Thanks to a massive influx of new fitness trends over the past decade — think CrossFit, mixed martial arts and boot camps, to name a few — people are embracing innovative training tools and squashing the idea that three sets of eight to 12 reps is the only way to train.
That’s the good news. The bad? Newbies may not be the only ones wandering the gym aimlessly this January. Whether the world of working out is brand new to you or you’re in need of a refresher, we’ve assembled an expert overview of the 10 key tools and terms that dominate the training forum today. Armed with these tips, tactics and sample routines, you can get to work immediately, crushing all your goals — and then some.
This is the basic tool of strength training — a straight metal bar with weight plates secured on each side. An Olympic barbell is what you’ll see in most gyms, with a wider-circumference sleeve that spins on the shaft, offering smooth action throughout an exercise. Barbells are super versatile and can be used to hit every major bodypart. In fact, with nothing more than a bar, some plates and a bench, you can easily assemble an effective full-body program — no gym required.
With this technique, there is no pausing between reps, amping both your pace and your intensity. It’s often used with Olympic-style lifts, such as a power clean or a clean-and-jerk, during which you continuously complete repetitions versus doing a series of single reps. This burns mega-calories and trains muscular endurance and strength.
The Barbell TnG Routine
Complete all reps of each move without breaking to rest, and complete five total rounds of the workout. You can put the barbell down in between moves, but for an added challenge, try not to put it down until it’s time for the run.
Note: For this workout, you’ll be using the same barbell for all three moves, so defer to the max weight you can use on your weakest lift.
- 5 Power Cleans
- 5 Front Squats
- 5 Overhead
- 400-Meter Run
Dumbbells are the most universal gym tool around. They allow you to work unilaterally, helping eliminate developmental imbalances between bodyparts, and they offer a degree of safety for those who train alone because you won’t run the risk of getting caught under a loaded bar. You can hit every major muscle group with dumbbells and can adapt just about every barbell move in existence to be dumbbell-centric.
AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible)
In an AMRAP, you’ll perform a workout for the duration of time prescribed and note how many rounds plus reps you complete. “It’s an effective fat-burning tool because there is a productive overload effect, as opposed to doing standard sets and reps at a relaxed pace,” says Heather Farmer, a New York-based personal trainer, CrossFit instructor and national Olympic-weightlighting competitor. “It also helps develop tenacity — once you feel your mental ‘switch’ flip on during a gnarly AMRAP, you’ll know what I mean!”
Though you’ll want to work quickly to get the most amount of work in the time allotted, never sacrifice your form or you’ll run the risk of injury.
The 20-Minute Dumbbell AMRAP
Do as many rounds and reps as possible of the following workout in 20 minutes. Record your score and try to meet or beat it next time you do the workout.
- 10 Dumbbell
- Renegade Rows
- 20 Dumbbell Thrusters
- 30 Dumbbell
- Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
- Walking Lunges
- 40 Dumbbell
- Walking Lunges
“Battle ropes are a high-intensity, full-body cardio and strength workout all in one,” says Garland Shields, trainer at O2 Fitness Club in Wilmington, North Carolina. Commercial ropes are one long length that is looped through a heavy kettlebell or an anchor attached to a wall. They are sturdy and thick and have taped ends for easy gripping. “The ropes are also ideal for high-intensity interval training and are great for targeting your core and upper body,” Shields adds.
EMOM (every minute on the minute)
In an EMOM, you perform one or more exercises for a certain number of reps at the top of every minute and rest any remaining time before starting again at the top of the next minute. With this format, you squeeze more work into less time, increasing intensity and time under tension.
“EMOMs increase your strength endurance by establishing a stable work pace with a moderate load,” Farmer says. “You also learn the power of quick recovery — even a 10- or 20-second break can
help recover energy.”
The 12-Minute Battle-Rope EMOM
Every minute on the minute, complete this trio of exercises.
Rest any remaining time and repeat at the top of the next minute.
- 8 Single-Arm
- Waves (each arm)
- 8 Double Slams
- 8 In-and-Outs
Sometimes simpler is better, and herein lies the beauty of the exercise band. These long rubber tubes or loops come in different levels of tension and offer variable resistance, meaning the difficulty changes throughout the rep. “Bands work muscles in completely different ways than free weights and are perfect for building lean muscle tissue and adding strength,” says Edward Mooney, a trainer at O2 Fitness Club in Raleigh, North Carolina. They’re also TSA-friendly and can be used anywhere, anytime.
