Juggling a job, family, friends, and fitness can sometimes feel like a circus act, with quality time at the gym hard to come by.
To make the most of your precious muscle-building moments, you need to be as efficient as possible. The best way to do this? Kill two birds with one stone and perform exercises that work your muscles and your heart rate at the same time, suggests Sean De Wispelaere, master trainer at MBSC Thrive, and owner of Sean D. Thrive. You’ll reap the benefits of both strength-training and cardio at once, instead of focusing on each separately.
The following six powerhouse moves do just that—so put them to work the next time you need to churn out a killer workout in a hurry. Just start out with a few slow warmup reps before going all out: “A few slow reps to pattern the movement will help wake up your muscles to make the exercises more effective and keep you safe at the same time,” De Wispeleaere says.
Kettlebell Swing: “The kettlebell swing is king when it comes to building muscle and jacking up your heart rate at the same time,” says DeWispeleaere. The exercise hammers your hamstrings and glutes—some of the most metabolically-active muscles (meaning they torch the most calories when you work them) in them. But the kettlebell swing also demands serious work from your core and upper body, making it an effective total-body burner.
Place a kettlebell on the floor in front of you and stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Grip the handle tightly and lock your shoulders back and down. Swing the bell back between your legs. (Your forearms will make contact with your inner thighs and your hamstrings should feel like they’re stretched.) Once your hamstrings reach maximal stretch, snap your hips forward to shoot the kettlebell up to chest height. The kettlebell should feel like it’s floating at the top of the rep.
At the top of the swing, you should be in a vertical plank—arms out straight, core tight, legs clenched. Once you feel the bell start to fall back to the ground, swing it back between your legs to start the next rep.
Sled Push: This movement doesn’t have to be fast to be super effective. Slowly pushing a heavy sled is a great way to work your legs, core, upper body, and lungs, says De Wispelaere. “It’s like performing a walking plank,” he says. “You need to tense every muscle in your body to help propel the weight forward.” And even though you’re methodically marching forward, it feels like you just sprinted the 200 meter.
Grab the posts of a sled near the top. Lock your back and down, tense your arms, pull your chest up, and tighten your abs as if you’re about to be punched in the stomach. Step forward by driving your knee to your chest and sharply stomping into the ground with the ball of your foot landing first to push. Repeat and walk the sled 10-30 meters.
Plyo Pushups: The pushup is a staple in any workout routine because it’s great for hitting your upper-body and core-stabilizing muscles, says De Wispelaere. Dialing up the intensity by making it faster and more explosive will not only test your strength, but also leave you breathless.
Get into a plank position, with your hands directly under your shoulders, your heels together, and your abs tight. Bend at the elbows, (keeping them tucked) and lower your chest to the ground. Once your elbows are at a 90-degree angle, quickly push away from the ground so your hands jump off the floor. Land with your hands directly under your shoulders and repeat.
If you can’t make your hands leave the floor just yet—or if the impact bothers your wrists—you can get a similar effect by powering through fast-paced pushups with your palms firmly planted.
Push Press: If you’re looking to build boulder shoulders, the push press will help you load up the pounds. Since you’re using some lower-body strength to heave the dumbbells overhead, you can use heavier weights than you’re typically used to, according to De Wispelaere. After pumping out a few fast-paced reps of this exercise, you’ll be panting.
Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at shoulder level. Bend you knees a few degrees to get in the loaded position. Pop up by pushing through your legs, clenching your glutes, and driving through your heels. At the same time, use your shoulder muscles to punch the dumbbells up to the ceiling until your elbows are fully extended. In a controlled manner, lower the dumbbells back to your shoulders. Repeat.
Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat Jumps: Single-leg exercises are critical for building well-rounded strength. “When you only perform bilateral—or two-sided—exercises you can end up with strength imbalances that affect your performance and can potentially lead to injury,” says De Wispelaere. That’s why one of his favorite exercises is the rear-foot-elevated split squat (also known as the Bulgarian split squat). “It takes one leg almost completely out of the equation so you’re forced to rely on the muscles in one side of your body,” he says. Plus, adding a jump to the movement will send your heart-rate soaring.
Find a bench or box that’s about knee height and stand about a foot in front of it with your back to it. Reach back with your left leg and rest the top of your left foot on the box or bench. In a controlled manner, lower yourself until your right knee is bent at a 90-degree angle. Pause, and then explode up, jumping your right foot off of the floor. Pause to reset if needed and then repeat. Perform the same number of reps on your left side as you do on your right.
Jump Squats: These are a doozy no matter how fit you are. Jump squats hammer the large muscles in your lower body to jack up your heart rate and rev your metabolism. If you want to make them even more potent, try performing them after a set of slower weighted goblet squats, suggests De Wispelaere.
This activates what’s called post-activation potentiation (PAP). By doing the weighted version of the movement, you stimulate your muscle fibers and nervous system, so when it comes time to drop the weight for explosive reps, you recruit more of the muscle to do the work, resulting in a bigger burn for your buck and better performance, according to De Wispelaere.
Grab a moderate-to-heavy kettlebell. Hold it at chest level by gripping either side of the handle. Perform weighted squats by bending at the knees and lowering your backside as though you’re about to sit into a chair until your knees form just below a 90-degree angle. Pause, then extend your knees to return to standing. Do five to 10 reps before dropping the weight an adding an explosive jump on your way up for another five to 10 reps.