Upon hearing the word “plate,” those who don’t spend much time in the gym might picture the dinner, vanity or tectonic variety. But for iron-loving men and women, the plate of which they most often speak is the weighted kind. And while you may be used to hoisting weight plates attached to the ends of a bar, don’t write them off as simply an accessory. Their versatility can help breathe new life into a repetitive (and boring) lower-body program.
Diversify Your Workout
While working out with machines and dumbbells is absolutely fine — in fact, we recommend both — there are often times at the gym when it’s darn near impossible to secure a pair of 20s without having to fight someone for them. And if you have to get in and out in a jiffy (a lunchtime jaunt to the gym, for example) that can mean all the difference between an efficient workout or stressing out!
These exercises don’t just have you subbing in weight plates for your standard dumbbells; rather, the way in which you hold or use the resistance is altered from exercise to exercise. Take the split squats, for instance: extending the plate above your head and keeping it there for your entire set calls upon more of your core and upper-body muscles during each rep. For the elevated dumbbell squats, you’ll be placing a plate beneath each heel, causing the work emphasis to shift away from your glutes to the fronts of your thighs and even your calves. And the plate push is another not-so-common exercise that will have you increasing your heart rate while honing in on your butt and the backs of your legs.
For optimal results, tackle this workout twice per week, leaving at least 48 hours of rest in between each session.
Overhead Weight Plate Split Squat
10–12 (each leg)
Elevated Dumbbell Squat
Weighted Walking Lunge
15–20 (each leg)
Standing Weight Plate Calf Raise
Overhead Weight-Plate Split Squat
Target Muscles: quadriceps, gluteus maximus, deltoids, gastrocnemius
Set Up: Stand in a wide stance with one foot in front of the other. Hold a weight plate with both hands and lift it above your head.
Action: Engage your core as you bend both knees to lower towards the floor. Stop when your front leg forms a 90-degree angle, then extend your legs to return to the start. Complete your reps on one side, then switch leg positions and repeat.
Tip: Prevent delt fatigue by starting with a light weight, and grab a heavier plate with each set.
Elevated Dumbbell Squat
Target Muscles: quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, gastrocnemius
Set Up: Stand with a small weight plate under the heel of each foot, and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
Action: Sink into a squat, directing your tailbone towards the wall behind you as you lower. Stop when your glutes are parallel to the floor, then extend your legs to return to the starting position.
Weighted Walking Lunge
Target Muscles: gluteus maximus, hamstrings, gastrocnemius
Set Up: Grab a small weight plate in each hand, and stand with your feet about hip-width apart.
Action: Step one foot forward and bend your knees to lunge. To engage your glutes even further, lean forward from your hips while keeping a straight back. Extend your legs and step your rear foot in front of the other. Immediately lower into another lunge, ensuring that your knee does not jut past your toes, and repeat.
Tip: Hold heavier plates if you want to challenge your grip, too.
Standing Weight-Plate Calf Raise
Target Muscles: gastrocnemius
Set Up: Stand on a flat surface with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a heavy weight plate against your chest.
Action: Press up onto the balls of your feet, then slowly lower without letting your heels touch the ground. Continue for your prescribed amount of reps.
Tip: If you’ve got the balance, stand on a small step and drop your heels towards the floor before pressing upward.
Target Muscles: gluteus maximus, deltoids, pectoralis major
Set Up: Crouch down and place your hands on the edge of a heavy weight plate on the ground. (You can use more than one; just make sure that they’re the same size and that they won’t topple over once you begin to push them forward.)
Action: Push through the balls of your feet to move the plate across the length of the room (or whatever distance you have; aim for 50 to 100 feet). Keep your hips low and ensure that the majority of the power is coming from your legs, not your arms. At the end, turn around and return to the start in the same way.
Tip: This move is great for getting the heart rate up. Try it between the other exercises to increase your overall burn.