No one doubts the effectiveness of basic exercises such as push-ups, crunches, squats and so forth, but let's face it--doing these same exercises every time can get pretty boring pretty fast. One way to spice up any classic exercise is to add small variations or modifications to the basic movement. These slight changes can go a long way toward recruiting new muscles, strengthening new areas of your body and providing a new challenge during your workout routines. Below are some simple workout modifications you can make to three basic exercise movements in order to invigorate your muscles, see new progress and add some fresh variety to your workout.
1. Tuck-knee push-ups: Push-ups remain one of the most effective exercises for building your chest, shoulders, triceps, forearms and upper back muscles, but what often goes overlooked is their ability to strengthen your core. Even basic push-ups (with knees off the floor) require you to stabilize your core, but you can amplify the core-challenging quality of your push-ups by adding a knee-tuck after each rep. The full motion would look like this: You will lower your body to the floor, push yourself up, pull one knee into your chest as much as possible, then return it to its original position. On the next repetition, perform the same movement, but with the the opposite knee. Tuck-knee push-ups work your entire core, but they particularly target your lower abdominal muscles.
2. Push-ups with varying hand positions: You can also experiment with varying hand positions on your push-ups. Try some with your hands wider than shoulder-width (great for the front shoulders), and then others with your hands close together (great for the triceps).
3. Plyometric push-ups: To really take it up a notch, add plyometrics to your push-ups by using your arms to push yourself off the floor and clapping between repetitions. This is somewhat of an advanced move, so you may have to work your way up first by just seeing if you can produce enough thrust to push your hands off the floor without clapping. Once you're getting enough elevation, you can add in the clap.
Repeat any one of these variations for 10-20 reps (more if you're able) and you will quickly see how these small adjustments can add a whole new level of challenge to your push-ups.
1. Pulsing squat: Perform a regular squat, but when your thighs are parallel with the ground (the deepest part of the movement), hold them there and then make small up-and-down movements several times before returning to a standing position. The range of motion for these pulsing movements should be very small (only a few inches), which will keep constant tension on your quads, glutes and hamstrings.
2. Sumo squat: Imitate the classic image of the Japanese Sumo wrestler by significantly widening your stance and keeping your toes pointed slightly outward. Stretch your arms out directly in front of you when squatting, and return them to your sides when the movement is complete.
3. Jump squat: Add a little elevation to your squats by jumping at the end of the movement (as you're coming back up). Your feet should stay shoulder-width apart, and your back should remain as straight as possible. This will burn those thigh muscles in a whole new way.
1. V-crunches: As the name implies, this crunch will have you forming a V-shape with your body. Lie on your back and extend your arms and legs up simultaneously toward the ceiling, making sure to lift your shoulders off the floor and reaching towards your feet in order to complete the "crunch" part of the movement. When coming back down from the movement, your arms should stay extended, and your legs should stay straight as well.
2. Bicycle crunches: Hated by exercise newbies and veterans alike, bicycle crunches are extremely effective at trimming up your upper and lower abs as well as your obliques (where love handles can form). With your lower back pressed against the floor and hands clasped behind your head, perform a crunching motion, but pull your left leg up so that your left knee touches your right elbow. Don't lower your legs back down at this point, but rather alternate your position by touching your right knee to your left elbow. As one leg is being pulled into your chest, the other one should be extending straight out, parallel to the floor. When you do this back and forth in one continuous motion, it will look similar to pedaling an invisible bicycle (hence the name).
Each of these variations can work wonders in terms of livening up your workouts, increasing your strength and providing a new challenge for your muscles. Try them today!