Trainers spend hours every day helping other people work toward their fitness goals. And while it’s cool to learn what they typically recommend for their clients, I think it’s more interesting to find out what the experts do during their own workouts. Think about it: Trainers know all the exercise options out there, so the ones they actually choose to do on their own time must stand out to them for a reason.
After talking with many trainers, it’s pretty clear that most gravitate toward compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. They’re simply more efficient—and who doesn’t want to get more done in less time? Sure, trainers also do isolation exercises like bicep curls and dumbbell flyes to target individual muscle groups that they want to strengthen. But overall, compound exercises tend to take up the majority of time in their routines.
Of course, I should acknowledge that trainers are often strong and fit and work out very often. Exercising is part of their job, after all. So some of the things they do every single time they work out may look a little more advanced than what you and I would or could do on the reg. But I think most people will be surprised to know that many times, trainers pick pretty straightforward exercises to do themselves. There’s a reason for that—the basics work, and complicated moves aren’t always better. Sure, you’ll notice that some trainers like to throw more complex moves into their workouts to mix things up, but many of their go-tos are standard exercises you’ve probably seen before.
Below, check out 8 exercises top trainers do every time they work out. Most are compound movements, but there a few cardio and mobility-focused moves sprinkled in, too, for good measure. Some of these picks have multiple fans singing their praises—that’s how you know adding them to your routine is a great idea. Modeling the exercises is Alyssa Marsh, a senior club manager at Blink Fitness, Flywheel Sports instructor, and USA Boxing amateur fighter based in Philadelphia.
“I love burpees, in a ‘love-to-hate-them’ kind of way. They’re a great heart-rate raiser and they hit so many muscles and different parts of your body. You work your lower body as you squat down and jump up, your core as you hit the floor, and the shoulders when you’re in that plank position. You can also modify them or add to them to change it up. If you want to take out the impact, step your legs back instead of jumping, or if you want to make it more challenging, you could add light dumbbells or a push-up.”
—Emily Jacques, Burn 60 master trainer
“I know most people don’t agree with me, but I love burpees. They are easy for me. They require no equipment and it’s the hardest I can work my entire body in the shortest amount of time.”
—Holly Rilinger, Nike master trainer and author of Lifted: 28 Days to Focus Your Mind, Strengthen Your Body, and Elevate Your Spirit
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, core and glutes engaged.
- Bend your knees and reach forward to place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart.
- Kick your legs straight out behind you and immediately lower your entire body down to the ground, bending at the elbows, so that your chest touches the floor.
- Use your arms to quickly push your body back up while hopping your legs back under your body.
- Explode up, jumping vertically with arms stretched overhead. Land lightly on the balls of your feet with your knees slightly bent, and immediately repeat.
2. Banded Glute Bridge
“As a runner, I’m always trying to do things to get my glutes activated and keep my lower back protected against injury. Doing glute bridges with a band is great for that. They target the glute medius, an important muscle on the side of your butt that helps stabilize your body when you walk and run.”
—Kira Stokes, celebrity trainer and creator of the Stoked Method
“Every time I work out I do glute activation exercises with a band. I travel with a resistance band in my bag. I will step into the band and bring it right up above my knees and do different variations of glute activation exercises, like crab walks, bridges with open and closing of the knees at the top of the bridge, Romanian deadlift to hops.”
—Astrid Swan, celebrity trainer in Los Angeles
How to do it:
- Lie on your back with your hands at your sides, knees bent, and feet flat on floor hip-width apart. Loop a medium-strength resistance band around your thighs, just above your knees.
- Squeeze your glutes and abs and push through your heels to lift your hips a few inches off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Hold this position. Press your legs out and back 10 times, maintaining tension in the band as you pulse in and out.
- Slowly lower your hips to return to the starting position.
To mix it up, try adding a few full bridges (lifting the hips up and then lowering them back down) in between each set of pulses, Stokes recommends.
3. Side Lunges
“Side lunges are my favorite exercise, period. I do them before cardio (running or cycling) or I’ll add them to any workout. They work the glutes and inner thighs, and you can add weight on days you want to increase intensity.”
—Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., creator of Le Sweat and master instructor at SoulCycle
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet together. Take a big step out to the right with your right foot and bend your right knee, pushing your hips back to lower into a side lunge.
- Keep your left leg straight and your chest lifted. Make sure your right knee stays over your toes and doesn’t push beyond them.
