dreaded exercises

Be honest. There’s probably at least one exercise that makes you cringe and groan. You know the one that makes you want to quit your workout and run out of the gym as fast as possible. Some exercises like burpees or planks feel a little too much like punishment.

But hear us out. There’s some truth behind the saying what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Avoiding exercises because you hate doing them or they’re difficult might mean that you’re missing out on important strengthening or other benefits. It’s time to put these dreaded exercises back into your workout. Here’s why.

1. Burpees

Burpees are likely the most dreaded exercise on the planet. Between making you feel like you’re going to lose your lunch, to feeling like you can’t go on after only a handful of them, burpees have a distinct toughness that even athletes fear. 

But it may be time to end your burpee boycott. High intensity exercises like burpees improve your cardiovascular function, aerobic fitness, and blood sugar regulation. A recent study in PLOS One found that participants who did a total of 30 minutes of high intensity interval exercise each week improved their fitness and muscle function just as much as participants who did 150 minutes of steady, moderate intensity exercise each week.

“The burpee is definitely everyone’s most hated [exercise], but it’s so good,” said Beka Badila, a trainer in Los Angeles with a decade of experience. Despite her clients’ whining, Badila continues to incorporate burpees into her workouts because they are a great full body exercise that not only strengthens, but also raises heart rate and burns more calories than lower intensity exercises that work the same muscles.

Still not convinced? Vigorous exercise like burpees may decrease your risk of early death according to a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine.

2. Planks

Planks are fine for the first 10 seconds. But every millisecond after that seems to stretch on endlessly. Instead of skipping them or “modifying” (i.e. lying down) every time your trainer turns around, it’s time to get on board.

Planks are the one exercise that everyone should be doing according to Badila.

“They strengthen your entire core, and your core is the most important part of any move you do. If you are moving properly, you are going to engage your core,” said Badila. “[Planks] are so important and so good for you, but they are challenging.”

The mental challenge is extreme. There’s nothing to distract you from the fire in your abs or the shaking of your arms. But planks help train your core to do what it was designed for: To stabilize the body. PJ Nestler, a performance coach who has worked with athletes in the NFL, UFC, NHL, and MLB, recommends mixing it up and doing side planks, planks on a stability ball, and planks where you move your upper body in circles, rock back and forth, or go front and back to fully challenge the core and keep things interesting.

“Anything where you are challenging that plank position but you are still keeping your core stable is an excellent way to train your core,” said Nestler. “[Plank-based exercises] are going to help protect your spine, help give you better abdominals, and help everything look better, but also keep your spine safe and train your core the way it’s designed to function in performance, sports, and in life.”

3. Bulgarian Split Squats

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The booty burn from Bulgarian split squats can be intense! They can also feel awkward or be challenging to set up correctly if you aren’t used to doing them. But they are great for working your legs independently and targeting muscle imbalances.

It doesn’t take much to feel these because you are supporting your body weight on your one leg as you squat up and down. Nestler uses them to increase single leg strength, improve explosiveness, and help prevent injury.

“Bulgarian split squat is one of my favorite lower body injury prevention exercises because it develops strength and control on a single leg through a specific range of motion that’s very applicable to sports,” said Nestler.

4. Pushups

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Drop and give me 20! Pushups require a lot of core, arm, and chest strength to perform them properly. They target multiple muscles including:

  • pectorals
  • deltoids
  • triceps
  • abs
  • serratus anterior

“Ideally when you are in a pushup position your body is in a plank position so you are challenging your core the same way you do in just holding a plank,” said Badila. “But a lot of people, especially women, tend to not have such great upper body strength, so that’s probably one of the reasons why most women would like to avoid them.”

Luckily, even modified pushups are beneficial. Remember, the more you do push-ups, the stronger you’ll get.

5. Thrusters

Thrusters (squats to overhead press) can beat you down. Any CrossFitter can give you a few choice words about how they feel about thrusters.

Even trainers don’t like them. “It’s one of my least favorites to do,” said Badila. “I would rather do burpees over thrusters honestly, just because I just hate them, but they are so good for you.”

The dynamic movement has major benefits. Thrusters combine a squat and an overhead press to boost leg and arm strength while challenging the core. With all of those muscles working, your heart rate picks up and you’ll find yourself breathing hard in no time. Heavier weights put more emphasis on strength training, but lighter weights make this a great exercise to add into your next HIIT workout.

6. Running

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We all grew up running around, and yet somewhere along the way, many of us swore it off for good. But you don’t have to run a 5k or sign up for an ultra to get the benefits of running. Even short, leisurely running has been associated with a reduced risk of dying from heart disease. Running, regardless of how fast or how far, also won’t hurt your joints or increase your risk of osteoarthritis later in life according to a large study.

“Running is a foundational human movement pattern,” and Nestler. “Incorporating different types of running are just excellent functional exercises that will help you train muscles that you use every day and burn calories.”

If you absolutely can’t stand running, intervals might be for you. Badila recommends starting with one minute of running and two minutes of walking. Once that’s easy, slowly decrease the amount of rest and increase the time you spend running. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes total of running and walking.

Even if you enjoy running, mixing up your workout with interval training, sprinting, uphill running, and agility work can help change the demands you put on your body, burn more calories, and keep running fun, according to Nestler.

7. Squats

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Whether you do them using only your body weight for resistance or weighted, squats are key for leg strength. They move your hips and knees through their full range of motion and engage multiple muscle groups when done correctly. Yet everyone loves to skip them.

Squats are an important part of training, whether you are working toward a fitness goal, trying to lose weight, or are just trying to stay active. They challenge your muscles and help keep your legs strong and steady.

Bottom line

Instead of skipping leg day, shortening your workout, or half-heartedly doing your least favorite exercises, it’s time to go all out. We swear you’ll feel like a beast when you’re done. Those 100 burpees are no match for you!