6 Exercises That Are Much More Effective Than You Think

By K. Aleisha Fetters |

Prepare to be humbled, challenged, and amazed by the results from these basic but powerful movements.

effective exercises

Cutting-edge. Complex. Cool. What do these words have in common?

They’re all used to describe exercises that are usually much more complicated than they need to be.

When it comes to your exercise routine, there’s a lot of value in keeping it simple, says Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., a personal trainer and author of Smarter Workouts.

“That’s because how complicated or cool an exercise looks has little to nothing to do with how beneficial it really is,” he says. “A lot of times, simple is much, much better.”

The six exercises below are proof. Despite looking incredibly simple—maybe even easy—they never fail to deliver next-level results.

Not convinced? Try one set of each, and see how you feel.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

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Exercise #1: Pallof Press

“When people who have never done this exercise first see it, they wonder, ‘Does that really do anything?’” McCall says. But that changes after trying it.

During a Pallof press, “you have all of this force pulling your body in one direction,” McCall explains. “It requires incredible strength and stability through the core, hips, and even shoulders and legs to resist that force.”

Start with a lower level of resistance than you think you’ll need, and focus on moving slowly with control.

Do 6 to 8 reps per side

Try it: Loop a resistance band around a sturdy anchor at sternum level. You can also use a cable machine if you prefer. Stand with the anchor point to your left, so your body is perpendicular to the band.

Grab the ends of the band with both hands, interlock your fingers, and step away from the anchor point so the band is taut and against the front of your sternum. Squeeze your shoulder blades down and together to ensure proper posture.

Keeping your knees slightly bent so you’re in an athletic stance, press your clasped hands straight forward. Pause, resisting the rotational forces of the band, then slowly return your hands to the starting position. Keep your core tight and shoulder blades down and back during the entire movement.

Perform six to eight reps on one side, then face the opposite direction—so the anchor point is on your right—and repeat.

Make it easier: Try a chair version with the seated band extension.

Exercise #2: Suitcase Carry

“Carries are my favorite way to condition people,” says Samuel Simpson, C.S.C.S., co-owner of B-Fit Training Studio in Miami. “They work your entire body, and while holding a dumbbell or kettlebell and walking may not look like cardio, it will increase your heart rate.”

Do 2 to 3 reps

Try it: Grab one kettlebell or dumbbell. Stand tall, allowing the weight to hang naturally at arm’s length next to your side, palm facing in. Imagine you’re holding a suitcase, keeping your shoulders square and upright.

Maintain that posture as you walk with the weight at your side—no leaning! Walk for five to 10 feet, then put it down, pick it up with your other hand, and walk back. That’s one rep. Do two to three reps.

Make it easier or harder: Learn more about how this one movement trains your entire body, plus get five more variations, in our guide to carry exercises.

Exercise #3: Prone Y Raise

This exercise is great for targeting the muscles of the upper back to help improve shoulder health and posture, McCall says. Over time, you can work up to holding a dumbbell in each hand, but it’s rare for even the strongest people in the gym to muscle more than 10-pound dumbbells during this exercise.

As always, performing the movement slowly and with control is much more important than adding weight during strength training.

Do 8 to 10 reps

Try it: Lie facedown on a mat with your arms extended overhead so your body forms a Y. Your palms should be facing each other, so your thumbs are pointing up. Rest your forehead on the mat to keep your neck long.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together to raise your arms as high as you comfortably can without letting your chest or head leave the mat. All movement should occur in your shoulders. Pause, then lower your arms to the mat. Aim for eight to 10 reps.

Make it easier: If getting on the floor is too uncomfortable, try the standing arm lift.

Exercise #4: Wall Slide

This exercise is surprisingly challenging since many people lack the shoulder mobility required to raise their arms high enough to form a straight line with their spine. It’s easier said than done!

This movement is incredibly effective at building the mobility necessary to prevent everyday aches and pains.

Do 8 to 10 reps

Try it: Stand with your heels, butt, back, and head against a wall, and hold your arms out to the sides like goalposts. The backs of your hands and elbows should also be touching the wall if possible.

Maintaining as many contact points with the wall as possible, straighten your arms, and slide them overhead. Lift them only as much as comfortable. Pause, then lower your arms to return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do eight to 10 reps.

Your goal is to keep your back, shoulders, and entire arms against the wall throughout the exercise.

Make it easier: If this exercise doesn’t feel good, try one of these other exercises for healthy shoulders.

Exercise #5: Butterfly Glute Bridge

Like the traditional glute bridge, this exercise looks too easy to do any good. But don’t be fooled! In addition to challenging your core and glutes, this version also engages the muscles in the sides of your hips. It also helps improve hip mobility over time.

Do 8 to 10 reps

Try it: Lie on your back with arms at your sides, knees bent, and the soles of your feet together. Your legs will form a diamond shape.

From this position, brace your core, engage your glutes, and lift your hips straight up as high as possible without arching your lower back. Make sure your ribs stay tucked and don’t flare toward the ceiling.

Pause at the top of the movement, then lower your hips to the floor. Aim for eight to 10 reps.

Make it easier: If this exercise doesn’t feel good or you don’t feel stable enough with your feet together, try the traditional glute bridge with your feet securely on the floor.

Exercise #6: Tuck Hollow Hold

Training the core to properly brace your spine turns your entire body into a cohesive unit, Simpson says. And this is critical in everything you do—both in and out of the gym.

However, many people don’t know how to effectively engage the transverse abdominis, or the innermost core muscle and primary spinal stabilizer. By cueing yourself to press your back into your mat as hard as possible during this exercise, you help teach your body to generate supportive tension.

Do 3 to 5 reps

Try it: Lie on your back with your arms and legs extended out from your shoulders and hips. Point your toes.

Squeeze your core to press both your lower and middle back as forcefully into the mat as possible while bringing your knees in toward your chest. Reach your arms forward, letting your shoulders lift off the floor.

Imagine $100 bills are sticking out from underneath your back, and you don’t want anyone to pull them away. That’s how much tension you want to create by pressing your back into the floor.

Hold this tucked position as long as you can with good form. Aim for 10 to 20 seconds—but even five seconds with good form is great—and release. That’s one rep. Do three to five reps.

Make it easier: If forward-bending movements aren’t safe for you, you can still work your belly and back by practicing deep breathing. See how in this guide to the best ways to strengthen your core.

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