Do you tend to gravitate towards the same exercises in most of your workouts? Most women do that for one main reason - they can do them. But once you master an exercise, it’s time to make them more challenging or move onto others. The problem is that many women shy away from certain exercises because they are too difficult, they can’t do them, or they think they aren’t necessary. But when it comes to your training and exercise program, your mantra should always be to do the exercises you like the least. Why? Because it’s usually the best ones that you aren't doing on a regular basis if at all.
See if you're avoiding any of these exercises, and if you are, don’t neglect them any longer:
1. Front Squats: Unlike regular squats, front squats require more concentration, greater leg work and a lot of core strength. Place a bar across the front of you at shoulder height with your index and middle fingers under the bar. Your thumb, ring finger and pinky should be under the bar. This feels a little odd at first, but this is how your hold should be for front squats. The bar should not be resting completely on your body - more like a lean. Position your body and legs like you would with a regular squat and then lower yourself down as you normally would and then come back up. It will only take one rep to feel the huge difference between a front squat and a traditional squat.
2. Push Ups (real ones): Women often have difficulty with push ups. They require a lot of upper body strength and a strong core. The problem is that many women will do them on their knees and never attempt to do them on their toes because they automatically assume they can’t do it. From now on, do as many as you can on your toes before you drop to your knees. It’s the only way you'll ever get better at them. 3. Pull Ups: Even worse than pushups, pull-ups will send women running for the hills. Yes, they can be more challenging than push ups, but they are not impossible. You can start by doing inverted rows (go underneath a low bar and pull your chest up to the bar and lower back down). Move on to supported pull ups with an assisted machine or by using a band underneath your feet to help you get to the bar. A few weeks or months of these and you will be doing pull-ups like a champ.
4. Deep Squats: It’s safe to say that many women are not squatting to their full potential. Back in the day, women were told not to break parallel when squatting, but that has since changed. Keep your feet hip-width apart with your knees and toes pointed out to the side at 45 degrees. This allows you to really drop your butt low when you squat. Keep the weight in your heels at all times and your back straight. You don’t even need any weights to really feel these squats. 5. Crab Walks: Nothing will make your triceps and core work harder than a few laps of crab walking. Sit on the floor and then prop yourself up so you're only on your feet and your hands. Now “walk” in that position for a certain distance, but don’t let your butt touch the floor at any point. When you reach the end of your distance, crab walk back. Your triceps will be yelling at you like crazy.
6. Burpees: Here’s an exercise that can clear a room as soon as it's mentioned. No one likes them, but they are oh so good for you. Burpees are a full-body exercise. You get leg work, ab work, upper body work and cardio work all in one challenging move. And with so many variations of the burpee, you will never get bored. 7. Hanging Leg Raises: Crunches are okay, but hanging leg raises are better when it comes to building a strong core and a six-pack. When you are hanging straight down from a bar and have to lift your legs to waist level, it’s all core work and nothing else. Be sure not to swing your legs up. Stay still the entire time. Try trading in your crunches for leg raises and feel your abs work like never before.
8. Deadlifts: It’s been said that if there is any one exercise that you should be doing at all times it is deadlifts. This is a functional exercise as it mimics an everyday movement of bending down and picking something up and off the ground. However, doing deadlifts properly is of the utmost importance. If not done correctly, there is a high risk of a back injury. But once you get the technique, every major muscle including your abs will benefit from this very effective exercise.
9. Single-Side Movements: Women like to work their muscles in pairs by doing both arms or both legs at the same time. But if you change that and only work one side at a time, you have an opportunity to make a weaker side stronger by not relying on the strength of your stronger side. Shoulder presses, chest presses, bicep curls and lateral raises are all great examples of exercises that you should start doing one side at a time, especially for your weaker side.
