Trainers Reveal: The Best Total-Body Moves of All Time
“One of my all-time favorite total-body moves, this simple but effective exercise works your legs, core, and upper body," says Samantha Clayton, a former Olympic athlete and personal trainer. "You can do them with no equipment, or you can make them more core intensive by using a BOSU [as shown] or stability ball."
How to do it: Squat down and place your hands on the BOSU (or flat on the floor), and jump your feet back so that you land in a pushup position. Lower your chest to the ground, press back up to complete the pushup, and then jump your feet back in to a squat position. Hold onto the BOSU as you explosively jump up in the air, pressing the BOSU overhead (or just reach your arms up). That's one rep. Try to do 3 sets of 15 reps, or 3 sets of as many reps as possible in 45 seconds.
“If you had one exercise to do... this one is it! This move incorporates joint stability and core strengthening, and strengthens, tones, and trains the body to move through every angle—the way the body was meant to move," says Jay Cardiello, SHAPE fitness editor-at-large and founder of the JCORE Accelerated Body Transformation System.
How to do it: Start on all fours. In one swift movement, swing your left leg under your hips and extend it fully to the ceiling. Upon driving your left leg under your hip, simultaneously reach your right hand towards the ceiling and have the left foot and right hand meet at their highest points. Retract back to your original starting position and repeat on the other side. Do as many reps as you can for 30 seconds and then take a brief rest. Repeat 1-3 sets total.
Single-Arm Kettle Bell Snatch
“Single-arm kettlebell snatches are a fantastic exercise to develop explosive power, core stability, and strength in the hips, low back, and shoulder joints," says Jon-Erik Kawamoto, CSCS, owner of JK Conditioning. "The offset position of the kettlebell challenges you to balance the weight overhead and provides unique dynamics, impossible when using dumbbells. In addition, higher repetition sets will tax the cardiovascular system, making kettlebell snatches very effective at working every muscle in the body.”
How to do it: Hold a kettlebell in your right hand, using an overhand grip on the left portion of the handle. Stand with the bell in front of your thighs, feet about shoulder-width apart, pointing your left arm straight out in front of you. Swing the kettlebell in between your legs, bending knees slightly (the majority of the range of motion will result from you hinging at your hips). At the bottom of the swing, your chest will be facing down toward the ground with the kettlebell high up in your groin, as if you were doing a hike pass to a quarterback [as shown].
Next, forcefully extend your hips to swing the kettlebell forward and up. As the bell passes head level, push your hand through the handle to rotate the kettlebell around your wrist (the bell should transition smoothly and softly onto the outside of your forearm). Stabilize the bell overhead, stand tall, and fully contract your glutes [as shown]. Bend your arm to lower the bell in front of your body, then extend your elbow and rotate the bell back around your forearm, then continue into the swing to repeat. For a full-body cardio workout, try to perform 3-5 sets of 30 reps, 15 per arm.
“This highly functional exercise not only works the core, it also challenges the important reactive process involved in core stability. It's amazing the sweat you can produce with this move because of the multiple muscle groups involved,” says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University.
How to do it: Stand sideways with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and hold a weighted ball at about forehead level, arms bent 90-degrees and knees slightly bent. Then, as if you were going to hurl the ball down and behind you to the right, tighten your abs and rotate your body into a lunge-style stance, bending both knees until the back shin is parallel to the floor. Your arms will straighten with your hands traveling to the outside of your left knee. To reverse, tighten your abs and explode up through your legs, returning to the start position. Do 15 from left to right and another 15 from right to left.
Plank Reach and Rotate Lift
This my favorite total-body move because it does a great job toning your shoulder and abs—two trouble spots for most people, but especially women, says Andrea Metcalf, a healthy lifestyle expert and author of Naked Fitness: The Proven 28 Day Weight Loss Program for a Slimmer, Fitter, Pain-Free Body.
How to do it: Start in a plank position. Reach your right hand forward and hold for 1 count. Lower your right hand and rotate into a side plank. Try lifting your top leg for a bigger core challenge [as shown]. Think slow, controlled movements instead of quick repetitions, and do as many as you can for 1 minute (aim for 18-22 reps).
“These are a fave because they work your core while strengthening your upper body and stretching your back and legs,” says Cassey Ho, certified Pilates and group fitness instructor and creator of Blogilates.com.
How to do it: Start in plank position on your forearms with your tailbone tucked and core braced. Press back into a down-dog like position with your butt in the air, back flat, and chest press downwards. Return to start while engaging your core. Try up to 3 sets of 15 reps.
“The deficit deadlift is a big-bang-for-your-buck movement that works a ton of muscle and moves a heavy load through a full range of motion around the hips. It will strengthen a majority of the body's musculature, including the calves, hamstrings, quads, adductors, glutes, erectors, abs, lats, traps, rhomboids, and forearms," says Bret Contreras, MA, CSCS, and author of Advanced Techniques in Glutei Maximi Strengthening. "It also revs up the body's metabolism so you burn more calories after the workout.”
