Shape Up with 10 Tough Weight Training Exercises

Challenging Lifts to Get You Working Hard

Man doing the snatch in garage
Doing the snatch. Getty Images, Collection Mix

You can make strength training demanding and exhausting by manipulating the weight lifted and the number of repetitions or sets, or by decreasing the resting time between sets and even exercises. "Work done" is the ultimate test of energy expenditure and, for the most part, good results.

However, certain gym exercises have their own inherent challenge, and this is not always related exclusively to weight or volume of lifts.

Some exercises are technically difficult, and you need to get the technique right for maximum expression -- and safety -- and they don't all include lifting weights.

Here are 10 challenging resistance exercises. Ask a qualified trainer to supervise your form if you need to. Some of these exercises are probably best tackled after at least a few months' gym work with free weights to build some muscle and joint integrity.

1. Good Mornings

Good mornings work the hamstrings a little differently from standard hamstring exercises like leg curls and glute-ham raises. They are well worth the effort to include in a general program. You get some good work on the abs as well.

2. One-Legged Squat (Pistol)

Squats on one leg are challenging, and have been used in a range of sports for leg strength and balance based on the debatable functional premise that we only ever run, cycle or do just about anything using one leg at a time.

One-legged squats are good for balance and are worth doing for variety at least. Add weights like barbells or dumbbells to increase the difficulty.

3. Hang Power Clean, Push Press

This is a training variation of the clean and jerk to some extent. The exercise is a great metabolic training, full-body exercise that works dozens of muscles and ramps up energy expenditure.

Hang the dumbbells or barbell in front, dip at the knees but don't squat right down like you would in a full clean (that's the power part), raise the weight to the chest and continue on and push overhead before returning to the hang position. (You can vary this by lifting from the floor, or by going down lower to ground in the squat phase.)

4. Clean and Jerk

The clean and jerk is an Olympic lift,but you can do it and various training variations with a little help from a good instructor on correct form. Start light, of course, and work up.

5. The Snatch

Also a standard Olympic lift, the snatch is probably even more challenging than the clean and jerk to get right. You need lots of practice with light weights (and no weight) to perfect your form.

6. Chinups and Pullups

Chin a bar by pulling yourself up to chin height or a little less. This works mainly the back muscles, and the arm muscles like the biceps to a lesser extent. Pullups are difficult for many novice strength trainers to do well. Persistence is the key.

7. Weighted Dips

Dips can be done just about anywhere you have a stable or fixed bench or chair. Face away from the bench and lift yourself up with your hands pushing up from the bench, feet extended across the floor. You can also use an assisted dip frame at the gym, which usually has an assisted pad that can help you get some movement upward. The most challenging approach is doing unassisted dips with extra weight. You can use a weight belt to hang a plate, or even grasp a dumbbell between clenched knees or ankles. Take care with this one.

8. Wheel Rollouts for Abs

Abdominal strengthening exercises with the rollout wheel can be as challenging as you like. Do them with knees on the ground or raise up on the toes and give the abs the full workover.

9. Sumo Deadlift

The Sumo Deadlift is a good exercise for strengthening the back, especially the erector spinae along the spine. As always, watch your form and keep the back straight.

10. Box March - High

First up, make sure the box you use is stable -- against a wall if you prefer. High box marches are a plyometric exercise you can do in the gym. They're not easy and will test your cardiovascular, anaerobic capacity, but they're well worth the effort, especially if you're a runner. This is a good hip extension exercise.

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