The 7 Most Underrated Exercises You've Never Tried, Say Experts
Maybe you've seen this motivational poster in your gym: "The Only Bad Workout is One That Didn't Happen."
That's baloney. Gyms are filled with very bad workouts and people who perform them poorly. At best, the exercises aren't very productive; at worst, they cause injury.
We're here to fix that. We at ETNT Mind+Body consulted more than a dozen strength coaches and personal trainers for their picks of the best, most underutilized exercises. These seven below made most of their top three lists. Incorporate them into your exercise sessions and see how they work for you. And if you've got more in your tank after these exercises, try The Secret Exercise Trick for a Flatter Stomach After 40.
Get on your belly and scramble like a reptile or a bear. Crawling movements are great for warming up, but people shun them because they think they'll look silly doing them. But they are one of the most effective, underrated dynamic exercises you can do. "These movements are amazing for not just improving joint stability and mobility, but also for providing novel stimulus to the body in alternative planes of motion, primarily the frontal plane," says Jake Harcoff, CSCS, owner of AIM Athletic in Langley, British Columbia. "Most exercises done in gyms only feature movement in the sagittal plane or moving the appendages forwards and backwards; that can lead to overuse injuries." Harcoff recommends starting with the bear crawl and progressing to the lizard, also called the spiderman.
How to Do the "Bear Crawl:" Get on all fours with hands directly under the shoulders, arms straight, and knees under the hips. Now press down on your toes to lift your knees slightly off the floor.
From this "tabletop" position, slowly lift your right hand and left foot and knee forward a few inches. Follow with the left hand and right foot and knee. Move forward this way and then backward, keeping your core engaged.
How to Do the "Spiderman:" Assume the tabletop bear crawl position but this time bend your arms and spread your knees to lower your torso to just about an inch or two above the floor. Unlike the bear crawl, you'll take much longer "steps," with your arms and legs. "Your knees will almost reach your armpits when stepping forward and there will be much more side-to-side movement at the pelvis," says Harcoff. For more great exercises you should try, see here for The One Exercise That's Best for Beating Back Alzheimer's.
It's like combining a crunch with a plank. "The dead bug is one of my favorite core moves because it will truly fire up your abdominal muscles in a very controlled and intense way," says certified personal trainer Allison Tibbs. "It's a deceivingly tough move." The dead bugs is a great move to help prepare the body for dynamic movements like weighted squats or deadlifts, but also movements like running, cycling, and skiing. And once you try it, you'll understand how it got its name.
How to Do It: Lie on your back with your arms straight toward the ceiling above your torso and your feet in the air with your legs bent at 90-degree angles. Press your ribcage down and your back into the floor, rotating your pelvis up and squeezing your glutes. This is the starting position.
Simultaneously lower your right arm and left leg toward the floor, in a slow and controlled manner, straightening your leg until your heel hovers just above the ground. Return to the starting position and repeat, trying to complete 10 reps before switching to the left arm and right leg. "Keep your core engaged by pressing your rib cage into the ground," says Tibbs.
"Most people focus only on the 'front' of their body (with pushing movements) and neglect the muscles on the back side," says celebrity trainer Joey Thurman of kuudose, and author of 365 Health and Fitness Hacks That Could Save Your Life . "Doing a row exercise or scapular retraction work will strengthen your lats, rhomboids, and other areas to help you get stronger and also make you look better, more symmetrical." Rows are pulling exercises. There are many types. For the two-arm row you need only a pair of lightweight dumbbells.
How to Do It: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing in. Keeping your back flat, bend forward at the waist until your upper body is almost parallel with the floor. Allow the weights to pull your arms straight down below you.
Now pull the dumbbells up to the sides of your chest without moving your upper body. At the top squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pause, lower the dumbbells to the straight-arm starting position, and repeat. For a great routine that uses rows, see here for The 10-Minute Total-Body Workout That Will Transform Your Body Fast.