- Push through your right foot to return to standing, and then repeat on the opposite side.
4. Reverse Lunge to Overhead Press With Knee Drive
“This exercise is great because it gives a great bang for your buck and targets the glutes, quads, and core while you are in the split stance, the core during and knee drive, and the shoulder during the press.”
—Louise Green, plus-size trainer, athlete, author of the book Big Fit Girl, and SELF columnist
How to do it:
- Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and rest it on your shoulder.
- Step back (about 2 feet) with your right foot, landing on the ball of your right foot and keeping your heel off the ground.
- Bend both knees to create two 90-degree angles with your legs.
- In this position, your shoulders should be directly above your hips and your chest should be upright. Your left shin should be perpendicular to the floor and your left knee should be stacked above your left ankle. Your butt and core should be engaged.
- Push through the heel of your left foot to stand up straight. As you do, press the weight directly overhead and drive your right knee in toward your chest. This is 1 rep.
- Hold for a beat, and then step back into a reverse lunge to immediately go into the next rep.
5. Crouching Tiger Push-up
How to do it:
- Start in high plank, with your palms flat on the floor, hands shoulder-width apart (or wider if that’s how you usually do push-ups), shoulders stacked above your wrists, legs extended, and core engaged.
- Bend your elbows and lower your chest toward the floor. Keep your body low, bend your knees, shift your hips back toward your heels, and straighten your arms. Your knees should be hovering a few inches off the floor.
- Lift your hips toward the ceiling and straighten your legs. You should now be in Downward Facing Dog.
- Slowly roll your body forward back to high plank.
“Every time I work out I do some sort of squat. Whether it be a bottoms up squat as part of a warm-up for a run, or I have a barbell on my back or kettlebell in my hand, squatting is number one. Squats target your legs, quads, glutes, and hamstrings, but also work on your core and overall body positioning and awareness. I love a squat because it is so primal and functional—babies sit in squats to relax, and our bodies naturally want to move in that pattern.”
—Alex Silver-Fagan, Nike master trainer, certified yoga instructor, and certified functional strength coach
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, gripping the sides of the kettlebell handle with both hands at chest height.
- Bend your knees and push your butt back as you lower into a squat. Only squat as deeply as your mobility allows.
- Push through your heels to return to standing. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
7. Offset Load Bulgarian Split Squat
“The Bulgarian split squat is a terrific way to build single-leg strength and to strengthen and target your legs, glutes, and core. When done correctly, it can also improve hip mobility. I love that I see results in strength quickly by adding this exercise without having to do a lot of reps or go super heavy. The offset load forces the core muscles to work extra hard to keep your body stable.”
—Idalis Velazquez, Beachbody trainer
How to do it:
- Stand with your back to a bench or similar elevated surface. With your left foot on the floor a few feet in front of the bench, place the top of your right foot on the bench, shoelaces down. Hold a dumbbell in your left hand by your side.
- Brace your core and bend your knees to lower down into a split squat. Your left knee should ideally form a 90-degree angle so that your thigh is parallel to the ground, and your right knee is hovering above the floor. (Quick position check: your left foot should be stepped out far enough that you can do this without letting your left knee go past your left toes—if you can’t, hop your left foot out a bit farther away from the bench.)
- Driving through your left heel, stand back up to starting position.
8. Jumping Rope
“The one exercise I always like to do when I work out is jumping rope, especially on strength days to elevate my heart rate in between circuits. As you jump, keep your elbows close to your body, core engaged, and knees soft.”
—Juan Hidalgo, certified trainer and group fitness instructor in Los Angeles
“I use my jump rope literally every single time I work out. It gets me in the right head space. Between a little Nelly radio on Pandora and my jump rope, my body is ready to go play! If you keep your core tight, squeeze your butt, and engage your shoulders, you’ll get a full-body workout (while also getting your heart pumping). I love the feeling I get after a good jump rope session or even after just a short warm-up. It leaves me feeling energized. I love that you can go fast or slow. You can keep your arms straight or cross them. You can jump the rope or skip it. There are tons of variations that keep it fun and interesting.”
—Erin Oprea, celebrity trainer and author
How to do it:
- Stand tall, with your back straight and core engaged. Hold one handle in each hand.
- Keep your elbows at waist height as you swing the rope forward.
- Jump as you hear the rope strike the ground in front of you.
- Move at a speed that works for you—the faster you go, the more intense it will feel.