic," she says. "People like to use their lower back to stand up instead of pushing through their heels and using their legs to help bring their body up. That puts a lot of tension into your lower back, which creates a long-term potential for injury because, eventually, you're going to do that in other movements as well."

For the same reason, Razavi suggests mastering the basic squat before giving the man maker a try. Beginners often lean forward into their toes and forget to squeeze their glutes at the top of the movement, she explains. But to get the most out of the exercise and ensure your form is on point, "it's really important that your weight is in the heels, you're leaning back a bit — imagine you're sitting in a low toilet — and when you press up, [you're] pressing really deeply into your heels to shift that energy up. You're also engaging your glutes and core at the top when you're pressing up." If you were to perform a man maker without first becoming a pro squatter, you might not effectively target your lower body muscles and you could up your risk of injury.

When you're ready to take on the man maker exercise, choose a lighter weight than you'd normally use for a strength-building exercise so you can nail down the fluid movement and perfect your form, says Razavi. "If that feels comfortable, then you can always progress and graduate up to heavier dumbbells," she adds.

Once you have your dumbbells selected, follow the step-by-step directions below to perform the man maker. Consider practicing each movement, then combining them all into one fluid man maker once you have the hang of it.

Man Maker Movement 1: High Plank to Single-Arm Row

Michelle Razavi

A. Place two dumbbells shoulder-width apart on floor. Start in a table-top position, with shoulders stacked over hands, each of which is gripping a dumbbell. Knees are bent and stacked directly under hips.

B. Step one leg back at a time to come into high plank position on palms. Feet should be shoulder-width apart. Engage quads, glutes, and core, and tuck tailbone slightly.

C. Pull shoulders down and away from ears, and slowly bend one elbow back, keeping arm close to your side as you pull dumbbell up toward your hip. Make sure to keep hips stable and avoid swaying to the side.

D. Return to start, placing dumbbell down softly. Repeat the row on the opposite arm.

Man Maker Movement 2: High Plank to Low Squat

Michelle Razavi

A. From a high plank position, jump both feet forward to the outside of hands. Quickly lift chest upright and settle into a low squat. Simultaneously, swing both dumbbells forward and up to chest with palms facing in.

Man Maker Movement 3: Low Squat to Overhead Press

Michelle Razavi

A. From the low squat, engage glutes and press heels into the floor to straighten legs while pressing dumbbells overhead. The press is complete when legs are straight and dumbbells are directly over shoulders, biceps pressed against ears.

B. Lower dumbbells back to shoulders, then extend elbow to lower dumbbells to sides. Sink down into a squat, place dumbbells on floor in front of feet, and jump feet back to the high plank starting position. That's one rep.

Try the Complete Man Maker Exercise

Michelle Razavi

When you're first learning how to do man makers, consider starting out with two to three reps, then work your way up to eight to 10, says Elliott. Regardless of how many you set out to complete, make sure you listen to your body. "The moment you start to fatigue and break form, that's when you stop," adds Razavi. "If you're trying to go for this final cardio burn and you're starting to notice your form break, I say do one more and then stop."

Man Maker Exercise Modifications

Start Just with Bodyweight

If you a full-fledged man maker feels too challenging, there's no shame in modifying the move to meet you where you're at. You might start by nixing the dumbbells and do a bodyweight version of the move, says Razavi. During the single-arm rows, squeeze your elbows back while keeping your palms flat to engage your upper back. When you jump into the low squat, bring your hands into a prayer position in front of your chest then press them toward the ceiling just as you would with a traditional thruster. "Just start without dumbbells to get the lower body working and your core used to loading just your body weight, and then once you feel comfortable, you'd add in the weight," she says.

Use a Single Dumbbell

If you only have access to one weight that's light enough for your needs, you can also perform the man maker with a single dumbbell, passing it between hands for the rows and holding each end during the overhead press, adds Elliott. As you get stronger, add in that second dumbbell to ensure you keep progressing. (

Keep Your Hands On Your Mat

Some folks may experience discomfort in their wrists while gripping dumbbells during the high plank, says Elliott. In that instance, feel free to place your hands on the mat directly next to your dumbbells and pick up the weights once you're ready to row and jump into the low squat, she suggests.

Widen Your Stance

While in your high plank, consider placing your feet as wide as your shoulders or your mat, which will help prevent your hips from swaying while you row, suggests Razavi. "When you're doing the row, you want to make sure your hips are both stable and even because if they're swaying, you're not getting the full benefit of the row and you're opening yourself up to back injury," she says. "[Widening] your feet placement will stabilize your weight and allow you to row without swaying the hips side to side, [which helps] make your core strong and your back strong."

And as you learn to master the man maker exercise, remember to pay attention to your form, your breath, and how you're feeling overall during every single rep, says Razavi. "I think sometimes people just power through things just to finish a rep, but…there's no rush — you don't have to have it perfect today," she says. "I'd rather you be working healthfully down a journey as opposed to injuring yourself now and be stunted."

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