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When you go to the gym, you have your favourite exercises. Maybe they make you feel stronger, make you sweat, or give you a good pump. Regardless of the reason, you love them and you never skip them.
But our Men’s Health experts want you to update your go-to list. Give it a refresh. They each chose one exercise they wish you would work into your routine. The final list runs the gamut from lung busters to isometric holds. There are some movements that will build muscle, some that will make you more mobile, and some that will attack your six-pack. Read on to find out which exercises are must-have in trainers’ eyes.
Recommended by: Dan John, author of Intervention
“The counterbalance from the weight allows your hips to sink down into a deep squat to increase your range of motion,” he says. “It’ll also make the squat more challenging without adding a ton of weight.”
When you’re at the bottom of your squat, use your elbows to push your knees apart. This allows your pelvis to drop directly between your legs, letting you sink as deep as possible into the squat position, according to John.
Do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it vertically next to your chest with both hands. Your elbows should point down toward the floor. Lower your body as far as you can by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Your elbows should graze the insides of your thighs. Press out against your knees with your elbows. Pause, then slowly push yourself back to the starting position.
Recommended by: David Jack, co-creator of Men’s Health Body Battle
“You won’t find a better total-body exercise than the sled push,” says Jack. It allows you to load your entire body—upper, lower, and core—without putting unnecessary weight on your spine. Plus, it’s essentially a walking plank, so it’s an excellent abs carver.
You can load up the sled with lots of weight and walk with smooth, controlled steps for strength work. Or you can keep it light and move quickly for a metabolic boost.
Do it: Grab the vertical posts of the sled by leaning toward it so your body forms a diagonal line with the floor. Draw your shoulders back and brace your core as if you’re about to be punched in the gut. Without rounding or arching your back, lift your knee toward your ribs and place your foot down in front of you to take a step. With each step, drive your foot into the floor, maintaining a straight line from head to toe. Repeat, alternating, for a distance of 10 to 15 yards.
Forearm to Instep
Recommended by: Brian Neale, C.S.C.S., creator of the Build and Burn workout
From your commute to your time parked in front of the plasma, sitting has caused your hip flexors—the group of muscles on the front of your hips—to get tight. According to Neale, inflexible hip flexors decrease your mobility in exercises like the squat and lunge, which can hinder your strength and increase your risk of back pain.
The forearm to instep stretch will combat the tightness by opening up your hips, he says. Do this before a lower-body workout.
Do it: Take a large step forward with your left leg into the lunge position. Bend down and place your left elbow against the instep of your left foot while keeping your knee off of the floor. Pause, then place your right hand on the floor for balance and move your left hand to the outside of your left foot. Push your hips toward the ceiling and lift the toes of your left foot toward your shin to stretch your hamstring. Finally, stand up and step forward with your right leg to repeat
Barbell Bent-Over Row
Recommended by: Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., owner of the fitness blog Pick Things Up
Leaning over a keyboard all day can leave you looking like a hunchback. If you head to the gym and immediately start bench pressing, you’re only making your caveman posture worse. Chest exercises exaggerate bad posture by pulling your shoulders forward even more, says Gentilcore.
That is, unless you don’t balance them out with some back exercises. Performing a move like the barbell bent-over row will add mass to your upper back and rear shoulders. You’ll look taller, feel better, and be able to lift more weight in nearly every upper-body list.
Do it: Grab a barbell with an overhand grip that’s just beyond shoulder width and hold it at arm’s length. Bend at your hips and knees and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Pull the bar to your upper abs. Pause, then slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.
Dumbbell Split Squat
Recommended by: Sean De Wispelaere, an expert coach for Men’s Health Thrive
When you train both sides of your body at the same time, your dominant side tends to take over, exaggerating strength imbalances. Your stronger side keeps getting stronger and your weaker side stays the same.
“Performing a split squat can help you bring your non-dominant side up to speed,” says Wispelaere. And when both sides of your body are on par with each other, you’ll be able to squat even more weight.
Do it: Hold a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length next to your sides, your palms facing each other. Stand in a staggered stance, your left foot in front of your right. Slowly lower your body as far as you can. Pause, then push yourself back up to the starting position. Complete the prescribed number of reps with your left leg before completing the same number on your right
Recommended by: Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, California
Cue collective groan. “Sprints are brutal, but they work to improve your conditioning and help you drop pounds,” says Durkin. “How many fat sprinters have you ever seen?”
Do it: Perform 5 to 10 sprints, each lasting 15 to 30 seconds, depending on your abilities. Or try these 4 Ultra-Tough Sprint Workouts to get your heart pumping.
Recommended by: BJ Gaddour, C.S.C.S.
The hollow-body hold is a stability exercise used by elite gymnasts to build extreme core strength and endurance, says Gaddour. And have you ever seen a gymnast without a high-definition six-pack? Probably not.
Besides a chiseled middle, a rock-solid middle will increase your gains at the gym. The most effective exercises for developing power—like deadlifts and squats—require a strong core to stabilize and protect the lower back. The more attention you pay to your core, the more solid your foundation is to lift heavier weights.
Do it: Lie on your back on the floor or a mat with your legs straight and your arms reaching above your head. Your body should form one long line. Contract your abs to lift your shoulder blades off of the floor and lift your legs. Your body should now form a banana shape. Hold for 10 seconds to start. As you build strength, add time until you can hold for 60 seconds total.