In this high-volume, conditioning-style workout, you “chip away” at a list of moves performed in succession, completing all the reps of one move before going to the next and taking short breaks when needed. This technique trains skill, muscular endurance and cardiovascular stamina, as well as mental fortitude: While you might be tempted to hurry through your least favorite moves (hello, burpees!), you ultimately have to pace yourself so you have enough gas left in the tank to make it to the end.
The exercise-band chipper
Complete all reps of one move before going to the next. Use good form and take short breaks when necessary. Want an additional challenge?
Put a time cap on the workout.
- 20 Banded Overhead Squats
- 30 Front-to-Lateral Raises
- 40 One-Legged Kickbacks (20 per leg)
- 50 Seated Rows
- 40 Seated Twists and Pull-Aparts
- 30 Banded Push-Ups
- 20 Burpees Over Band
Hex Bar (aka trap bar)
This barbell crossbreed has two shafts that arc outward from one another to form either a square or hexagonal shape. The user stands inside the bar and grasps the handles near the plate collars. Though most people know it as a tool for shrugging, the hex bar has other values. “They are especially helpful for those new to deadlifting,” says Dan Roberts, CSCS, founder of the Dan Roberts Group. “Because you hold the bar with a hammer-style grip and the weight is positioned at your sides rather than in front of you, your center of gravity is always in line with your shoulders.”
This short but intense training protocol intersperses 20 seconds of all-out effort with 10 seconds of rest, a pattern that repeats eight times for a total of four minutes. Though a four-minute workout might sound ridiculous, when done properly, a Tabata can burn as many calories as a 60-minute jog because of the “afterburn” effect: A Tabata jacks your metabolism for hours afterward, burning fat and calories and improving your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. A Tabata can be performed with any sort of cardio, strength move or dynamic exercise, but remember — in order for it to be effective, you have to perform your 20 seconds of work all-out each and every time.
Repeat the below workout four times through for a total of four minutes.
- Deadlift: 20 seconds
- Rest: 10 seconds
- Pivot Push-Up: 20 seconds
- Rest: 10 seconds
Though kettlebells date back to Ancient Greece, they have only become a health club staple in the last two decades. Research supports the effectiveness of kettlebell training, and numerous studies found that an intense kettlebell workout burns about 20 calories a minute and could improve aerobic capacity, explosive power, dynamic balance and core strength.
“One of the most effective kettlebell exercises is the swing,” says former IFBB fitness pro Carla Sanchez, owner of Performance Ready Fitness Studio in Lone Tree, Colorado. “It emphasizes the posterior chain, building strength, stamina and power.”
WOD (workout of the day)
Though it originated as a CrossFit term, many people have adopted this acronym as their own. A WOD is typically a challenging regimen that hits all or most of the major muscle groups of the body. These workouts are programmed in advance and enable you to get a killer workout without having to plan it yourself.
Taking it one step further are the Hero WODs, which are named after fallen servicemen and servicewomen as a testament to their bravery, strength and sacrifices. This Hero WOD — the Brad Harper — uses kettlebell swings as an integral part of the program: Brad Harper was a firefighter who died on the scene of a two-alarm fire in Phoenix on May 18, 2013, at age 23 — hence the numerical scheme of 5/18/13/23.
The Brad Harper Hero WOD
Complete five rounds of the below workout for time. Record your score and try to meet or beat it next time you do the workout.
- 18 Kettlebell Swings
- 13 Burpees
- 23 Wall Balls
Medicine balls are old school — like, really old school — and some believe that Hippocrates created them for his patients to help them recover from injury. Today’s medicine balls are made of leather or vinyl and are filled with ballast of differing weights. They also come in reactive and nonreactive versions — some bounce back quickly and others hit the ground and stick.
“Medicine balls help develop explosive power and rotational trunk strength,” Roberts says. “They also train you to absorb and redirect force, improving athletic performance and allowing you to project that power in every plane of motion.”
