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Even good things have their limits. This is something you probably recognize as you see a promo for season 21 (yes, 21) of Dancing With the Stars — proof that a once-beloved reality show can turn your stomach if overdone. So it also goes with some of the world’s most popular exercises. The crunch, shoulder press, bench press, squat, bent-over row, lunge and Romanian deadlift are all amazing movements, but heck, they can get boring — and even a bit ineffective — when repeated week after week, workout after workout.
Here are seven innovative replacements for those well-worn movements, giving you all the same benefits of your faves while freshening up your mental and physical experience. Swap them for the stale go-tos for four to six weeks for a complete reset.
In: One-arm weighted “L” sit-up
While crunches aren’t a bad exercise, they get tedious when done relentlessly. This weighted version of a sit-up offers a fuller range of motion than a crunch. Bonus: The added resistance of an overhead weight engages the upper abdominals in a vicious, new way.
Setup: Lie flat on your back with one leg extended, the other bent. Hold a dumbbell in one hand straight up above your shoulder, perpendicular to the floor.
Move: Sit up, continuing to hold the weight in that same position, until your torso comes to vertical and your body makes an “L” position. Then lower slowly back to the start. Do all reps on one side, then switch.
Tip: To make this move a little harder, do it with both legs completely extended along the floor.
Out: Seated military press
In: Inverted bodyweight press
What if you could maximize your standard press to include even more muscles? Enter the inverted bodyweight press. “While you can expect similar results as with the shoulder press, this exercise has the added benefit of working your upper back and core even more, due to the inverted position,” says Cari Shoemate, the co-creator of Bombshell Bootcamp in Houston. “And you don’t need any equipment, meaning you can do it anywhere.”
Setup: Assume a pike position with your feet on a bench or box and your hands on the floor spaced shoulder-width apart. Your hips should be lifted in the air over your shoulders so your torso is perpendicular to the floor, with your legs straight.
Move: Bend your elbows and slowly lower your head toward the floor as low as you can, keeping your back straight, abs tight. Beginning athletes might only lower a few inches, while more advanced athletes can go a little deeper. Extend your arms to return to the start.
Tip: Hamstrings tight? It’s OK to keep your knees bent a little, Shoemate says.
Out: Flat bench press
In: Resistance-band push-up
Adding resistance to a standard push-up enables you to get more from this move, which is usually limited to your bodyweight. A good way of programming this: Start on your knees as a warm-up, move to a few sets of regular push-ups and finish with push-ups with a resistance band.
Setup: Get on your hands and knees with a resistance band draped across your upper back. Pull the band until it is taut and feels like it is pressing down on you. Secure it underneath your hands, spaced wider than shoulder-width apart on the floor. Extend your legs behind you and get into a push-up position, with your head, hips and heels in line.
Move:Keeping your head neutral and abs tight, bend your elbows and lower yourself toward the floor until your chest almost touches down, then press through your palms up against the resistance of the band until your arms are fully extended.
Tip: Target your upper and lower chest by elevating your feet on a bench with your hands on the floor or by putting your hands on a bench while keeping your toes on the floor, respectively.
Out: Bent-over row
In: Sled pull
The sled introduces an element of old-school strongman training or grade-school tug of war to your workout. Each tug of the sled is inherently different and engages the muscles of the back one side at a time, and in a slightly different way with each pull.
Setup: Attach a long rope to a weight sled and position it in an open area. Face the sled, grasp the rope with both hands, and squat down halfway with your back straight and your glutes and hamstrings loaded, leaning back slightly against the rope.
Move: Hand over hand, pull the sled toward you deliberately, reaching forward as far as you can and pulling back as hard as you can with each hand. Once the sled arrives at your toes, grab the end of the rope and walk away until it’s extended once more, then repeat.
Tip: Change things up: Do this while seated on the floor and fry your back in half the time!
Quads & Glutes
Out: Barbell back squat
In: Overhead barbell squat
If you’ve been sleepwalking through your leg workouts lately, the overhead squat will be a welcome wake-up call. “Your core, shoulders and back get a jolt of extra stimulus, thanks to the isometric contraction required to keep the barbell in place,” says Darlene Kalina Salvador, a personal trainer based in Redondo Beach, California.
Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, and hold a barbell across your upper chest and shoulders with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Press the weight straight up overhead and hold it steady with your arms straight.
Move: Kick your hips back, then bend your knees to slowly lower into a squat with your weight in your heels. Descend until your thighs come to a point about parallel or slightly below, then forcefully drive through your heels, extending your hips and knees to return to standing.
Tip: Keep the barbell and your shoulders steady by shrugging them up slightly toward your ears, engaging your traps and upper back.
Out: Romanian deadlift
In: Glute-ham raise
The glute-ham raise is actually on equal footing in terms of muscular recruitment with the Romanian deadlift, as shown in a study of hammy exercises published in the June 2014 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. So grab a partner and give it a try.
Setup: Kneel on the floor and have a partner hold your ankles firmly. Hold your hands, palms out, in front of your chest and tighten your abs.
Move: Hinging at your knees, lean forward with your torso and thighs moving as one (don’t break at the hip) and lower yourself slowly toward the floor, focusing on controlling your bodyweight with your hamstrings in the eccentric contraction. “Catch” yourself with your hands as you reach the floor, then push off lightly and lift yourself back up to vertical using momentum and your hamstrings.
In: Step-up hop
The lunge is probably one of the most over-programmed exercises, so for a change of pace, Salvador suggests this explosive variation. “By putting your glutes and hamstrings under additional stretch via the box, you’ll generate even more power during the positive contractions,” she says.
Setup: Stand behind a box (about 16 inches high) with your feet together, arms at your sides.
Move: Step on the box with your left foot. In one motion, extend your left leg, push off your right foot and drive your right knee through to the front, hopping up into the air off your left foot. Land on the box, then immediately step your right foot back down to the floor. Continue, alternating sides.
Tip: Change it up by turning sideways to the box instead of facing it straight on.