Weighted Lunge Twist
This exercise adds a twisting movement to a traditional move that targets the quads and hamstrings, so you improve stability, leg power and core strength in one exercise. "Functional movements like lunge twists simulate what your body goes through during everyday activities and sports," says National Association of Sports Medicine Personal Trainer Joshua Lafond, founder of healthygymhabits.com. "When starting out, I have my clients do this exercise without weights until they have a good grasp of the form.
How to Do It: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and chest lifted. Hold a medicine ball (a dumbbell or weight plate) in both hands in front of you with arms bent at 90-degree angles. This is the starting position.
Step forward with your right leg and slowly lower your body until your front knee is bent at least 90 degrees and the rear knee nearly touches the floor. While descending, twist your body 90 degrees to the right. Rotate your torso back to the straight-ahead position and step back to the starting position. Next, step forward with your left leg and twist to the left. Continue alternating sides. Now that your hams are cooked, turn your attention to your mind, and check out this article that'll help you think yourself to a longer life.
This is an old school powerlifting move that a lot of people avoid because they think they will injure their back, it's hard on the knees, and they can't hold the grip. "I get it; the deadlift is tough, but that's exactly why it's such an amazing exercise," says Tobias Sjösten, owner of Athlegan coaching and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor. "It involves pretty much every muscle in your body and makes you real-life strong."
How to Do It: Stand behind a barbell with legs shoulder-width apart and—this is key—your toes under the bar so you can see all 10 on the other side. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart. You'll see people using a mixed grip—overhand and underhand–but as a beginner use an overhand grip until you get the form down and move to heavier weight, Sjösten suggests.
Keep a flat back (don't round your back). Your hips should be lower than your shoulders. Pull the slack out of your arms and set your lats by squeezing your shoulder blades together. You don't want your shoulders doing the work. Use your hamstrings to lift and keep your back and core involved to protect your low back.
With head up, straighten your legs to lift the bar. Squeeze your glutes and keep your body straight at the top of the movement. Don't overextend backward; keep straight. Pause, then lower the barbell to the floor.
"They're not sexy; they're underrated because they seem so basic and simple," says Casey Blomke, owner of Farrell's Extreme Bodyshaping. "Most novice gym goers 'major in the minors,' that is focusing on vanity exercises like the biceps curl. They should focus on multi-joint, multi muscle, compound exercises like the squat that work almost every muscle in the body, including the core."
How to Do It Without Weight: Stand with feet shoulder width apart, toes slightly pointing outward. Raise your arms straight in front of you so they are parallel with the floor. Bend your legs and sit back as if trying to close a door with your butt until your thighs are at least parallel with the floor. Press your heels into the floor to straighten your legs.
How to Do It Wight Weight: Try the goblet squat. Hold a dumbbell vertically, with your hands grasping one end. Hold it against your chest. With feet shoulder-width apart, sit your butt back while bending your legs. Lower until your thighs are parallel with the floor, then press your heels into the ground to stand straight.
Swiss Ball Plank
Core exercise are the most important part of any fitness program because they help improve strength and endurance and prevent back injuries. "Supplementing your workout with core stabilization exercises for the lower abdominal region is essential in building a good groundwork for muscle strength," says Dr. Allen Conrad, DC, CSCS, owner of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, Pa., and team chiropractor for the Blackthorn Rugby Team. While he recommends exercising all the various core muscles individually, he says the plank performed on a Swiss ball, calls more muscle fibers into play because it requires greater balance and coordination.
How to Do It: Bend your arms to 90-degree angles and rest your elbows and forearms on top of a Swiss ball. Assume a pushup position on your toes, keeping your legs and back straight from your heels to your head. Engage your core and look forward. Hold this position for as long as you can.
If you don't have a Swiss ball: Lean your elbows and forearms on the floor, elevating your torso and legs on your toes. "I love this move because it can help you improve your posture," says Saara Haapanen, MSc, personal trainer with the Colorado Governor's Council for Active and Healthy Lifestyles. To progress, try a 3-point plank by lifting an arm or a leg. "Just be sure to keep your hips a bit high to protect your low back and keep your core strong," she says. And for more exercise advice you can use, don't miss The Secret Trick That Makes Every Exercise Better.