The best exercise might be the one you aren’t doing. Switching up your usual workout routine will challenge your muscles in new ways and battle boredom, which could make you more motivated to work out in the first place. So if you catch yourself on the elliptical for hours on end — or doing crunches ‘til your neck gives out — we’re here to intervene.
To honor the forgotten, overlooked or unappreciated movements, we asked top trainers to weigh in on the best exercises that fly under the radar. Not only will these moves build strength, improve endurance and burn calories, they’ll keep you progressing toward your goals. Whether you’ve been working out for three days or 30 years, we bet you’ll learn a tip or two from the 15 exercises below (listed in order of beginner to more advanced).
The Most Underrated Exercises You’re Not Doing
1. The Superman
Targets: Hamstrings, abs, lower and upper back muscles
Superheroes might have a reputation for abs of steel, but the superman exercise is all about the back. And that’s a good thing, according to Jonathan Angelilli, fitness trainer and founder of TrainDeep, a holistic fitness system. “[Supermans] are way more important than crunches,” he says, because the exercise does a better job of promoting good posture and strengthening the muscles in your back.
How to Get Started: Check out this article on back exercises to prioritize your posterior.
2. The Brisk Walk
Targets: Cardio and endurance
Better health is literally just a few steps away. “Walking has many of the same health benefits as running, such as reduced risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and improved cardiovascular health,” says Jen Sinkler, an author, personal trainer, former elite athlete and founder of Lift Weights Faster. A brisk walk won’t put undue stress on your body like running might, but taking some deep breaths while walking can help you “quiet a busy brain,” says Sinkler. “That’s a win for everyone, from newbie exerciser to veteran.”
How to Get Started: Hit the open road with this guide to urban hiking, with tips for making a walk through your hometown a little more epic.
3. The Lateral Band Walk-Out
Lateral band walks are about to become your glute go-to. “The exercise strengthens and targets the gluteus medius, or side of your butt, and does so without bulking. Instead, it helps chisel and tighten the booty and legs,” says Andrea Speir, trainer for Daily Burn Pilates. Best of all, you won’t need to spend hours hobbling around like a penguin to get results. Spier says you’ll feel the burn instantly once you start side stepping around. Keep it up for three sets of 10 reps and you’ll have a solid addition to any dynamic warm-up or lower-body routine.
How to Get Started: Check out this video for a demonstration of proper lateral band walk technique.
4. The Dead Bug
No, you won’t harm any insects during this exercise. The Dead Bug is a core exercise performed on your back, where you want to engage your abs to resist extending your lumbar spine (or, arching your back) as you lower your legs to the floor. Translation: You’re keeping your back against the floor while raising and lowering your legs and arms. “There are enough variations that can challenge anyone ranging from a beginner to the most advanced trainee, yet very few people use it,” says Hunter Cook, a California-based trainer. He likes that it teaches athletes how to brace properly, a skill important for protecting the spine during heavy squats and deadlifts.
How to Get Started: Strengthen your core with the three variations in this video.
5. The Rower
Targets: Quads, glutes, arms and back
Row, row, row your way fit. Anja Garcia, trainer for Daily Burn’s Inferno program, says working out on a rowing machine has helped take her athleticism to the next level. “You can change the intensity of the exercise by playing with your stroke rate, adding in sprints to really target cardio or keeping a steady cadence to work on strength and power,” she says.
How to Get Started: Try out these three rowing machine cardio workouts to boost strength and endurance.
6. The Sumo Squat with Drag
Targets: Glutes, quads and inner thighs
Level up your bodyweight squats, no equipment necessary. By adding a “drag” at the end of a sumo squat, you’ll challenge your inner thighs, says Larysa Didio, a celebrity trainer and fitness writer. “It’s really hard to target the inner thighs while standing and this exercise successfully does it,” she says. So, skip those seated adduction machines and drop it like a squat, stat.
How to Get Started: Try this 10-minute strength workout from Prevention, with tips on how to perform the sumo squat with drag.
7. The Stairs
Targets: Glutes, hamstring, calves and core
Waiting for a treadmill can get old, fast. So why not ditch the gym and explore a new part of town by heading to an outdoor stairwell or stadium for your next cardio fix? By running or walking up and down stairs, you’ll rev your heart rate, improve coordination and develop lower body strength. “There’s so much variety in how you can use [stairs] and they’re everywhere!” says Dyan Tsiumis, instructor at The Fhitting Room in New York City, who’s been hitting the steps to help get in shape for her first figure competition.
How to Get Started: To take your fitness level to new heights, start with this 20-minute StairMaster workout.
8. The Plyo Workout
Targets: Cardio and strength training
Harder, better, faster, stronger aren’t just song lyrics — they’re also benefits of plyometric training. “It’s all about efficiency,” says Leanne Shear, founder and head trainer at Uplift Studio in New York City. By incorporating jump squats, broad jumps or other plyo moves into your fitness routine, you’ll fire up muscle groups that you wouldn’t ordinarily work moving in just one plane of motion. Plus, developing explosive power that will make you a better all-around athlete? Priceless.
