It's easy to love exercises that give results fast. Do a couple of sets of bicep curls regularly, and seemingly overnight the muscles in front of the upper arm pop.
Thighs and backsides are another matter. When the prescription is tough exercises like squats or lunges, the groan quotient goes ballistic, trainers say.
Many people hate squats and lunges because they require concentration and patience. Plus, squats work the leg muscles, the biggest muscle group of the body and one of the most difficult to train, particularly for women.
But exercisers trudge through these tough workouts because they get results.
How each person defines "tough" depends on his or her fitness level, flexibility, age and experience, says Tony Figueroa, personal training director of Gorilla Sports Chicago.
But even with all the variables, we asked Figueroa and other fitness professionals to name the five toughest, yet most effective, exercises. Here's what they said: squats, lunges, push-ups, V-ups and pull-ups.
Lunges target the buttocks, hamstrings and quads (top of the thighs). The rewards include more strength, definition and firmness in the upper legs. Lunges can be performed in stationary (also known as one-legged squats) or walking positions.
"The difficulty [with lunges] is maintaining balance while controlling the up and down movements, and moving forward [in walking lunges]," says CC Cunningham, president of Performenhance, a training company for competitive athletes in Evanston, Ill.
Resistance can be added with dumbbells or a barbell. Proper technique is important to avoid injury.
For a stationary lunge: Stand with legs shoulder-width apart, knees soft. Take a step about 1.5 times your normal stride forward. Keep the upper body over torso; bend the back leg, bringing knee toward the ground. Look forward; keep your chin up.
2. PULL-UPS / CHIN-UPS
This exercise targets the front chest, back, shoulders and biceps. It requires an advanced level of strength, especially in the shoulder area.
"It is difficult for most people to push or pull their body weight," says Derhyl Randle, a personal trainer.
Pull-ups can be done from a standing position or with a machine. When the grip is palms-up (supinated), it's called a chin-up and targets the biceps. When the grip is palms-away (pronated), it hits the forearm and upper-back muscles.
The movement requires the exerciser to use body weight as resistance. Randle recommends beginners use a machine (such as a Gravitron) or help from a workout partner. Either way, you reduce the amount of body weight you are lifting and decrease the difficulty. He says that by using good form and the correct amount of resistance, pull-ups can actually be fun.
"It gives the biceps a good pump," he says.
Clients groan the loudest when Randle calls for V-ups (also called V-sit or vertical leg crunches).
"People don't realize you can't have strong abs without a strong back. This exercise works both. But it's really tough," he says.
V-ups involve lying flat on the floor with the lower back pressed to the ground and legs lifted toward the ceiling. Abdominal muscles are contracted to lift the head and shoulders slightly off the ground toward the ceiling. The arms reach for the toes. The body forms a V.
"Most beginners can do one or two. It requires great strength, balance and flexibility," Randle says.
The rewards of doing squats include developing a stronger back, abs and hamstrings as well as firmer thighs, quads and buttocks. Moving the largest muscle group takes effort and plenty of oxygen. To get results and prevent injury, squats require proper form.
"People want to take shortcuts," says Randle, "but you can't with squats."
Beginners especially have a tough time with squats. "They get winded because the heart beats faster, and they don't like that feeling," says trainer Cornell Walker.
When performing a squat, keep the chin up to maintain good form. Feet should be shoulder-width apart. Make sure to use the right amount of weight for your fitness level. If you are uncertain about how much weight to use, or about proper technique, consult a trainer.
This exercise is a gem because it hits several muscle groups at once: shoulder and chest, triceps, biceps, back and abs. Body weight is used as resistance, which requires a strong back and abs. Difficulty, the trainers say, comes from maintaining balance and keeping the back straight.
There are various ways to do push-ups. The key is to complete the movement slowly, with abdominal muscles contracted to stabilize the neutral alignment of the body. Keep hands shoulder-width apart; shoulder blades should be slightly retracted or pinched together.
From a kneeling position, or facing the floor with straight legs, begin by pressing the body to a near straight-armed position (do not lock elbows), then slowly lower the body and graze the floor. It requires balance to keep the body straight.
KEEP ON PUSHING
For more information about exercise and strength training, try these online sites:
* American College of Sports Medicine: www.acsm.org
* American Council on Exercise: www.acefitness.org
* Health Magazine: www.health.com
* Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research: www.cooperinst.org
* National Strength and Conditioning Association: www.nsca-lift.org