Metcon (metabolic conditioning)
This fitness buzzword refers to any sort of workout that improves the efficiency of one of the body’s three main energy systems — phosphagen, glycolytic and oxidative. Improving these systems means that you get more out of whatever kind of workout you’re doing, allowing you to recover more quickly and increase workout intensity. Metcons are typically intense and short in duration (20 minutes or less), challenging your cardiovascular capacity and shifting your metabolism into high gear.
Perform three total rounds of the below workout for time. Do your runs at a moderate recovery pace.
- 20 Wall Balls
- 20 Triceps Push-Ups
- 200-Meter Run
- 10 Overhead Slams
- 10 Overhead Walking Lunges (each leg)
- 200-Meter Run
- 5 Backward Tosses and Sprints
- 5 Rotational Side Throws (each side)
- 200-Meter Run
“The sled is an excellent tool for high-intensity training without high impact,” Sanchez says. “Use it for conditioning, fat loss, strength development and muscle building.” Heavy sled training also can improve performance markers, specifically sprint speeds and mechanical effectiveness, according to a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.
The most familiar sled is probably the Prowler — a platform with ski-like runners and vertical posts you can use to propel it forward. It also can be pulled by securing
a rope or tow line around the base.
RPE (rate of perceived exertion)
Tracking your heart rate — either with a heart-rate monitor or by
taking your pulse — allows you to continually adjust your workout intensity. However, the equation used to calculate your optimal training zone is far from perfect, and the traditional formula used to find your maximum heart rate (220 – your age) was found to underestimate MHR by as much as 40 beats per minute, especially in athletic people.
A better way to train, especially if you’re more experienced, is intuitively by using the rate of perceived exertion. While it won’t pinpoint your exact intensity and output, it’s a solid way to self-assess how hard you are working — i.e., your “perceived exertion.” The idea is to work within the correct range based on your exercise goals.
- 10 Max Effort — Out of breath
- 9 Very Hard — Can barely breathe
- 7-8 Vigorous Activity — Short of breath
- 4-6 Moderate Activity — Breathing heavily
- 2-3 Light Activity — Easy to breathe
- 1 Very Light Activity — Hardly any exertion
Load a Prowler sled with a moderate weight and mark off a 30- to 50-meter distance. Sprint that length, pushing the sled all the way across the finish line, then stop, walk around and catch your breath. Your post-sprint RPE should be around an 8 or a 9. When it returns to a 5 or a 6, turn the sled around and repeat that sprint. Do four to six rounds.
TRX Suspension Trainer
The TRX is the leading brand of suspension training equipment and consists of sturdy, adjustable straps that split into a “Y” with a handle and a loop at each end for hands and feet. When anchored to a fixed point on a wall, ceiling or solid piece of equipment, the TRX offers a surprising array of unique exercises, using gravity and your own bodyweight as resistance. “By simply changing the angle of your body, you can increase or decrease the level of difficulty of dozens of exercises on a TRX,” Sanchez says.
HIIT (high-intensity interval training)
Here, you alternate short periods of near-maximal output with a recovery-level pace in a repeating pattern. For example, if you were running outdoors, you could do a 20-second sprint followed by a 40-second jog, or a 20:40 interval. A beginner may want to start with 10 seconds of harder activity coupled with 50 seconds at the slower pace and work toward a more intermediate and advanced level of 30:30 or even 60:60.
The HIITRX workout
Do 60 seconds of each move and perform them back-to-back, resting only to transition to the next exercise. Complete one to three rounds.
- Sprinter Start
- Standing Row
- Hamstring Runner
- Atomic Push-Up
Wobble Board (aka balance board)
If you want to train your mental acuity and hone your balance, try a wobble board. “There are two versions, one with a cylindrical base, which is easier, and another with a circular base, which is harder,” Roberts says. You can use both similarly, either in a standing position to do things like squats, overhead presses and dumbbell curls or while on the floor to do push-ups, planks and dips.
In case you didn’t give it your all during a workout — or are just that masochistic — you can tack a finisher on at the end. These short five-to-10-minute workouts are designed to fatigue any muscle fibers that might have been left untouched or undertrained, and to burn off any extra gas left in your tank.
Perform this finisher for one to three rounds, depending on your time and fitness level. Having trouble balancing? Set your wobble board up next to a wall or sturdy object for balance.
- Wobble-Board Stand (60 seconds)
- Hanging Knee Raise or Toes-to-Bar
- Wobble-Board Plank (60 seconds)