5 Easy Tricks That Make Your Favorite Exercises More Effective

Don't allow your favorite exercises to get stale and slow your progress. Use these 5 mods to keep making gains.

There's nothing wrong with having a few favorite exercises. Maybe you like the pump you get from Curls or love the way you can feel your heart pounding during a set of Lunges. Whatever it is, everyone has exercises they prefer over others—which is cool. What's not cool is plateauing—which can easily happen if you perform the same exercise enough times.

You might have noticed that the Shoulder Press suddenly feels ridiculously easy, or that you can hold a Plank until your watch battery dies. This is a good thing since it means you've improved, but it also means you need to step up your training to keep making progress. Lucky for you, stepping up your favorite exercise can be as easy as making a simple change. With that in mind, here are five simple tricks for making your favorite exercises more effective.

1. If You Love Shoulder Press, Try Inverted Kettlebell Press

Kettlebells have exploded in popularity over the last decade, and for good reason. Their unique design allows you to perform challenging exercises that would be impossible with dumbbells or barbells.

One such exercise? The Inverted Kettlebell Press. It is both safer and more challenging than standard Shoulder Press exercises, which makes it a win-win for athletes. The added challenge comes from the instability of the inverted kettlebell. To keep it upright during the press, you must recruit the tiny muscles throughout your wrist, forearm, upper arm, chest and shoulder. It takes great grip strength and a large contribution from your stabilizing muscles to perform the movement correctly. In turn, these stabilizing muscles become stronger and you reduce your overall risk of injury.

RELATED: Exercise of the Week: Kettlebell Overhead Squat Press

How to Perform the Inverted Kettlebell Press

Inverted Kettlebell Press

Check out the above video player to see this exercise in action

  • Assume an athletic stance and hold a kettlebell upside down in front of your chest.
  • Perform a Shoulder Press as you normally would, allowing your shoulder to naturally rotate at the top of the movement. Be sure to keep your back straight.
  • Slowly return the kettlebell to the starting position, allowing your shoulder to naturally rotate back to a neutral grip.
  • Start with very light weight until you get comfortable with the movement. You can perform this exercise in both a single-arm manner or the traditional two-arm style, depending on what you prefer and what equipment is available.

Sets/Reps: 3x8 each arm

2. If You Love Curls, Try Partner-Resisted Curls

You'd be hard-pressed to find an athlete who doesn't love doing Curls. They are plenty popular in their own right, but one simple variation can really crank up their effectiveness. Partner-Resisted Bicep Curls focus on the eccentric portion of the lift—you know, the second half of the Curl, where you let gravity do almost all the work. Though it's usually an afterthought, the eccentric portion of an exercise is great way to increase muscle size and strength if you put in a little extra effort.

Partner-Resisted Bicep Curls force you to focus on the eccentric portion of the lift by providing extra force to resist while you lower the bar. This increases your muscles' time under tension, which is exactly what you need to get a killer pump.

RELATED: 10 Biceps Exercises Better Than Traditional Curls

How to Perform Partner-Resisted Bicep Curls

Partner-Resisted Bicep Curls

Check out the above video player to see this exercise in action

  • Load a barbell or EZ bar as you normally would before performing Curls. We advise using lighter weight than you do for standard Curls.
  • Grab a partner.
  • Perform a Curl as you normally would, keeping your back straight and hinging at the elbows.
  • At the top of the movement (when the bar is closest your chest), your partner places his or her hands on top of the bar and begins pulling down.
  • While you're lowering the bar, fight to resist both the natural forces of gravity and the added resistance your partner is applying. Allow the bar to lower, but do it very slowly.

Sets/Reps: 3x8

3. If You Love Plank, Try Plank to Push-Ups

Planks are a great exercise when done well. They strengthen your core by forcing you to resist extension, which is an effective mode of training. However, if you've reached a point where you feel like you can read the entire sports section while holding a basic Plank, it's time to kick up the intensity!

One component that's missing from the basic Plank is movement. As an athlete, the ability to use your core to support and stabilize your body during movement is incredibly important. That's where variations like Plank to Push-Ups come in. Plank to Push-Ups require you to use your core to stabilize your body while moving through a range of motion and develop your upper body more than a basic Plank. Even if you can hold a basic Plank for an eternity, chances are Plank to Push-Ups will set your abs on fire.

RELATED: 6 Side Plank Variations for a Killer Core

How to Perform Plank to Push-Ups

Plank to Push-Ups

Check out the above video player to see this exercise in action

  • Assume the normal Plank position with your elbows on the ground at shoulder height.
  • Keep your hips and core pulled up and activated.
  • Switch from your elbows to your hands one arm at a time, moving into a standard Push-Up position. Your body should remain still—the only areas that move are your arms.
  • After a second, move from your hands back onto your elbows one arm at a time, returning to the standard Plank position. That's one rep.

Sets/Reps: 2x20

4. If You Love Lunges, Try Med Ball Overhead Lunges

Lunges are great for building lower-body strength and power. Standard Lunge variations include Barbell Lunges and Dumbbell Lunges. Med Ball Overhead Lunges offer a bit more of a full-body challenge.

Basic Lunge variations focus mainly on lower-body muscles like the hamstrings and quads, whereas Med Ball Overhead Lunges also engage muscles in the shoulders, upper back and core.

Since you perform the Lunge while carrying a load overhead, your body has to work to stabilize the load and maintain your balance. It's not an effect you can achieve by holding dumbbells at your side or having a barbell on your back.

RELATED: Med Ball Workouts to Test Your Limits

How to Perform Med Ball Overhead Lunges

Med Ball Overhead Lunges

Check out the above video player to see this exercise in action

  • Assume an athletic stance holding a med ball over your head.
  • Perform a lunge as you normally would, stepping forward with one foot and lowering your body until your front thigh is parallel to the ground. Focus on supporting the ball over your head and maintaining your balance.
  • You can either perform Alternating Lunges in place or Walking Lunges, depending on your preference and how much space you have available.

Sets/Reps: 3x6 each leg

5. If You Love Bench Press, Try Band-Resisted Dumbbell Bench Press

Many people love performing the good old-fashioned Barbell Bench Press every chance they get. It's a fine exercise, but the Band-Resisted Dumbbell Bench Press will challenge your upper body in a whole new way.

The thing about the traditional Bench Press is that most of its challenge comes when you switch from the eccentric to the concentric portion of the movement. Getting the bar off your chest and past the infamous "sticking point" is when you experience the most resistance—after that, the challenge is greatly diminished.

But with Band-Resisted Presses, you experience dynamic resistance. Thanks to the increased tension of the bands, the exercise remains difficult through the entirety of the movement. It forces you to use your chest muscles explosively to get the bar off your chest, then rely heavily on your triceps to lock it out. Bands also make the eccentric portion of the Press more challenging, since you must focus on lowering the bar under control.

RELATED: Dumbbell Chest Press Variations for a Stronger Chest

How to Perform Band-Resisted Dumbbell Bench Press

Band-Resisted Dumbbell Bench Press

Check out the above video player to see this exercise in action

  • Wrap a resistance band behind your back and either over your thumbs or onto the handles of the dumbbells.
  • Position the band right next to your armpits.
  • Lie back and press the dumbbells into the starting position.
  • Perform Dumbbell Bench Presses as you normally would, focusing on exploding the weight off your chest.

Sets/Reps: 3x8


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: LUNGE | CHEST | BENCH PRESS | PLANK | BICEP CURL | EXERCISES | BENCH | MED BALL | PRESS | DUMBBELLS | BARBELL | STANCE | DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS | KETTLEBELL