By Jessica Matthews, MS, E-RYT
Valentine’s Day is almost here, so it’s perfect timing to show your body a little extra love. Spice up your workouts with research-supported exercises proven to target some of the most commonly cited “trouble areas.” When used as part of a well-rounded fitness routine, these four moves will strengthen your muscles and help you to sport a more sculpted physique.
Upper Arms: Triangle Push-Ups
Why: This variation on the traditional push-up targets the chest and shoulders as well as the muscles of the core. The best part is an ACE-research study found the triangle push-up to be one of the most effective for working the triceps, muscles found on the backs of the upper arms. It’s an area of the body many women want to tone, especially as they prepare to sport tank tops and swimsuits come summertime.
How to do it: Whether you opt to perform this exercise on your toes or with your knees on the ground, begin in a kneeling position, placing your thumbs and forefingers together in a triangle shape directly underneath your chest. With the legs either extended behind you with toes tucked under and heels reaching back behind you, or with your knees on the ground with legs bent, keep your abdominals engaged and slowly bend your elbows. Allow them to flare outward slightly as you lower your body toward the ground. Avoid sagging your low back or hiking your hips upward during the movement, as you lower your chest or chin toward the floor. To come up, press through your arms, pushing through the outside surface and heel of your palm until your arms are fully extended, as if you are pushing the ground away from you.
Core: Side Plank
Why: Not only is the side plank a great exercise that effectively activates several key muscles of the core (the obliques, transverse abdominals and quadratus lumborum), but this combination of muscle recruitment actually helps ensure stability in the spine. Researchers like Dr. Stuart McGill have found that stability can lower the risk of developing back issues later on.
How to do it: Lie on your right side with legs straight and stacked on top of another. Bend the right elbow and place it directly underneath your shoulder, resting your forearm on the ground. Keeping your abdominals engaged and your head aligned with your spine, slowly lift your knees and hips off the floor, keeping the side of your right foot in contact with the ground. Continue to breathe as you hold this position and when you’re ready, slowly lower down to the floor. Repeat on the opposite side. For an added challenge, trying using a stability ball for a new twist on this exercise.
Butt: Quadrupled Bent Knee Hip Extension
Why: The name of this exercise may sound complex, but the truth is it’s easy to perform and can be done just about anywhere using no equipment. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse found the quadruped bent-knee hip extension elicited a higher degree of muscle activation both in the gluteus maximus and minimus than many other commonly performed exercises. It can also serve as an effective exercise option for those who have difficulty performing other standing glute exercises, like squats or lunges, or for people simply looking for some new butt-sculpting exercises to add to their routine.
How to do it: Begin in a hands-and-knees (quadruped) position, with your knees below your hips and wrists below your shoulders, fingers pointing forward. Keeping the core muscles engaged, slowly lift the left leg keeping the knee bent as you press the foot up toward the ceiling. To ensure safety and effectiveness of this move, avoid sagging or arching the back during the movement by continuing to brace through the core and avoid rotating at the hip by keeping the shoulders and hips squared to the floor.
Thighs: Dumbbell Step-Ups
Why: Step-ups are another great exercise to target the muscles of the butt. As an added bonus, an ACE-research study found they are one of the most effective moves for working the hamstrings, perfect for sculpting sexy legs for shorts and skirts once the weather warms up.
How to do it: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, begin by facing a sturdy surface such as a low bench or step. Slowly place your right foot (lead leg) onto the step or bench and push off of the left foot (trailing leg) until both feet are on top of the step or bench. Slowly lower down by stepping the right foot backward onto the ground, followed by your left foot, allowing your body to lean slightly forward during the step-down movement. Repeat on opposite side.
Jessica Matthews, MS is an exercise physiologist for American Council on Exercise (ACE), the nation’s trusted authority on fitness. Matthews, who is also an ACE-certified Personal Trainer, ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor and an experienced registered yoga instructor, specializes in a number of areas, including basic wellness, women’s fitness and mind-body exercise.