10. Turkish Get-Ups: The name doesn’t really reveal much about the exercise other than there will be some “getting up” involved with it. But this complex exercise works everything you got because it requires precision, coordination and balance. The basics of this exercise are that you will start in a lying down position with one arm extended up while holding a weight. While that arm stays up the entire time, you will get up from the lying down position into a full standing position, and then reverse the movement and go back down. Start out with a light weight, or even no weight at all, until you can perform this exercise correctly.
11. Overhead Squats: Similar to the overhead walking lunges, hold a weight over your head as you squat. While this may sound easy, it is not. Your arms are going to want to drop down as you squat, but you have to keep them straight and overhead the entire time. This is core work in full swing (and squat!).
12. Dips: If you're already doing dips with your legs on a bench or ball, then you can start moving towards dips where your body is completely vertical while you hold onto a dipping bench or bars. Lower your body as much as you can and then push yourself back up. Even if you only go down an inch, it is a start. The more you do them, the better you will be at them and the lower you will go. 13. Sprints: Most people run, but few sprint. Sprinting is a terrific way to burn calories and torch fat. If you're not a runner, that is okay since sprints should only last about 30 seconds at a time. Next time you go for a run or even a walk, try adding short sprints. Make sure you give yourself enough of a recovery period in between each sprint.
14. Wall Balls: Brought to you by the athletes of CrossFit, wall balls are great for both cardiovascular exercise and strength. Pick up a medicine ball (preferably 10-14 pounds), face a high wall and throw the ball as high up as you can against the wall. When it comes back down, catch it and squat at the same time. Get as low as you can on the squat catch and get as high as you can when you throw the ball. Of course, the heavier and higher you go, the more challenging this will be.
15. Hanging: Yup, that’s right. Hang down from any overhead bar and see how long you can hold it. It may sound silly, but doing this offers many benefits including improving your grip strength, developing your upper body, stabilizing your shoulders and getting used to doing exercises without your feet on the floor. Just hold on tight and don’t let go.
16. Inchworms: It sounds cute, but it is anything but. Stand tall and slowly bend down, keeping your legs as straight as you can with your arms extended towards the floor. As soon as your hands touch the floor, walk them out until you are in a push up position. Once there, walk your hands back to your feet and roll back up to a standing position. Remember to keep your legs straight throughout the entire movement and keep your abs tight. You can even throw in a push up when you get all the way down. 17. Calf Raises: You work your quads, your glutes, your hamstrings and your thighs. However, those shapely calves often get neglected on leg day. They may be small and not always easy to see, but they are just as important to strengthen. Simply stand with your toes on an elevated surface and your heels hanging off the edge. Roll through your toes so you raise your body up and down. You can make this more difficult by holding a weight or using a calf machine at the gym.
18. Pistol Squats: Pistol squats (a squat done on one leg) give leg day new meaning. Try these first while holding onto something so you can get your form down and squat deep. Stand on one foot and extend your other leg out in front of you with the foot off the floor. Now slowly lower down while pressing into the heel of the foot that is on the floor. Come back up and then repeat the move for a few reps. Switch legs when your set is done. As you become more efficient at these, try doing them without support.
19. Overhead Walking Lunges: You probably already do walking lunges while holding weights at your sides or with a barbell across your back. But how about taking the weight over your head? Keep lunging while holding a plate, dumbbell or bar over your head with your arms perfectly straight. You will immediately feel the difference and the best part is that your core will be engaged the entire time trying to keep you upright and supporting your body.
20. Bench Presses: Using the bench press is not just for bodybuilders and muscle heads. In fact, like deadlifts, bench presses are another one of those exercises that you should absolutely be doing. Your shoulders, chest and triceps all get worked on bench presses. Ditch the dumbbells for the barbells. If you're new to them, start by not adding weights to the bar (most bars are either 35 or 45 pounds with no weight). Once you get comfortable and stronger, begin packing on the plates.
The list of great exercises is endless, but these 20 are definitely some of the top ones that you should be doing at least once a week if not more. As you can see, each one has a primary focus, but you can’t ignore the fact that, collectively, they all will make you stronger and faster from head to toe!