4 Key Moves Your Workout Is Missing
(Paid Content) Normally, we celebrate getting into a fitness groove. It means that we've committed — on a pretty regular basis — to laying out workout clothes the night before, cuing up a high-energy playlist, and trudging through a solid 20 minutes on the treadmill. But as you've perhaps gathered from our use of the word "trudging," it gets boring fast.
Updating your soundtrack and swapping your old leggings for high-quality H&M performance gear are the first steps toward banishing gym monotony. To truly mix it up, though — and to see real results — you'll need to explore the uncharted territory that lies beyond the cardio-machine room. Since that can be seriously intimidating, we’ve broken down four trainer-backed moves that put to use the seemingly random gadgets and accessories you normally see, shrug at, and walk past. Perhaps best of all, each pinpoints a different muscle group, so working through the series means you'll feel the burn pretty much everywhere. Plan to move from one exercise to the next rapidly, with just a 30- to 60-second break in between. Now, who's ready to embrace the new?
Put your shoulders and traps (a.k.a. the area you're noticing when you admire a strong, toned back) to work with a move that eschews weights for resistance tubes. They may look like an easy alternative to dumbbells, but the tension provides one serious upper-body workout.
How to do it: Step onto a resistance band with your feet hip-width apart, arms grasping the handles at shoulder height. Extend one arm straight up at a time, taking care to squeeze and engage your core. "Focusing on your breath will help you get into a rhythm with this exercise," says Rui Li, NASM-certified personal trainer and owner of CakeFit, a personal-training service in New York City. "Exhale when pressing up, and inhale as you come down." Repeat with the other arm, and try for three sets of 20 reps (10 per arm). As you progress, move up to five sets.
While you've probably seen the Swiss ball used for crunches, incorporating it into pike-ups makes for an even more effective abdominal workout. That's because it forces you to lift and support your body weight. "This move is all about increasing core engagement while minimizing how much your quadriceps and hips move," says Li. Since the ball is destabilizing, your abs have to work overtime to both power you through the move and keep you steady.
How to do it: Plant your hands on the ground with shoulders directly above your wrists, and rest the tops of your ankles against the Swiss ball in a full plank. Pull your knees as close to your chest as possible, rounding your back and tucking your chin to your chest. Most importantly, make sure to keep your core contracted throughout the entire move. Start with three sets of 10 to 12 reps, and work your way up to five sets when it starts to get easier.
The side lunge is a no-frills trainer favorite because it effectively targets both the quads and glutes. By adding a seven-pound kettlebell — which is easier to hold than a dumbbell and therefore better for your balance and form — you'll create an additional challenge for your arms.
How to do it: Begin standing tall with your kettlebell held firmly in both hands at chest height. Extend one leg out to the side and drop into a lunge with as little upper-body movement as possible. "For the safety of your knees, make sure the center of the lunging kneecap lines up with your big and second toe when you're at the lowest point," says Li. "Keep the trailing leg straight with toes slightly turned out." Go for three to five sets of 20 reps (10 per leg). When you've mastered the form, bump up to 24 reps per set.
Of all the strengthening contraptions out there, the Pilates ring is one of the most confusing. If you're looking for glute workout with major results, though, you'll want to get your hands on one immediately. By adding the extra task of holding a ring in place while completing your normal donkey kick, you'll up the tension and — to put it plainly — kick your ass into high gear.
How to do it: Assume a tabletop position with hands directly below your shoulders, knees under hips, and the Pilates ring wedged between the bottom of your butt and heel. Raise your bent leg to hip height, holding the ring in place. If you lift higher, you risk arching and injuring your back. "Be sure to really squeeze with your glutes, so as to avoid compensating with other muscles," says Li. "Your hamstrings will definitely be engaged, but it's your butt that is leading the way." Start with three sets of 10 reps (5 per leg). If you really want to feel it, attempt five sets.