Using one muscle or body part for a resistance exercise places all of the force of that exercise into that specific section of muscle. The muscle, in turn, responds by becoming larger. However, many people want to achieve definition without increasing the size of their muscles. If this describes your fitness goals, the following exercise swaps, which focus on integrated movements using a number of muscles at the same time, could help you revitalize your fitness routine by helping you increase definition without adding too much size to your muscles. It’s also a great way to shake up a fitness routine that has gone stale.
Perform these exercises one at a time in a traditional manner or put together into a circuit to make it a little more challenging. If you’re going the traditional route, do two to three sets and rest for at least 30 to 60 seconds between each set. If you’re going to make this a circuit, allow minimal rest between exercises, but rest for two minutes at the end of each set and try to complete three circuits. This program will leave you feeling refreshed and recharged in no time.
Old Isolation Exercise: Leg Press
A leg press can force most of the stress from the exercise into the quadriceps, leading to an appearance of larger thighs. If you want to have a look of balanced strength between the front and back of your legs, step away from the leg press and try goblet squats instead.
New Integrated Movement: Goblet Squat
Hold a dumbbell in a vertical position in front of your chest (so the palms are under the top section of the dumbbell). Keep your elbows close to your body as you sink your hips back and lower yourself toward the floor while keeping a straight spine. Go to a comfortable depth and then push your feet into the floor to return to standing. Select a weight that allows you to complete eight to 12 reps.
Old Isolation Exercise: Chest Press
The chest press can place a lot of stress on the shoulders due to the fact that having a bench under your shoulder blades can limit your range of motion. If you regularly do the chest press and have experienced any type of shoulder discomfort, it’s time to try a body-weight exercise that allows your shoulders to move through a complete range of motion.
New Integrated Movement: Push-up to Rotation
This move allows you to strengthen all of the muscles around the shoulder joints without having a bench restrict any motion. Begin in a high-plank position, with your hands a little wider than shoulder-width and feet about hip-width apart. Lower into a push-up and press back up. Press your left hand into the floor, raise your right hand off the floor and turn your feet, hips and shoulders so that you’re reaching for the ceiling with your right hand. Rotate back, lower yourself into another push-up and alternate sides; complete four to six reps on each side.
Old Isolation Exercise: Lat Pulldown
This traditional exercise can help you develop upper-back strength, but sitting on a bench limits the contribution from the muscles that stabilize your spine and help control motion at your pelvis.
New Integrated Movement: Chin-up or Superband Assisted Chin-up
Chin-ups are a great way to strengthen your back, shoulders and arms, while also help engage the muscles responsible for creating core stability. If you don’t have the strength to do body-weight chin-ups (yet!), you can use a superband to help support your body weight until you develop the ability to crank them out on your own.
Old Isolation Exercise: Shoulder Presses With Elbows to the Side
The traditional way to do shoulder presses involves keeping your elbows out to your sides at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions. This can cause discomfort by impinging the long head of the biceps and the supraspinatus muscles under the acromion process (the arch on the shoulder blade).
New Integrated Movement: One-arm Dumbbell Press
While this exercise focuses primarily on the shoulder, you actually use your whole body to help support the joints and move the weight. Start in a wide stance with your right foot slightly forward and a dumbbell in your right hand. Keep your elbow close to your rib cage to start. Push both feet into the floor to shift forward as you press your right arm straight overhead. At the top of the move, your palm should be facing the midline of your body. As you lower the weight, think about pulling your elbow back down close to your body. Complete six to eight reps and switch arms.
Old Isolation Exercise: Leg Extension and Leg Curl
These traditional exercise machines have you sitting and/or lying down to exercise muscles that you use when you’re moving on your feet. While these machines can strengthen the muscles, the torque on your joints can cause discomfort. It always make more sense to use the muscles the way they’re designed to work; in this case, in an upright, standing position.
New Integrated Movement: Reverse to Forward Lunge
If you want to shape great legs, do an exercise that uses all of the muscles in one movement. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step backward with your right foot to create flexion in your left hip. Lower yourself until your knee is almost on the ground. Press your left foot into the floor to pull yourself forward as you step forward with your right leg into a traditional lunge. Perform eight to 10 reps before alternating legs.
Old Isolation Exercise: Seated Inner and Outer Thigh Machines
These are some of the most used machines in a gym, but here’s a little secret: They don’t use the muscles that give your thighs the sleek, toned look most people are after.
New Integrated Movement: Lateral to Reverse Crossover Lunge
Moving laterally (to the side) in both directions engages and activates ALL of the muscles in your hips and thighs. Start with your feet hip-width apart. With your right foot, step directly to your right to sink into a lateral lunge. Push off with your right foot and step behind your left hip to sink back into a reverse crossover lunge. Push your left foot into the ground to return to standing. Complete six to eight on the right leg before switching legs.
Old Isolation Exercise: Elliptical Trainer
While the elliptical runner can help you burn calorie, it doesn’t take advantage of the strength-training benefits that come from having to overcome the constant force of gravity. And let’s face it, even if you watch a little television or listen to your favorite playlist for distraction moving in the same place for a period of time becomes, well, boring.
New Integrated Movement: Hiking
Getting outside for exercise can be a nice break when your fitness routine is getting a little stale. You don’t have to be a wilderness adventurer to get the health benefits from a nice hike. You don’t even need to go to the wilderness—simply looking for a nice, long route around the city can provide a fun urban hike. Choose a route that will allow you to walk with as few interruptions as possible for 45 to 60 minutes. If it’s cold, dress in layers of moisture-wicking fabric. The longer you walk, the more you’ll sweat, but once you start cooling down you’ll want to pile the layers back on to stay nice and cozy.