You should never feel humiliated in the gym. You should work out in an environment that makes you feel comfortable and motivated. That being said, there are just some exercises you won’t be caught dead doing in the midst of a crowded weight room. If you slink into the gym at 4 a.m. to power through glute bridges, or skip the gym altogether so only your cat can bare witness to your downward dog, it’s time to swallow your pride and embrace the embarrassment.
Mark Langowski, founder of Body By Mark Wellness and NYC-based celebrity trainer, compiled 10 exercises awkward enough to make some men avoid them, and created an entire total-body workout routine. Each exercise has a strategically matched superset exercise to maximize your results. Whether you want to incorporate a few of these moves into your weekly workouts, or perform them back-to-back is up to you. Regardless, you’ll improve muscle imbalances and weaknesses, grow stronger, and become more flexible. Your ego may be bruised at first, but you’ll quickly find your embarrassment weaning, and your confidence becoming bulletproof.
What it works: This is one of the best fundamental exercises that engages your abs, lower back, hips, glutes, quads, and hamstrings—and one of the easiest to incorporate into a warmup or workout. “Most guys skip hip bridges because they look simple, and they’ve most likely seen their girlfriend doing it for her butt,” Langowski says. That, and you'd rather not be that guy thrusting in the midst of a crowded gym. But guess what, it pays to be that guy. Glute bridges are great for activating the muscles in your lower body and warming up your spine.
How to do it: Start by lying on your back with your knees bent, and feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart. Keep your arms relaxed at your sides. Slowly raise your hips off the floor by activating your glutes and hamstrings, pushing your heels into the floor. Keep your glutes and abs engaged. Once you’re at the top of the movement, pause for 2 seconds (your body should be in a straight line from your knees to shoulders.) Return to the starting position by slowly unrolling your body from the top to the base of your spine. Note: To make it more challenging, rise up onto your toes at the top of the motion, place your feet on an elevated surface, do single-leg variations, or place a bar across your hips.
Complete 3 sets of 10-12 reps. Superset this with exercise #2: Dive Bomber Pushups.
What it works: Alright, so you’re hesitant to do these outside the comfort of your home for the same reason you aren’t gung-ho to drop down into downward dog at the gym—you’d rather not stick your butt up in the air, warmup or workout be damned. But in truth, this pushup variation is an excellent full-body movement that dynamically builds strength and flexibility in your chest, shoulders, back, hips, and triceps. Plus, you’ll get a nice stretch in your hamstrings and lower back.
How to do it: Start in a downward dog yoga position with your hands planted on the floor, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and stick your butt (you guessed it) high in the air. "Keep your back straight, not hunched, so you look like an inverted 'V,'" Langowski says. Now, press into your heels, really focusing on keeping your legs as straight as possible to get a stretch in your hamstrings. From there, lower your shoulders and swoop down so your chest brushes the ground. Hold the position for 2 to 3 seconds, then press yourself up so that your back is arched and your arms straight. Now reverse the movement by lowering back down so your chest brushes the ground again, and you return to the starting position.
Complete 3 sets of 6-10 reps. Superset this with exercise #1: Glute Bridges.
What it works: The movement's a bit awkward to navigate at first, but it’s worth taking the time to perfect the Turkish getup. This is a total-body exercise and, though it may not seem like it, it absolutely shreds your core because it requires activation and stabilization. It also helps develop your shoulder muscles and their overall stability, helps to fix any imbalances, and is a great metabolic exercise since it requires all the muscles in your body to work together to complete the movement.
How to do it: You can do this with a kettlebell or dumbbell—just be sure to start out light. Lying on your back, grab the weight with your left hand, and lift and lock your arm. Bend your left knee, and keep your right leg straight out on the ground. Then, pushing off your left foot, roll onto your right hip and come up onto your right elbow. Push up onto your right hand, and bring your back off the ground. Next, thread your right leg back into a kneeling position. Your arm should still be locked out. “This is a whole body exercise—particularly a shoulder developer—but it's not meant to fatigue your arms,” Langowski says. From this kneeling position, take a deep breath, tighten your core, and lunge forward to a standing position. Reverse the process to come back down to the starting position.
Complete 3 sets of 6-10 reps on each arm. Superset this with exercise #4: Lateral Isometric Squat Walk (Sumo Crab Walk).
What it works: This exercise tones and targets your inner thighs, quads, and glutes, but man is it funny looking (especially if you pinch your hands like a crab while you walk; just kidding, you’ll ramp your odds of being ridiculed ten-fold if you do this). But with your knees bent and fixed in a wide stance, you create an isometric hold. This type of muscle contraction happens when you’re in a static position, and it also happens to activate more muscle fibers than concentric and eccentric contractions.
How to do it: Start at the bottom of a squat position. Keep your arms to your side, or extend them out in front of you with your chest out, shoulders back, and head straight, looking forward. Now, holding that position, step 10 inches to the left. Meet your right foot with your left, so you’re back in the starting position. “Make sure you stay in the bottom squat hold position the entire time,” Langowski advises. This will ensure your leg muscles are activated throughout the entire exercise. To make this more difficult, place a resistance band right below your knees.
