You strength train to get stronger, to improve your body composition, and to preserve muscle mass as you age. But you might also appreciate how the functional strength and power you develop through training improves other aspects of your life. Who doesn’t enjoy surprising themselves by being able to lift more than expected?
That’s the idea behind progressive overload, placing controlled amounts of stress on your body over time to force it to adapt. Yet, you can also challenge yourself by focusing some of your efforts on the hardest strength-training exercises and learning to do them with good form. What are some of the harder strength-training exercises you can tackle?
Hardest Strength-Training Exercises #1: Pull-Ups
Most people agree that pull-ups are the ultimate fitness challenge, especially for women. Why are pull-ups so difficult for women to do? Men have more upper body strength than women, giving them an advantage when it comes to doing this demanding exercise. Yet, even some men can’t eke out a single pull-up. It certainly speaks to how difficult this exercise is.
Why is the push-up so challenging? You’re lifting your entire body weight against gravity. Unlike overhead presses or bent-over rows where you can adjust the weight to match your strength, unassisted pull-ups are all-or-none. You can either move your body weight up to meet the bar or you can’t. Some gyms do have a pull-up assist machine that supports a portion of your weight, so you can work up to doing a full, unassisted pull-up.
Though pull-ups are challenging, there are ways to progress towards doing one. Start by hanging from a pull-up bar. Once you’ve mastered the bar hang, try lifting your body up toward the bar. Work on moving higher as you develop more strength. Also, doing compound exercises that work your upper body, like overhead presses, push-ups, and deadlifts, will help you develop the upper body strength you need to tackle a pull-up.
How many can you do? It’s commendable if you can do even a single pull-up. The female record for pull-ups is 48 consecutive pull-ups performed by Irina Rudometkina in 2014. Quite a feat for anyone – male or female!
Hardest Strength-Training Exercises #2: Deadlifts
Deadlifts are another difficult exercise and they’re more challenging for some people than others. The ideal body type for successful deadlifting is a short stature with long arms. Short people have a definite advantage when it comes to doing deadlifts.
Despite being a hard exercise that some people avoid, they’re one of the best functional exercises and one that works for multiple muscle groups. When you execute deadlifts with good form, you recruit muscles in your back, core, glutes, lower body, and even bring your upper body into the picture. Compound exercises, like deadlifts, are also superior for building functional strength. At the same time, compound moves burn more calories and boost metabolic rate more than isolation exercises. When you do them correctly, they also make you less prone toward injury.
Once you’ve mastered the conventional deadlift, tackle deadlift variations, like the sumo deadlift, Romanian deadlift, or the hex deadlift. All deadlift variations are effective for building strength and muscle size.
Hardest Strength-Training Exercises #2: Push-Ups
Push-ups can be relatively easy but also extremely challenging. The beauty of the push-up is that you can modify to make it as easy or challenging as you like. When you’re a beginner, push-ups on your knees, where you’re working against only 65% of your body weight might be hard enough. However, once you can do 20 or 30 push-ups on your toes, you need to make the move tougher. Try elevating your feet when you push up for a great challenging. This variation is more demanding but doesn’t come close to the challenges of a one-handed push-up.
Yes, there are even people who take it a step further and perform push-ups on two fingers. Now, that’s an advanced move! Another variation that demands more of your muscles and your cardiovascular system are clap push-ups. Push up, clap and bring your hands back down to the mat before repeating. Try this one on your knees first! This variation elevates your heart rate too.
Hardest Strength-Training Exercises #2: Burpees
Oh, the dreaded burpee. We love to hate them. Burpees are not a true strength exercise. They primarily build muscle endurance and stamina – and accomplish this task well. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, doing ten fast-paced burpees in a row is equivalent to a 30-second sprint – and they fire up your metabolism. Not to mention, burpees enhance balance and agility skills.
As with the other exercises, there are different levels of burpees. The easiest and most basic involves placing your hands on the floor, thrusting your legs behind you and jumping back to the starting position. But you can take burpees up a notch by adding a push-up when your hands hit the floor or jumping in the air after standing back up. For maximum impact, do both.
Once you’ve mastered basic burpees, box jump burpees. Rather than leaping into the air at the end of a burpee, jump onto a box instead. This variation is considerably more challenging and not one you should do unless you’ve mastered the basics and have been doing burpees for a while. If you’re feeling agile, try a 180-degree burpee. Do a standard burpee, but when you rise, do a 180-degree turn and repeat. Yet another variation is a tuck jump burpee. Substitute a tuck jump for a standard jump during the final phase of the burpee. Expect your heart rate to climb! In reality, there are at least 30 variations on burpees, so you’ll never run out of ways to do this challenging exercise.
The Bottom Line
Yes, these exercises are tough, but with challenge comes growth and change. Don’t squirm out of the hard stuff and stick only to exercises that you feel good doing. You’ll make more progress if you focus on more challenging exercises during at least some of your workouts. That’s what it’s all about – pushing yourself a little harder than you’re accustomed to.
RecordHolders.org. “World Records for Chin-Ups and Pull-Ups”
Men’s Health. “Why Burpees Are the Most Badass Exercise”
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