You may want to slip off your shoes for this one, Contreras says. "Many strength coaches have their athletes deadlift barefoot, as they believe that it provides a training effect for the small intrinsic foot muscles, which is good for the arches, as well as proprioception and balance.”
How to do it: Stand on a plate, box, or step. With the barbell positioned near the shins, sit back and bend over at the hips while keeping a neutral spinal position. Grasp the barbell and lift the weight by extending your knees and hips simultaneously. Don't lose the arch in the low back and squeeze the glutes to lock out the lift. Lower the weight in reverse; remember to sit back, skim the body with the bar, and keep a stable core. Perform 3-5 sets of 3-8 repetitions.
SandBell Slam with Triangle Pushup
“I love this exercise because it combines a few of my favorite exercises (burpees, SandBell slams, and triangle pushups) into one challenging move that works my entire body,” says Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “The triangle pushup, in particular, was shown in an ACE research study to be one of the most effective exercises for working the triceps. I typically integrate this exercise into my HIIT workouts, in which I’ll perform this exercise for time (as many as I can do in 30 seconds), using a 20-pound SandBell," she adds.
How to do it: Begin in a squatting position, holding the SandBell at chest level. As you inhale, press the SandBell overhead and raise up onto the toes. Exhale as you perform a slam, forcibly releasing the SandBell to the ground. Once released, quickly jump or step back to a high plank position, placing your hands on the SandBell in a triangle formation (pointer fingers and thumbs towards one another) with your hands directly below your chest.
Keeping your elbows close to your body, perform a triangle pushup, slowly lowering the body down to just above the SandBell and pushing back up to your starting plank position. Use the strength of your entire body to jump the feet up toward the SandBell, coming into a low squat position. Once again grab the sides of the SandBell and repeat this sequence. Do as many reps as you can for 30 seconds.
You’ll work the muscles in your abdominals, glutes, and quads with this multitasking move, says Harley Pasternak, celebrity trainer (He works with celebs like Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, and Jessica Simpson) and author of 5 Factor Fitness. "For this exercise, I prefer to use a BOSU, but you can also use a large pillow. To make it easier, place the pillow or BOSU on an elevated step. To make it harder, place the BOSU or pillow on the ground."
How to do it: Lie faceup with your lower back on the BOSU or pillow. Crunch up and stand up in one movement, using your abdominals for the first crunch part of the movement, and then using your lower body to drive yourself up to standing. Do 3 sets of 25 reps.
Suspended Pike Pushup
“This is a great total-body move that engages the core, shoulders, glutes, and hamstrings. I have my clients perform 3 sets of 15 reps, with 30 seconds rest between sets,” says Liz Cort, a certified fitness professional and owner of Fitness Fusion.
How to do it: Place your feet securely into the foot cradles of a suspension trainer (such as a TRX) and your hands on the ground directly below your shoulders, arms straight. Stabilize your torso into a plank position by engaging your core and leg muscles. Slowly lower your body down to the ground into a pushup position, keeping the core tight and head, neck, spine, and hips aligned (do not allow the low back or ribcage to sag or arch). Your feet should be together with glutes engaged and strong. Press your body back to a plank position, continuing the motion right into a pushup, then drive the hips up into a pike [as shown]. That’s one rep. To make this more difficult, you can add in consecutive pushups before moving into another pike up. Try up to 3 sets of 15 reps.
“This exercise, along with the band, strengthens the abdominals, arms, and upper back, giving so much benefit in just one move,” says Lara Hudson, a certified Pilates instructor and star of the 10 Minute Solution: Tighten & Tone Pilates
How to do it: Lie faceup with your knees pulled into your chest, and place the band around the balls of your feet, holding one end of the band in each hand, elbows bent, upper body lifted into a curl. Exhale and roll up to a seated position as you simultaneously reach the arms to the ceiling and lengthen the legs forward into teaser. Inhale and hold here, then exhale and roll down to the starting position. Do 2 sets of 5, holding the teaser for 1 breath each rep. Rest on your back between each set.
"Squatting will target the legs and the rotation will really work the entire core while the bell stabilization overhead works balance, control, and the shoulders,” says Paul Katami, a certified personal trainer and star of the Ultimate Kettlebell Workouts for Beginners
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding the kettlebell in one hand. Extend the arm upright in the snatch position. From that position, combine an actual squat with the rotation together, simultaneously rotating through the core. The bell hand reaches to the ceiling and the free hand reaches to the floor in between your feet, creating a straight line between the two. Eyes track the bell as it extends upward. Squat only as far as your body will allow with the rotation. Reaching the floor is less important than keeping your knees aligned in proper squat form. Return to the start position, standing upright and reversing the rotation and pattern. Make sure the rotation is slow and controlled through the core. Try 10-15 reps on each side.
