Let's face it: one thing that's so appealing about the machines in a gym is that you can effectively hide on them. Nobody's going to give you a puzzled look or come over and ask, "What body part does that work?" After all, it's written right there on the machine!
But the arena of unique free-weight exercises can be a little intimidating for the self-conscious trainee. This is a shame, because free weights and bars can deliver a far more time-efficient whole-body strengthening workout than one that relies largely on machines. But self-consciousness may be why so many people end up doing the same thing over and over again. They just don't want to deal with it.
Francisca Dennis and Lauren Yates, on the other hand, don't mind at all. These two personal trainers, models, and FitMiss athletes do what's effective first and foremost. They're relentless experimenters, unafraid to tinker, and equally unafraid to share what they've learned.
Here are six novel moves they want you to consider when you're ready to give your own workouts a much-needed boost!
Barbell Hip Thrust
We've nearly reached a point where men and women can do hip thrusts in a conventional gym without getting weird looks—nearly. But the only way to get all the way there is to keep fearlessly doing this peerless backside builder. When a stronger butt and legs are the goal, the hip thrust just plain works.
"This exercise is a great move to build and lift your butt," notes Dennis. "It will also help prevent back, knee, and ankle pain while improving your athletic performance." Do you really need another reason to add these to your workout routine?
"To perform this move properly, you'll want to start with your butt on the ground with your head, shoulders, and back resting on a bench behind you," she says. "From there, hold the bar on your hips—maybe on a squat pad or Airex pad if you're going heavy—and plant your feet shoulder-width apart. Drive through your heels as you thrust your hips up toward the ceiling so that your legs are at a 90-degree angle and your torso is parallel to the ground."
To turn up the heat even more, Dennis recommends squeezing your glutes as hard as possible and holding the contraction briefly while at the top of the movement. "Do 4 sets of 8-12 reps on glute or leg days for optimal results," she says.
Rear-Delt Reverse Fly With Plank
When you train shoulders, how much attention are you giving your rear delts? If you're like many women, not nearly enough. "This exercise is very beneficial for women, because you work those rear delts, engage your core, and improve stability," says Yates. "I usually add this exercise to the end of my shoulder or back-day routine, and it's one that I definitely feel working."
To perform this unique move, start off in a plank position. One of your elbows should be 90 degrees on the bench, and your feet should be about shoulder-width apart on the ground. Holding a dumbbell in the other hand with a neutral grip, rotate the weight out and away from the bench. Don't forget to breathe!
"Maintain a slight bend in your elbow while doing this," Yates recommends. "Also, try and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the same time to get the best results from this move." Once you've contracted as high as possible, lower the weight slowly, inhaling on the way down.
If you want a better booty, squats are your fastest way there. And this high-volume protocol is sure to challenge you to your limit.
"This is not only a great exercise for building your legs, but also an awesome conditioning exercise to get that heart rate up," says Yates. "I add this exercise to my leg day as a finisher, but it can be performed at any time during your leg routine."
For the 100-rep squat, she recommends using a weight you can comfortably do for 10-15 reps in a row. She likes to use the equivalent of her own body weight, but depending on how much you can squat and how much you weigh, a different number might be appropriate for you. Once you have this weight loaded, your only assignment is to get 100 reps, racking the weight to rest as needed.
"It is OK to take breaks, but make sure they last no more than 60-90 seconds," Yates says. When she's using her body weight, Yates will aim to get all the reps in across 10 sets of somewhere around 10 reps, but when using less weight, she can put a larger dent in her goal in the first few sets.
"No matter what weight you use, this should not be easy and make take you some time to complete," she says. "Buckle down for the long haul, keep your form tight, and just focus on getting to that 100th rep!"
BOSU Burpee Variations
If you have a love-hate relationship with burpees, you'll be in for a real treat with this exercise. "Burpees are great, because they're a full-body exercise that torches fat and helps you build upper-body as well as core strength," Dennis says. "I love throwing these in between sets of other exercises to keep my heart rate up."
To make this work with the BOSU, you'll need to stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart so your knees don't come crashing into the hard plastic of the ball. With your arms mostly extended, raise the BOSU over your head, then bring it down to the ground. As you do this, shoot your feet back, fully extending your legs, and perform a push-up before jumping back to the starting position.
Depending on your upper-body strength, you may struggle to bust out the reps at first with this one, but over time, it's great to aim for 15-20 reps in a set.
Sumo Squat Superset With Sumo Deadlift
What's cooler than a woman who squats or deadlifts? Not much, but a woman who alternates squats and deadlifts is a close second! If strong legs, back, and booty are on your wish list, you can't go wrong with a superset of wide-stance squats and sumo deadlifts.
"You're not just hitting your glutes and legs; you're working your core, back, and shoulders as well," says Yates. "Incorporating powerlifting exercises into your routine is also beneficial because they're fun!"
She recommends starting with a lighter weight, because this one-two duo is tough, and it's crucial that you perform both with perfect form. You definitely won't use as much weight while supersetting the two moves as you would if you were just doing the exercises on their own.
"When doing the sumo squat, keep your abs tight, back straight, and drive up through your heels while focusing on the glutes," explains Yates. "For the deadlift, start with the same foot position, and once again keep your back straight, hips low, and abs tight. Your chest should stay high during both exercises. If you use a mixed grip on the deadlifts, try to remember to alternate hands with each set."
If it sounds like the two exercises share a lot of similarities, that's no coincidence. That means you have fewer cues to remember when the going gets tough! Keep your chest out and proud for both, and on the deadlift in particular, don't skimp on the lockout. Drive those shoulders back and stand tall once the bar passes the knees.
"I like to perform 5 supersets of 10-15 reps for each exercise," says Yates. That's a lot of reps, so rest as necessary. This is no metcon!
Skin the Cat With Negative Leg Raise
The final last stare-worthy move to add to your workout routine is a variation on the skin-the-cat exercise that adds the negative portion of a toes-to-bar leg raise.
"This may look like just a core move, but it's far more than that," Dennis says. "It's amazing at building both core and upper-body strength, and it will help improve your grip strength as well."
To perform this one, position your hands approximately shoulder-width apart using an overhand grip on a bar. If your shoulders or elbows prefer an angled bar, palms-facing pull-up bar, or rings, by all means use those. From your hanging position, bend your knees to your chest while contracting your core. Curl back until your feet almost touch the bar or your hips are almost in line with your forearms. Straighten your legs, and slowly lower them until they're at about a 90-degree angle from your upper body. Pause, then curl your legs to your chest once again.
"This may be really tough at first, but if you build up to doing this one for 3-4 sets of 12 reps during your core workouts, it'll pay off big-time," Dennis says.
Once you can knock out reps on any of these, don't be surprised if someone comes up to you and asks what you're doing in an admiring way. When they do, you know where to send them!