Exercises Personal Trainers Swear By
Exercises Personal Trainers Swear By

Exercises Personal Trainers Swear By

When it comes to achieving noticeable results in the gym, certain exercises have more of an impact than others. To find out what they are, we asked four personal trainers to share their preferred moves – and why they think they’re so effective.
By Rebecca Hull

Lucie Cowan

Master Trainer at Third Space

Move #1: Dead Bugs

Best For: Strengthening Your Core 

The Reasoning: “This is a no-equipment exercise which really activates your core. Done before a workout, dead bugs ensure you’ve aligned your spine neutrally and engaged all the muscles in the front of the core, which are essential components to lifting safely and getting the most from every rep.”

How To Do Them: “Lie on your back and bring your hips and knees to 90°. Raise your arms straight up towards the ceiling, keeping the wrists in line with the shoulders. Before doing any movement, drive your lower back down into to the floor and push your ribcage and bellybutton towards the spine. Imagine someone is trying to squeeze a finger underneath your lower back and you trying to stop it. Without allowing your back to arch or your ribs to flare out, take a breath in and reach an arm and the opposite leg out, leaving the other arm and leg in the start position. Reach them out as far as you can without your lower back leaving the floor. Return to the start position, breathing out fully as you do. Aim for ten reps per side, going three times round.”

Move #2: Heavy Farmer’s Carry

Best For: Enhancing Your Training

The Background: “This move is the epitome of efficient training. Performing it regularly can improve your posture, strength, core stability (preventing you from injury) and muscle mass, all while getting your heart rate up. If performed correctly, you’ll work your arms, neck, shoulders, back, abs glutes and quads. Plus, there’s no fancy equipment needed.”

How To Do It: “Grab a very heavy weight in each hand. Carefully, pick them up off the ground safely, half squatting and half deadlifting with a flat back. Take a deep breath in and brace your core. The weight will now be at your sides with your palms facing towards your hips. Pin back your shoulder blades, lengthening your spine as much as possible and walk as far as you can, without swinging the arms, or losing core balance. The key is going heavy. It should be a struggle to make it that far. If you made it more than 200m, go back in with a heavier weight. Aim to start with a 40-second carry, doing three sets with a one-minute rest in between.”

Move #3: Kettlebell Swings 

Best For: Full Body Results

The Background: “The kettlebell swing is an exercise everyone should do. It burns calories, builds muscle, boosts endurance and improves posture. It’s what I call the ‘king of exercises’ with just one piece of equipment needed.”

How To Do Them: “Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and a kettlebell in front of you, bend your knees to grip the kettlebell with two hands. Engage your core, and swing the kettlebell back between your legs, keeping it as high as possible with a flat back; then, as you drive the swing upwards, using the back of the legs, engage your glutes and abs, keeping your arms outstretched as the kettlebell swings high up to the chest. Squeeze your glutes and snap your hips at the top of the movement, without arching your back, over-extending or leaning back. Let the kettlebell come back down naturally, but keep the chest lifted.”

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Sharon Sharp

Club Manager At JOHN REED

Move #1: Hip Thrusts

Best For: Building Lower Strength

The Background: “Hip thrusts have long been one of my favourite moves. They are brilliant for strengthening the lower body and there are many variations to try. Done right, they pump your glutes, hamstrings and keep your quads strong. They’re a big power move but one that actually requires minimal effort.”

How To Do Them: “Typically, hip thrusts are done with your back placed against a bench press. If you’re doing them at home, however, lie on your back with your arms by your sides and your knees bent, keeping your feet planted firmly on the ground. Press through your heels and drive your hips up, thrusting forward in a straight line while simultaneously squeezing your glutes. Hold for a second or so at the top of the move, then lower back down slowly.”

Move #2: Press Ups

Best For: Toning The Upper Body

The Background: “Press ups are another fantastic exercise. They are still the best – in my opinion – for building upper body strength and really working the arms, especially the triceps. I add press-ups into my warm-up walk downs, which I do with every workout, and in all my upper body sessions to work my arms and chest.” 

How To Do Them: “Get on all fours, positioning your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Keep your elbows slightly bent and your feet hip-width apart. Once you’re in this position, contract your abs, inhale and bend your elbows, lowering yourself to the floor. Exhale and push yourself back up through your hands, returning to the position you started in. If you’re new to press ups, start on your knees and simply lower yourself up and down with your arms.”

Move #3: Deadlifts

Best For: Targeting Various Muscles 

The Background: “Deadlifts work the back, hamstrings, core and quads and I add different variations to all my workouts – from traditional deadlifts to Sumo and Romanian deadlifts. They are compound movements, which basically means they hit all those major muscles at once.”

How To Do Them: “There are so many variations out there but an easy one to begin with is a stiff-legged deadlift. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold a kettlebell – or any weight you have – with both hands, or a dumbbell in each hand at your thighs. Bend slightly at your knees, push your bum way back and keep your back flat. Your torso should run parallel to the floor and the weights should reach your shins. Keep your core tight, push through your heels and stand up straight. Pause at the top of the movement and squeeze as you go.”

