Hopping on the elliptical five times a week, every week, at a level six isn't bad for you. But that's just because it's not really doing anything.
First of all, for your fitness regimen to produce results, you can't just be a slave to one exercise -- you have to keep your body guessing. "Your body is a smart machine and continuously adapts to the stress you put on it," explains NYC-based personal trainer Eric Mannarino. "To get the most out of any workout, you'll need to continuously perform movements that you're not accustomed to doing, otherwise you'll lose the effects of training."
On top of that, in order to torch calories, get stronger, and lean out, you need to incorporate exercises that actually challenge you in different ways, target different muscle groups, and incorporate both cardio and strength training.
To get you started (and me, because I'm filing for a trial separation from the treadmill), I asked personal trainers and fitness professionals with various focuses in the industry to declare what they deem the most efficient workouts out there. Then it's time to shake things up and integrate each exercise into your routine -- just have the sweat towel and Aleve ready to go.
"Ball slams are one of the few exercises that work both your anterior [front] and posterior [back] chains in an explosive manner," explains sports performance coach Luis A. Benitez. "Explosive training improves movement speed by efficiently recruiting the faster type 2 muscle fibers. It will also increase your ability to coordinate between different muscles, which is key for quality movement."
Plus, most other motions out there focus on the upward drive; this different and powerful downward slam builds strength in the legs, tightens the core, and adds bursts of cardio.
To do ball slams (not as terrible as they sound!), start with feet shoulder-width apart and the medicine ball between your feet. Grab the ball, then extend your body and arms upward with a rigid spine; once fully extended, fire the abs, flex the hip, and aggressively slam the ball into the ground. Catch it on the rebound and chain repetitions together (recommended eight to 10). Feeling bold? Add extra oomph to the exercise with a heavier ball or add in a jump as you extend upward.
Heavy bag kickboxing
Got 45 minutes, a pair of boxing gloves, and a 150lb bag to punch? OK, not many people have a heavy bag, but more and more gyms offer boxing rooms, and it's an insanely efficient full-body workout. "Combining warm-up, bodyweight exercises, heavy bag work, and a cooldown with stretching is as effective of a workout as you can get," says Chad Weiss, co-owner of Westchester MMA-FIT. "The punches and kicks are great for cardio while hitting the bag offers great full-body resistance training. You'll get stronger and leaner at the same time."
Added bonus: if your boss has been grinding your gears this week, a few right hooks to the bag are a phenomenal stress reliever.
"For a sexier back and better posture, incorporate the inverted row into your routine," says Benitez. "The exercise involves pulling, which is an essential movement that many people often overlook."
Using a TRX, rings, or a barbell secured in a rack, hang in a straight line (like you're in an upside-down plank) with fully extended arms about shoulder-width apart. Next, draw your shoulder blades together towards the spine, following with the elbows. Pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar, then return back to the start position in a controlled manner. It's sort of like a standing, reverse bench press. Try 10-15 reps; to crank up the heat, increase the rep range or elevate your feet.
Kettlebell swing (and snatch)
"The kettlebell swing is a dynamic version of the deadlift that works the body from head to toe," says NYC-based personal trainer and nutritional coach Theo Lusardi. "It's an incredible tool for fat loss and building true strength." With bathing-suit season not-so-slowly creeping up on us, there's no better time to start swinging -- well-formed glutes and a tight core are two of the biggest benefits reaped.
If you want to kick the exercise up another notch (and are properly trained), upgrade to the kettlebell snatch. "The snatch involves moving the kettlebell from the floor to overhead in one uninterrupted movement," explains Lusardi. "It's one of the most challenging and technical lifts out there and can take some time to learn, but the benefits are unparalleled." Whether you're looking to strengthen your back for better posture, get leaner all over, or just become King Badass at the gym, this exercise will get you said results.
Aside from the kettlebell's effectiveness, it's versatile -- snatch them at the gym, or invest in one or two to swing at home while watching Seinfeld reruns.
Get more bang for your fitness buck with the "thruster" -- more commonly known as the squat-to-overhead press. "This exercise is a great combination of two movements that employs your entire body to produce force," explains certified personal trainer Darwin Diaz. A lot of big muscle groups are activated at once with this one: legs, glutes, and shoulders? Triple check. Pair that engagement with your body's up-and-down motion and you'll feel the thruster's kick-ass cardio component as well.
Sometimes, it does a body good to go back to the basics -- no fancy equipment required. "The push-up is super effective because it's a full-body compound exercise," explains NYC-based personal trainer Eric Crane. "It uses multiple muscle groups simultaneously, including your arms, chest, back, and core. Additionally, it strengthens your core musculature, so its benefits transfer to all other exercises."
The Turkish get-up (TGU) is a full-body beast of a movement, especially if you're looking to strengthen your core and work on stability and mobility in your hips and shoulders. "The TGU gets you to move in all three planes of motion while utilizing nearly every joint and muscle in your body," says Minna Lee, Precision Nutrition coach and SFG personal trainer.
For the unfamiliar, here's how to do a rep: lie on your back with your right knee bent, foot flat on the floor; left leg is extended (hold optional weight in right hand) while left arm is extended diagonally by your side, palm down. Press weight straight overhead in line with your shoulder, then roll onto your left elbow and forearm. Then, straighten your left arm, bridge hips up, and bend the left knee to sweep your leg under behind you, keeping the left knee lined up under your left hip. Next, lift your upper body into a kneeling lunge position with your right arm overhead, and stand up from the lunge. Reverse movements in rewind before switching sides.
If your brain just exploded reading that, don't be bashful about asking a trainer at your gym to demonstrate it -- it'll be worth it. "Depending on your overall goal," says Lee, "the TGU can be performed as a conditioning exercise by doing multiple reps with lighter weight, a strength exercise by doing lower reps with heavier weight, or as a corrective and rehabilitative move with little to no weight."
This do-anywhere Pilates exercise is amazing because it's both proactive and preventative. "The single-leg bridge works and tones the muscles all around the thigh, butt, back, and deep core," says Erika Bloom, NYC-based certified Pilates teacher and founder of Erika Bloom Pilates Plus. "It also improves pelvic and lower-back stability, and helps treat and prevent injuries by balancing out hip muscles."
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat, and heels in line with your sit bones. Inhale, then exhale to wrap your lower belly around your waist like a corset. On the next exhale, press into your feet to lift hips up into a bridge. Inhale and reach the knees away from the top of your head to lengthen the spine. Then, exhale and stabilize your pelvis with your core as you extend one leg straight, keeping knees aligned; hold position for 10 slow counts. Continue to press standing foot into the mat, keeping hips level and thighs parallel. Repeat on the opposite leg.
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