Ask your average gym-goer about their favorite workout move, and the answer might be “whatever hurts the least”—in other words, anything but burpees. But fitness trainers have a different goal when they design a program: They want to confuse your muscles, build strength and endurance, and challenge your body to reach its peak fitness level. If you were to give said trainers only five minutes of workout time a day, you’d better believe they’d pick something that’s going to hit as many muscle groups as possible.
We rounded up the most efficient workout moves according to eight trainers who swear by them—and not one of them is a burpee (hurray!).
Next to burpees, planks continue to be one of the workout moves most favored by trainers. Unlike sit-ups or crunches, which work a few abdominal areas, planks attack the entire core, working your transverse abdominis, the layer of muscle deep within your abdominals, says NASM-certified trainer Sia Cooper.
“Planking is one of those awesome bodyweight moves you can do anywhere and without any equipment,” Cooper says. “It can enhance the muscles and joints that connect your upper and lower body, which makes planking great for bending and lifting and making everyday tasks easier.”
“Planks are low impact, meaning they don’t put much stress on your joints, so they can be done on a daily basis,” Itsines says. “Start off by doing a 30-second plank one to two times per week and build up to three to four times a week—as you get stronger, you’ll find that you can hold a plank for longer.”
Try it: We’ve got a great guide for executing the perfect plank right here.
Traditional push-ups are no joke. But if you’re open to dialing it up a notch and increasing the strength in your chest and triceps, the Spider-Man push-up forces your core to work even harder, says Rumble Boxing trainer Dale Santiago, CPT. “The Spider-Man push-up is inherently more difficult because of the instability of only having three points of contact with the floor,” he says.
“By lifting one foot off the ground, your upper body is forced to support more of your body weight, which forces it to work harder, specifically promoting increased muscle growth in the chest, triceps, and deltoids,” Santiago says. “The more movement involved in an exercise, the more calories you’ll burn, so spicing up your regular push-up will require a greater amount of energy, thus a higher calorie burn.”
Try it: From a plank position with shoulders stacked over wrists, shift your body weight forward and bend your elbows to 90 degrees as you bring your right knee to your right elbow. You should look like—you guessed it—Spider-Man. The really hard part is coming back up: Exhale, press into your palms, suck your belly button to your spine, and straighten your arms as you send your right foot back in line with your left.
3. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
If you’re like Katie Dunlop, creator of Love Sweat Fitness, you’re all about getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to working out—and the single leg Romanian deadlift is one of those underrated moves that target so many areas at once, Dunlop says.
“The single leg RDL is one of the most functional exercises you can do to strengthen and tone your entire posterior chain,” Dunlop says. “Additionally, it is an amazing move to target your lower abdominals and hamstrings and is a great way to challenge your balance and strengthen all the little muscles in your feet.”
Try it: With hands on hips, feet shoulder-width apart, and knees slightly bent, hinge forward at your hips and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor. At the same time, lift your left leg behind you (toes pointing down), keeping your hips square—you should form a “T” shape with your body. Engage your glutes and abs to stand back up, letting your left foot almost come back to the starting position before repeating the hinge forward. Once you feel comfortable with the motion, you can add weight with a kettlebell, dumbbells, or medicine ball.
4. Boat Pose and Warrior Poses
Some people think yoga is a snooze—boy, are they missing out. Any yogi will tell you that a strong practice can absolutely kill your muscles (in a good way, of course).
“Yoga is often overlooked when people are working toward tone, but asanas can actually be quite effective at strengthening,” says Claire Grieve, a yoga specialist and wellness writer. “When you hold a yoga pose, you are building muscle through isometric contraction. So even though it doesn’t look like you are doing much, your muscles are working really hard.” There are a couple of poses that are particularly effective at toning muscle, but Grieve is a big fan of boat pose, as well as warrior II and III.
“Holding boat pose can tone can your abdominal muscles, strengthen the spine, and improve your posture,” Grieve says. As for the warrior positions, they might feel like second nature to yogis, but they rely on more muscles than you might think. “To properly perform these poses, you must activate all major muscle groups,” Grieve says. “They are particularly effective at building a strong foundation in the legs and strengthening and extending the spinal muscles.”
5. Glute Bridges
If building a stronger butt is at the top of your priority list, this move should definitely be part of your routine. “Glute bridges are one of the most underrated moves for strengthening your glutes and lower back,” says celebrity trainer Kira Stokes of the Stoked Method.
“Bridging is the perfect exercise to ‘wake up’ your backside—you’ll feel your glutes contract in a safe, knee-friendly, equipment-free (read: excuse-free) fashion,” Stokes says. Not to mention the countless variations you can try to spice things up.
To get the most from this move, make every pulse count. “Don’t make the mistake of coasting through glute bridges because you assume they’re supposed to be easy,” Stokes says. “Focus on your butt cheeks and squeeze like you have a check for a million dollars in-between them,” Stokes says. You heard it here first, folks.
Try it: From your back, bring the soles of your feet to the mat about hip-distance apart. You should be able to reach your heels with your finger tips. Press your shoulders into the mat and engage your glutes and core as you lift your hips to the sky. Squeeze and hold!
The next time you hit the gym for cardio, strut right past that treadmill or elliptical and head straight for the rowing machine. It might seem like an old-school piece of equipment, but it delivers the ultimate full-body workout: In addition to its cardiovascular benefits, rowing strengthens and tones a variety of muscles, including your quads, hamstrings, calves, back, abs, chest, triceps, shoulders, and glutes.
“This super-simple, no-frills machine packs a significant punch,” says Corey Phelps, founder of Cultivate by Corey. “It burns a ton of calories and targets so many muscles at once. After 10 minutes on this machine, your heart will be pumping and you’ll be drenched in sweat.”
Try it: Sit on the rower and strap your feet in. With rowing, we want to think “legs, chest, arms,” on the pull, then “arms, chest, legs,” on the release. Grabbing hold of the handle, bring your seat close to your heels. Explode through your heels to send your butt backward, then let your torso hinge backward as you bend your elbows to pull the handle in to your mid-chest. Let the handle move back first, followed by your chest, then your legs as you come back toward the erg.
7. Stair Climbing
No gym membership? No problem. Caleb Backe, a personal trainer and health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, says climbing stairs is an easy way to get in some cardio. Whether you walk or run your way up, your heart rate will increase and you’ll target your glutes, hamstrings, and core for what Backe calls a “hassle-free, all-around workout.”
“There’s also the added bonus of the stairs being a weight-bearing exercise, so it has the potential to engage your core and improve your overall posture,” Backe says. Plus, if you’re wearing a bag or carrying your groceries, you’ll reap even more lower-body strength training benefits.