Complete 3 sets of 10 reps for each leg (10 to the right and 10 to the left). Superset this with exercise #3: Turkish Getup.
What it works: Already considered one of the best full-body exercises, burpees test your strength and aerobic capacities. With each repetition, you hit your chest, arms, quads, hamstrings, and abs—and you’ll burn an insane amount of calories. Single-leg burpees up the difficulty because you have to work harder to keep yourself balanced. This taxes your fast-twitch muscle fibers and really works your ankle and feet muscles. You probably will look a bit foolish the first time around, but the benefits are worth it—we promise. Note: You can put your elevated ankle in the strap of a TRX cable for more support in the beginning.
How to do it: Start in a pushup position, and bring your left leg off the floor by 10 inches. Perform a pushup, then immediately thrust your right leg in toward your chest, driving your hips forward, and plant your right foot on the ground. “Make sure you keep your left leg off the ground throughout this entire movement,” Langowski says. Steady yourself on your right leg, stand up straight, then jump up, landing on your right leg. Bend back down at your waist and reverse the motion, jumping back with your right leg, keeping your left off the ground, and bracing yourself as you meet the ground with both hands.
Complete 3 sets of 5-8 reps per leg. Superset this with exercise #6: Lateral Shuffle on Treadmill.
What it works: This will be awkward for you and the person next to you on the treadmill since you’ll be grilling him or her, but, hey, all is fair in love and fitness (or something like that.) By side-shuffling on the treadmill, you really give your hips, inner and outer thighs, calves, abs, and obliques a killer workout. You’ll challenge and strengthen your balance, strength, and coordination to boot. Just be careful with this one as it can be dangerous.
How to do it: Start by walking (facing forward) on the treadmill at 3.5-4.2 speed. While holding onto the front of the treadmill with your left hand, turn your body to the right and immediately start to shuffle. “Take special care to stay on your toes and make sure your legs don't cross over,” Langowski says. Do this for 1 minute. Come back to the center of the treadmill and face forward. Walk for 15 seconds, and then repeat this on your left side. (Hold onto the front of the treadmill with your right hand.) Note: You can gradually increase the speed and incline to make this more difficult.
Complete 3 sets of 3-minute reps on each side. Superset this with exercise #5: One-Legged Burpee.
What it works: You may get funny looks for camping out at the squat rack and blasting these out, but consider inverted rows the safer counterpart to the typical barbell row. Because it’s just your bodyweight, and you're facing the sky (hence the keyword “inverted”) you take all the strain off your back, and your core gets a decent workout, too. “This is a great upper body ripper that’ll build you a great back and toned arms,” Langowski says.
How to do it: Go to a Smith machine or squat rack and place the bar at waist level. Sit on the floor and position your hands as if you were going to do a bench press (your palms should face the ceiling). Now, straighten your body so that you’re hanging from the bar with your, feet shoulder-width apart and your heels pressing into the floor. Pull yourself up so that your chest touches the bar, and then slowly lower yourself back down, keeping your body straight and rigid. Note: To make this more difficult, put your feet on a bench and raise the bar so it's waist level.
Complete 3 sets of 6-10 reps. Superset this with exercise #8: Single-Leg Bench Getup.
What it works: This is a multi-joint movement that improves lower-body balance and strength. It also improves core strength and stability. Only downside is you look like Frankenstein, but you’ll get over that.
How to do it: Sit on a bench with one foot planted at a 90-degree angle, and the other leg straight out, parallel to the floor. Extend your arms so they, too, are parallel to the floor, and engage your abs. Leaning forward slightly, stand up on your planted leg. "Hold your balance at the top of the motion, and slowly lower yourself back down to the bench without dropping hard or fast," Langowski says. Pause for one second so you don't use momentum going into the next rep.
Complete 3 sets of 6-10 reps on each leg. Superset this with exercise #7: Inverted Row.
What it works: This one appears simple and strange at the same time—mostly because you look like you’ve taken a nap in the midst of your pullups. “Not only will this pullup-to-deadhang exercise light up your lats and arms, but your abs will feel like they’re being ripped out of your stomach,” Langowski says. Sounds appealing, right?
How to do it: Situate yourself on a pullup bar, and complete half of your maximum number of pullups. At the top of your last pullup, simply hold yourself. Keep your body still, and slightly bring your knees into your chest. Hold this for 30 seconds. Then, slowly lower yourself to the ground.
Complete 3 sets of half your pullup max + 30-second holds. Superset this with exercise #10: Spiderman High Plank.
What it works: Though you’re doing a pushup, you’re getting a crunch out of this move, too. As you bring your knee to your elbow, it fires all the muscles in your core, as well as the muscles on that side of your body. When you load one side of your body, it puts extra work on your arms and chest. You'll look like Spiderman scaling a building as you make your way across the floor.
How to do it: Get into a traditional pushup position. As you lower your body toward the floor, swing your leg out sideways (keeping your knee bent), and touch your knee to your right elbow. Reverse the movement, and push your body back to the starting position. Repeat the motion on your right side, bringing your right knee to your right elbow. Continue to alternate back and forth.
Complete 3 sets of 10-20 reps on each side. Superset this with exercise #9: Pullup to Deadhang.