How to Get Started: Get sweating with this no-equipment ploymetric workout designed to maximize your burn.
#SMOTD : #bodyweight one-legged deadlift (balance tap) with core rotation, a staple in #StokedWorkouts. Hits your #glutes (both the glute of the standing leg and extended leg if you engage it as you lift the leg behind you), #hamstring #core. Also works on ankle stability and foot strength. It's an A+ in my book! #GETSTOKED #getoutside #fullystoked #StokedAthlete #shockittorockit #thegymiseverywhere
9. The Single-Leg Deadlift
Targets: Core, glutes and hamstrings
While regular deadlifts are great for building strength, balancing on just one leg means your core has to stay engaged throughout the movement. Kira Stokes, an instructor at BFX Studio in New York City, is all about firing up the posterior chain with single-leg deadlifts. “Added bonus: This is a fantastic exercise for ankle and knee rehab,” says Stokes, since the movement can help strengthen and stabilize your joints. And best of all, she notes that the single-leg deadlift is a “no-excuse exercise,” meaning you can do it anytime with just your own bodyweight.
How to Get Started: Master the single-leg deadlift technique with tips from this story on how to sculpt a strong backside.
10. The Russian Kettlebell Swing
Targets: Glutes, lower back, hamstrings, shoulders and legs
Want to benefit from kettlebell training but not sure where to start? Let us introduce you to the Russian kettlebell swing. “It has a low learning curve,” says Kellie Davis, celebrity trainer and co-founder of GetGlutes.com. “[It’s] a full-body workout wrapped into a single exercise,” she says, noting it strengthens your posterior chain while also revving your heart rate and testing your endurance.
How to Get Started: Brush up on your form by learning a few dos and don’ts about the kettlebell swing here. Then follow along with Daily Burn trainer Cody Storey in this video on beginner-friendly kettlebell exercises.
11. The Track Workout
Targets: Cardio and endurance
You don’t have to slog through miles on the treadmill. You can mix up a run in many ways — sprint drills, distance runs and nature hikes — so it’s appropriate for all levels and fitness goals. “Running never ceases to amaze and challenge me,” says Justin Rubin, trainer for Daily Burn’s True Beginner program. Lace up your sneakers and you’ll likely live longer than more sedentary people! Baby, you were born to run.
How to Get Started: Learn how to set yourself up for success with these 50 running resources for increasing speed and strength and fueling up the right way.
12. The Prowler Drive
Targets: Legs, core, back, hip extension
Push it, push it real good. The Prowler is that sled-like piece of equipment you’ve seen people shoving around gyms or CrossFit boxes. But it’s not just for bros chasing gains. Anyone can use the Prowler since there’s a quick learning curve, says Rob Sulaver, founder and CEO of Bandana Training. Unlike barbells, there’s no risk of falling weight once you run out of steam — push until you can’t push any more and the Prowler will simply come to a halt.
How to Get Started: For a demonstration of proper prowler technique, check out this video that breaks down how it’s done.
13. The Weighted Back Squat
Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, core, lower back and shoulders
Ladies and gentlemen of the gym, back squats are back. “A lot of women avoid this exercise in fear of growing their thighs and men skip it to focus on more vanity body parts like their chest and arms,” says Brett Hoebel, celebrity trainer and author of The 20-Minute Body. The truth is, this full-body move can torch calories during and after your workout. At the same time, it helps you develop better mobility — which can lead to better performance for other workouts.
How to Get Started: How low can you go? Perfect your form and learn how to improve your depth with these tips.
14. The Deadlift
Targets: Glutes, hamstrings, quads and lower back
Think only advanced lifters can do deadlifts? Think again. “Men, women, young and old can all benefit from this move,” says Ben Booker, trainer for Daily Burn’s LTF program. The multi-joint exercise works your upper and lower body. Plus it’s one of the safest lifts you can perform, because you simply drop the weight if you can’t complete the lift. Once you learn how to hinge properly at the hips, you’ll develop strength that can carry over for picking up heavy groceries or moving furniture.
How to Get Started: Master this lift with these beginner-friendly tips.
15. The Thruster
Targets: Quads, glutes, hamstrings, abs, shoulders, upper back, triceps
Want more bang for your buck with a barbell in hand? You get two-for-one with the thruster, which combines a front squat with a push press. “This full-body movement is very metabolically demanding and really gets the heart rate up,” says Eric Salvador, head instructor at The Fhitting Room in NYC. “The power that you generate from your legs in the squat propels the weight overhead where your abdominals, shoulders, upper back and triceps take over,” he says. This multi-joint movement isn’t for the faint of heart, though. “The thruster will literally floor you,” says Salvador, who became a believer in the exercise during “Fran,” a notoriously tough CrossFit workout.
How to Get Started: Experienced lifters can try “Jackie,” one of the CrossFit workouts you can do in under 12 minutes.
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