“Modified boat pose (or Navasana) is a simple exercise that works the body in a number of ways,” says Coleen Saidman, a certified yoga instructor and star of the Yoga for Weight Loss
How to do it: Sit with your legs crossed, lean back, and lift your toes off the floor so that your abdominals engage. Pump your arms to increase the core challenge while also getting the respiratory system involved, burning more calories and toning the arms. All the while, keep your face soft, your neck relaxed, and your breath easy. Hold for 30 seconds on each side (of crossed legs), while pumping your arms for 3 reps.
“I love this Pilates-based exercise because it's a super-functional core exercise that also works your arms, shoulders and legs—without any equipment. It seems simple but takes serious strength and coordination,” says Nicole Nichols, a certified fitness professional and star of the SparkPeople: Total-Body
How to do it: Come to a side plank position with your legs and feet stacked, bottom hand under your shoulder, top hand reaching up toward the ceiling, inner thighs squeezed together, and abs engaged. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, engage the bottom side of the waist up and away from the floor as you lift the hips higher and thread the top hand underneath the torso, rotating through the waist to complete one rep. Inhale to return to start position and repeat. Try 5-10 reps on one side before switching.
Attitude Leg Circles
“This move is cardio and sculpting at its best—sculpt the lower body and challenge cardio endurance,” says Andrea Rogers, former professional dancer, certified fitness instructor, and creator of Xtend Barre.
How to do it: Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart, toes and knees pointed out. Plie (bend your knees) in this position. Draw one arm overhead and one leg into a front attitude position as you straighten the supporting leg. The leg continues to circle out and around and steps back into a wide squat position, bending both legs. That’s one rep. Do 16 reps on each leg.
This MMA-inspired move works your body from head to toe and really helps to develop functional core strength, agility, and control, says Guillermo Gomez, a fourth-degree black belt, kickboxing instructor, and star of the Cross Training for Fitness
How to do it: Sit with your right knee bent in front of your body on the floor and left leg behind you (both legs bends at about 90 degrees). Place your hands on the ground in front of your right leg and bend your elbows slightly. Brace your abs in tight and push off the ground with your arms, swinging both legs out straight in front of you [as shown] and around to the right, landing with your left leg forward and right leg back, elbows bent, and chest low to the floor (as if doing a pushup). That’s one rep. Try up to 10 reps in a row, alternating sides each time.
Rond de Jambe
“This exercise works the entire body. I love this one because it challenges my balance and is effective in producing accelerated results,” says Lisa Hubbard, star of the Element: Accelerated Pilates
How to do it: Step your right foot on top of the band and stand with your heels and inner thighs pressed together, toes pointed out, hands on your hips. Reach your right leg forward and circle it around to the back, maintaining external rotation of the legs. Reverse the direction to complete one rep. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions on each leg.
Obliques with Bicep Curl
Using a towel in this exercise can help create resistance, support movement, and is great for mobilizing the joints, says Moira Merrithew, star of the Stott Pilates: Pilates Towel Workout for Strength & Mobility
How to do it: Lie faceup on a mat with your spine in a neutral position, knees bent, one ankle crossed over the other knee. Loop the towel behind your raised knee, holding both ends in same hand, other hand behind head. Contract your abdominal muscles and bicep holding the towel as you raise your torso and elbow, rotating toward the towel side. Try up to 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
Kettlebell Double Lunge Snatch
“I love this exercise because it works your cardiovascular system, explosive whole-body power, balance, and coordination, while also strengthening your core and shoulder musculature and improving posture and alignment,” says Jeff Bell, fitness expert and NYC master trainer.
How to do it: Grab two kettlebells and swing them between your legs, preparing to vigorously thrust hips and kettlebell forward and upward. From the swing, pull both kettlebells up, elbows high above shoulder height. Continue the upward momentum, preparing to vigorously lunge forward with one leg moving under the kettlebells, catching the bells in the overhead lockout position. End with arms straight overhead, front knee straight ahead and over the ankle. Do 8-12 reps, alternating legs each time.
“This gymnastics-inspired move is a total-body static contraction that helps to strengthen and stretch your back, arms, shoulders, abs, and legs at the same time,” says Jessica Smith, a certified personal trainer.
How to do it: Lie faceup with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Bend your arms and place your hands just behind your shoulders on the floor (elbows facing up). Press up with your arms and legs, arching your back and lifting your body all the way off the ground. Hold for 1 count, and then gently lower back to your starting position. That’s one rep. If this is too tough, keep your bridge more grounded by placing your arms by your sides and only lifting your hips only. Try up to 3 sets of 5 reps.