In need of new ways to make your gym sessions more challenging? Try swapping in these moves that may be more worthy of your time.
This exercise mainly targets muscles in the back and shoulders. However, instead of assuming a seated position (something you likely do all day long in an office), for many it makes sense to put these body parts to work with a more challenging alternative to the traditional row exercise.
Instead of the seated row, assume the plank position for an alternating dumbbell row, which will require greater engagement from your core as well other stabilizer muscles in your shoulders and lower body. In order to properly engage your back muscles, be sure to lift your elbows straight back, keeping your arms close to your side, and to squeeze your shoulder blades as you lift your arm.
The bench press is great for those who are specifically aiming to target the chest muscles. But for exercisers who want more bang for their buck, the reclining position assumed for a bench press doesn’t do much for the rest of the body.
The push-up, and all of its many variations, is one of the best exercises for building total body strength. In addition to targeting the muscles in your chest, when performing a push-up stabilizer muscles in your arms, shoulders, core, and even your legs are engaged. When you’ve mastered the traditional push-up, opt for more challenging variations of the exercise, like the decline push-up, pictured here, which increases the difficulty by altering your center of gravity.
Sure, this popular gym machine effectively targets major lower-body muscles, but with so many alternative exercises that are more challenging and functional (meaning they translate into strength you can use in everyday life) it doesn’t make sense to exercise your legs by plopping your bottom into a chair.
This exercise challenges your lower- and upper-body by combining two moves in one. The squat will help to build strength and stability in your quads, glutes, and inner thighs and the upright row will effectively engage your shoulder muscles for increased upper-body strength. Not to mention, compared to a seated exercise, the quick, fluid motion of this move will increase your heart rate for a bigger calorie burn.
The biggest downside to this exercise is, you guessed it, the fact that it’s performed in a seated position. Just like with the seated row, for many of us it doesn’t make sense to spend any of our time at the gym sitting down; especially not when you can target the same muscles with exercises that put the entire body to work.
While putting many of the major shoulder muscles to work, the plank walk-up also forces you to engage your core, as well as stabilizer muscles in the arms and lower body (just like with the renegade row). Starting in a high-plank position, lower down onto your right forearm and then your left. Pause for a beat before lifting up with your left arm and then your right to return to high-plank position (this counts as one repetition).
Not only are crunches overrated, but for some they can be downright dangerous. According to Dr. Stuart McGill, director of the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Waterloo and author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, crunches (or sit-ups as they’re sometimes referred to), biomechanically speaking, are one of the worst exercises you can do. “If you take a wire coat hanger and bend it over and over again, eventually the metal will fatigue and break,” he explained. “The same theory applies to your spine.”
Isometric exercises, like the boat pose hold pictured here, don’t create any change in the length of the muscle engaged but are still effective at building strength because they require the muscle to remain contracted for an extended period of time. This is a more effective abdominal exercise because it can help to improve “muscle stiffness”, which McGill says is an essential component of true core fitness.