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Tatiana Timofeeva/STOCKSY UNITED

Louisa Drake

Founder of The Louisa Drake Method

Move #1: Squats

Best For: Toning Your Bum

The Background: “Squats are great for everyone, from beginners through to the very advanced. The traditional squat targets the muscles in your lower body, glutes, quads, hamstrings and core, with a bit of upper body for good measure. There's lots of variations to try, from bodyweight squats to loading the squat using weights such as dumbbells through to barbells and kettlebells.”

How To Do Them: “Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Face the toes slightly outwards, keeping the weight in the heels. Keep your hips stacked over the knees and the knees over the ankles. Initiate the movement by inhaling and unlocking the hips, bringing them back slightly. Keep sending those hips backwards as the knees bend, keeping them slightly open. Aim for a 90° angle and remember, your heels should never lift from the floor. Engage the core and with the weight in the heels, explode back up to standing, driving through the heels and squeezing your glutes at the top. You can loop bands around the thighs or ankles for better glute activation. It’s such a functional move and it’s key for building spine, knee and core strength.”

Move #2: The Pallof Press

Best For: Aligning Your Core

The Background: “The Pallof Press is an anti-rotation movement that limits the rotation of your spine and trains your core muscles to work as a team. It's a fantastic core strength training exercise that can be easily done using a cable machine at the gym. I use it to support my clients with lower back issues, during pregnancy and post-natal.”

How To Do It: “There are a mix of different setups – you can perform it either seated, kneeling on the floor or standing – but they all require professional equipment. I recommend beginners start with very light resistance and focus on positioning and breathing. This exercise is great for building more defined abs or a healthier back. It challenges the abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles), external and internal obliques and erector spinae. The Pallof press also trains your hip stability and resists rotation.”

Move #3: Four-Point Kneelers 

Best For: Back Health

The Background: “These are ideal for strengthening your posterior muscles and core (the hips, pelvis, shoulder, back and neck). You can use them to help improve the endurance of the neck muscles, or specifically focus on the arms, legs or arms and legs together. Bird dog is a great example of a classic four-point kneeling exercise. When performed correctly with the appropriate stabilisation components, it really becomes an essential exercise for back health, as it teaches you to maintain a neutral spine during dynamic isolation work.”

How To Do Them: “To do a bird dog, start on your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tighten your abdominal muscles and then extend the opposite leg and arm at the same time. I like to use resistance bands, ankle weights or a cable machine to progress this move.”

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Catie Miller

Founder of Oona Series

Move #1: Plié To Curtsy Lunge

Best For: Your Hamstrings & Quadriceps 

The Background: “One of the best exercises for toning the inner thighs, this simple move gets to all those hard-to-reach areas. It focuses on all sorts of different muscles, unlike a regular lunge, and targets your gluteus medius to improve posture and stabilise the hips.”

How To Do It: “Stand with your legs open in a wide second ballet position. Make sure your feet are naturally turned out and your arms are stretched out to the side from your shoulders. Cross your foot behind, keeping it turned out; bend both knees in each position and bring your arms to first. The working leg is moving as the supporting leg is anchored into the floor. Ensure your arms are moving from second to first position as you transition into the movements. To finish, take your curtsy straight to a passé (toe to knee), adding a hop at the top before you place it back down into a curtsy. Feel the hamstring and quadriceps burn.”

Move #2: Tricep Kick Backs 

Best For: Toning Your Arms

The Background: “These are relatively easy to do and will strengthen the muscles which extend your hand. Pair it with your regular workout and you’ll immediately feel the burn – especially if you add small pulses or holds at the end of your reps.”

How To Do Them: “Stand in the centre of the floor with your feet together, and hinge forward from your hips while extending one leg behind you to a lunge. Ensure your weight is forward on your front leg and the back leg is straight with as little weight placed on it as possible. Square off your hips and shoulders. Reaching both arms behind, above your hips, with your palms facing each other or upwards, bend/extend the arms, keeping your elbows lifted. Make sure the bend is small. Concentrate on extending your arms to engage the triceps fully. Continue with the lunge/tricep kick-backs and add a lift of the back leg off the floor. Think about extending the leg longer, not higher, to activate your core and glutes for an added burn. Do this for eight to 16 reps.”

Move #3: Planks 

Best For: Strengthening Your Core & Hips

The Background: “Everyone knows the plank – it’s just one move, but it has heaps of variations and, with that, plenty of whole-body benefits. Not only does it strengthen your core when done regularly, it also improves muscle definition and helps improve your posture – the trick is to get the technique right so your spinal position is never off balance.”

How To Do Them: “Start with your legs together in a plank position, with your hands directly under your shoulders. Hold your plank for eight to 16 counts. To take it up a notch, continue holding your plank and add a passé, bringing the toe to your knee and your knee towards your chest to focus on core strength and lower abdominal connection. Alternate leg passés for eight to 16 reps. For a bit of added cardio, continue alternating leg passés and pick up the tempo to a mountain-climbing run. Do eight to 16 reps. Remember to focus on your core strength and lower down to your forearms if you have any wrist injuries. Keep your abdominals in, chest proud and shoulders down. Think of a long neutral spine from the crown of your head to your heels.”

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