10 Toning Exercises that Can Totally Change Your Body

When you hit the gym, do you perform the same routine every time? Whether you run on the treadmill or spend time in the weight room, you probably have a regular regimen that you stick to. But according to Caitlin McGowan, group fitness manager at Equinox sports clubs in New York City, it’s important to break out of your comfort zone from time to time and challenge your body in new ways.

Open a fitness magazine or scroll through Pinterest and you’ll find tons of exercise ideas promising to do everything from tighten your belly to tone your arms. With so many options, it can be hard to choose the right exercise routine. Try these 10 total body toners, provided by McGowan, to upgrade your workout and sculpt even the hard-to-target areas.

1. Squats

What they are: “Squats are a great lower-body workout,” says McGowan. “They effectively work most of the major muscle groups in the butt, hips and thighs; plus, they increase flexibility.”

How to do them: Holding a 5-pound dumbbell in each hand with arms down at your sides, stand with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward. Roll your shoulders back and down away from the ears. Bend your knees and send your hips backwards (as if you were going to sit in a chair). As your butt sticks out, be sure to keep your chest and shoulders upright to maintain a neutral spine. Try to keep the weight in your heels as you lower to take pressure off the knees. Return to standing. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

2. Burpees

What they are: This move can be quite challenging but the payoff is that it works your entire body, says McGowan. You’ll work your arms, chest, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and core while keeping your heart rate up.

How to do them: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Lower your body into a squatting position, placing your hands flat on the floor in front of you. With your hands flat on the floor, carefully kick your feet back so that you are in push up position. Keep your hands firmly on the ground. Lower down into a push up. Return to push up position and jump your feet back into squatting position. Stand up, and then jump into the air while extending your arms overhead. Return to start. Perform as many reps as possible for 1 minute.

3. Barbell Thrusters

What they are: “Combining a front squat with an overhead press, thrusters are quite possibly the best full-body exercise,” says McGowan. You’ll work your thighs, hips, shoulders, triceps, and core.

How to do them: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hold a 10-pound barbell on your shoulders in front of you with your elbows high, the bar resting across your collarbone and your fingertips underneath. Keeping your torso upright, bend your knees and lower into a squat until your hamstrings (underside of your thighs) are parallel to the floor. Then, explode back up by straightening your legs and pushing the bar forcefully overhead so that your arms are fully extended. Return to start. Do 3 sets of 12.

4. Renegade Row

What it is: This exercise simultaneously works all the muscles of the upper body—your pecs, back, biceps, triceps and abs, says McGowen. Your legs and core will also be engaged to help stabilize the body.

How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Place two 5 or 10-pound dumbbells on the ground in front of you. Reach down and hold the pair of dumbbells (keeping them on the ground) and step your feet back into push up position. Keep your arms straight and elbows in, close to the body. Pull/row one dumbbell up towards your arm pit and hold for 1 to 2 seconds; then, lower the dumbbell back down to the ground. Repeat with other arm. That’s one set. Do 3 sets of 20.

5. Caterpillar Crawl

What it is: Ready to channel your inner toddler? The name may sound silly but this exercise “will lead to improved agility and greater flexibility; plus, it strengthens the core, shoulders, chest, arms and legs,” says McGowen.

How to do it: Stand with feet together. Bend over, bringing your hands to the floor. Slowly walk your hands forward until you’re in a push-up position with hands directly above your shoulders. Keeping hands planted on the ground, walk your feet toward them until your hands and feet meet. Return to standing. That’s one rep. Do as many reps as possible for 1 minute. Note: Keep your core tight throughout the entire move.

6. Walking Lunge

What it is: Lunges are super-effective at strengthening and sculpting your legs, says McGowen. They work the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

How to do it: Stand with feet together, holding two dumbbells in your hands at your sides. Take a controlled step forward with your left leg. Bending your knees, lower your hips toward the floor (almost creating a 90 degree angle with your left leg). The back knee should come close to but never touch the ground. Your front knee should be directly over the ankle and the back knee should be pointing down toward the floor. Keeping your left foot planted, push off with your right foot and bring it forward to starting position. Repeat on the opposite leg. That’s one rep. Do 3 sets of 20.

7. Clean & Press

What it is: “This may well be the most complete exercise there is for full-body strength,” says McGowen. Although this move primarily targets the front deltoids (shoulders), it also works your trapezius (upper back/neck), thighs, hamstrings, glutes, and triceps. Start by lifting just the barbell itself and add weight as you get stronger.

How to do it: Place a barbell on the floor in front of you. Bend the knees slightly and grasp the barbell in an overhand grip, keeping the chest lifted and the back and arms straight. Straighten your legs and lift the bar (with straight arms) to hip level. Once the bar reaches your hips, rise up on your tiptoes, shrug your shoulders powerfully and pull the bar up higher towards your shoulders, leading with your elbows. As the bar travels towards shoulder height, quickly squat back down under the bar and rotate your elbows forward so you catch it near your collar bone, in front of your shoulders. Bend your knees slightly and then straighten them while pressing the bar directly above your head. Gently reverse the move back to the floor. That’s one rep. Perform 3 sets of 12.

8. Mountain Climbers

What they are: No, you won’t be climbing a mountain but you will be climbing on the floor.

Mountain climbers are calisthenics, or exercises that use your body weight (rather than free weights or machines) for resistance, says McGowen. They work your upper body, core and lower body muscles while also challenging your balance, agility and coordination.

How to do them: Get in push-up position with your arms straight and your body in a straight line from your head to your ankles. Without changing the posture of your lower back, raise your right knee toward your chest. Return to start and repeat with your left leg. That’s one rep. Do as many reps as possible, alternating legs, for 1 minute. This should be done with speed so that there’s no real pause between shifting legs.

9. Push-Ups

What they are: When it comes to strengthening your arms and chest, a standard push-up can’t be beat. But there’s another bonus: “While in a perfect push-up position, you’re typically suspended from your toes all the way to your neck, so in reality, every muscle between your shoulders and your toes is engaged,” says McGowen.

How to do them: Start in push-up position with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. With your glutes clenched and your core engaged, bend your arms and steadily lower yourself to the floor until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle or smaller. Once your chest touches the floor (or your arms are at a 90-degree angle), pause slightly and then explode back up until you’re back in the starting position. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

10. Forearm Plank

What it is: This move is like being in upper push up position except you’re balancing on your forearms instead of your hands. “Forearm plank is one of the best exercises for the stomach because it works all the muscles in your core, including the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack muscles”), transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, hips, and back muscles,” says McGowen.

How to do it: Start by lying on your stomach with forearms and palms flat on the floor in front of you. Raise your body off the floor, supporting your weight on your forearms and toes. Make sure that your back is flat and your head, neck and spine are in a straight line. Pull your belly button towards your spine the entire time. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged and do not let your stomach drop or allow your hips to rise up. Hold for 1 minute. Return to start. Do 3 reps.

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