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15 Faster and More Effective Exercises

Are you looking for some highly effective exercises you can do while on vacation, as part of your morning exercise routine or just because they're frugal? Here are 15 exercises that don't require much equipment, take very little time but are highly effective because they take more energy to do.

Medicine Ball Wood Chop

Instead of doing a warm up that targets only legs, the wood chop targets the upper body and core as well. If you don't have a medicine ball you can use a football, basketball or even a heavy book instead.

Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and hold onto a light-to-medium medicine ball (five to six pounds). Bend knees and hips, dropping into a squat as you bring the ball down to touch your left foot, shin or knee, depending on your level of flexibility. Rise up out of the squat as you simultaneously rotate and raise the ball up and across your right side, as if throwing it over your right shoulder. Do two sets of 10 on alternating sides.

Jump Squats

"Jump Training" activates fast-twitch muscle fibers, which we lose over time. This explosive move is also very cardiovascular and, therefore, burns more calories than normal squats.

Stand with feet hip-width apart; lower your butt towards the ground until your heels start to lift off the floor -- keep your back flat and eyes straight ahead. Pause briefly and then jump up quickly, fully extending your legs. Land softly on your mid-foot and roll back towards your heels. Start with 10 to 15 jumps.

Step-Ups Plus Another Move

Adding an upper body move or a second leg exercise to a step-up increases the challenge. Choose one of these:

Add a shoulder press. Hold onto dumbbells (five to eight pounds) and perform the step-up. At the top of the movement press the dumbbells overhead before stepping back down. Repeat.

Add a glute-toner. Perform the step-up and kick back the second leg before stepping back down. The kick activates the glutes and the core because it requires stability.

Alternating Front and Back Lunges

Using both legs makes the move more functional; it mimics how you move in everyday.

Hold a pair of dumbbells at arm's length next to your sides, palms facing in. Step forward with your right leg and slowly lower your body until your front knee bends to 90 degrees. Pause, rise up and step back to return to starting position. (Note: Keep your back straight and avoid leaning forward with each step.) Repeat with left leg. Alternate legs for 15 reps.

Fitness-Ball Leg Curl

Add a dynamic component to your hamstring workout by swapping the leg curl machine for a fitness ball.

Lie on your back with legs extended, lower leg on an exercise ball. Extend arms out to sides. Raise your hips up off the ground by pressing down on the ball with your lower legs and heels until your body forms a straight line: shoulders, hips and ankles should line up. Roll the ball towards you by bending your knees; pull your heels toward your butt. Allow your feet to roll up on to ball. Slowly lower to original position by straightening knees; repeat 12 to 15 times.

Seated Calf Raises

Standing raises only work the outer calf muscles. The seated version works the flexor muscle group deep in the calf, which stabilizes the ankle (better for walking in high heels!) and helps prevent ankle sprains.

Sit on a chair or bench with toes rested on a step or ledge in front of you -- heels should be on the ground and the step should be high enough for you to feel a stretch in your calf muscle. Place dumbbells or a barbell across your thighs near the knees added resistance. Hold the weights in place with your hands as you raise your heel off the ground, squeezing your calf muscles. Pause and slowly lower heels back down until you feel a stretch. Repeat 12 to 15 times.

Core Pushups

Adding instability activates the core and oblique muscles.

As you do each pushup, bring one knee up to the opposite elbow between each rep. Or, use a fitness ball as another core-activating alternative: Kneel in front of a fitness ball, drape yourself over the ball and walk out on your hands until the ball is under your shins and your body is straight -- do not let your back sag. Lower your upper body towards the floor into a pushup by bending your elbows out towards the sides, then pause and push back up. Repeat 12 to 15 times.

Incline/Decline Bench Presses

The chest muscle has a fan-like appearance so, although you can't completely isolate one area, changing the angle of the weight bench shifts the emphasis on the muscle.

Increase the incline to emphasize the shoulders and upper part of the chest. Perform chest presses on a decline bench (head lower than your feet) to put emphasis on the lower part of the chest. (Note: Decline presses are not recommended for women with high blood pressure, as this increases blood pressure in the brain.)

Seated Rows

Seated rows - on a machine or with tubing anchored into a door hinge - works the entire back and is better for shoulder and spine function.

Sit with your back straight and knees slightly bent and extend your arms in front of you, gripping the handle of the device or tubing, which should be parallel to the floor. Pull the handle towards you by driving elbows back and squeezing your shoulder blades together (avoid shrugging) until the handles touch your abdomen. Pause and repeat 12 to 15 times.

Hammer Curls

Neutral wrists in the hammer curl places more emphasis on that nice muscle that runs along the outside of the upper arms - giving shape to your arms.

Do them like regular bicep curls but don't rotate your wrists. Start with arms down to your sides, palms facing in towards your body. Keeping hands in this position, bend your elbows as you bring your hands up towards your shoulders, keep thumbs facing up; repeat 12 to 15 times.

Overhead Tricep Extensions

Mechanically, kickbacks are not a very effective exercise, as it does not hit all parts of the triceps. A better, more effective way to work the triceps, involves an overhead extension.

Sit or stand holding a dumbbell behind your head. Both hands should be wrapped around one end of the dumbbell - Make a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers and wrap them around the end. With your upper arms on either side of your ears, elbows up towards the ceiling, slowly lower the dumbbell down towards the center of your back. Pause and slowly extend arms to the ceiling. Return to starting position; repeat 12 to 15 times.

Upright Rows

Lateral raises work the middle deltoid muscle of the shoulder. The upright row also works the important stabilizing muscles in back of the shoulder and upper back, which improves shoulder posture and function.

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and grab a barbell in each hand, keeping them shoulder width apart. Slowly pull the weights up towards your chin. Elbows should flare out during the movement. Pause and slowly return barbell to starting position; repeat 12 to 15 times.

The One-Legged Plank

This advanced version of the traditional plank uses both abs and back muscles.

Position yourself on your hands and knees, shoulders directly over the wrists, extending your legs behind you so your body is parallel to the floor. Engage your core by drawing your stomach back and up towards your spine and hold. Without rotating your torso, lift your right leg an inch or two off the ground and hold for 10 or more seconds; slowly lower it to the starting position and switch feet. Alternate legs and repeat on each side. Do not allow your back to sag and do as many as you can with good form.

The Dead Bug

This exercise goes beyond just strengthening the lower portion of the rectus abdominis muscle (the "six-pack" muscle in front of the abdominal area) as in the reverse crunch. The dead bug strengthens the transverse abdominis, the main core muscle, as well as the obliques.

Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Focus on drawing your belly button in towards your spine to stabilize your back. Bring both arms and legs off the floor; knees should be directly over hips and elbows bent, directly over shoulders. Slowly extend right leg and lower your right heel and back of the left hand towards the floor; tap floor lightly and alternate sides - it’s kind of like a backstroke. Do 12 to 15 on each side.

The Jackknife

The jackknife challenges not only the core and abdominal muscles, but the shoulders and chest as well.

 Kneel in front of a fitness ball and roll out over top of it, walking on your hands until you're in a pushup position with the ball under the shins/ankles (easier) or tops of the feet (harder). Keep your body straight, back flat and abs engaged. Roll the ball in, bending the knees towards the chest as you squeeze your abs. Keep all the movement in the knees; avoid pushing back with your arms; keep your back stable. Return to starting position and repeat 10 to 15 reps.

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