11 exercises personal trainers swear by to get in shape fast — and 3 they’d never recommend

Tom Holland performs a bodyweight bicycle crunch.

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Tom Holland performs a bodyweight bicycle crunch.
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Tom Holland

  • Getting in shape takes time and dedication, but focusing on certain exercises can help build strength and agility in all parts of your body.
  • Functional exercises, or exercises that combine various muscle groups, can support daily movements and make anything from walking to running to lifting your child easier.
  • The key is performing exercises slowly at first, and then working your way up to more intense and challenging movements.
  • Here are 11 exercises personal trainers suggest for getting in shape fast, plus some exercises they think aren’t worth the hype.

When you’re out of shape, it can feel like a major challenge to get back into your workout routine or even start a regimen for the first time. But if you focus on key movements that strengthen your entire body, getting fit can be a rewarding experience.

The key is to focus on functional exercises, or movements that work various muscle groups all at once, according to celebrity personal trainer Kira Stokes. “Connecting mind to body is important for every movement we do,” she told INSIDER.

To get a better idea of which exercises can help create that mind-body connection and get your body in shape, we asked five trainers to share the exercises they love, plus the moves they suggest you skip.


Noam Tamir, the founder and owner of TS Fitness, said that renegade rows are great for strengthening the core and can be easily adjusted depending on your personal fitness level.

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Tamir said all exercises and daily activities require core strength and stability.
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Mike Higgins/Noam Tamir

The core, or the muscles around your pelvis, are necessary for everyday movement and function, Tamir said.

“We always do things that require the core, even open a door, hold your kids, or trip on the street. All exercises require core strength,” he told INSIDER.

To build that core strength, Tamir recommended a renegade row, an exercise that combines a plank and a rowing movement.


Tamir also recommended a kettlebell swing because it’s what he calls a “skilled movement,” or an exercise that someone can always improve upon, no matter their fitness level.

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Kettlebells swings build strength and coordination.
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Will Suarez/Noam Tamir

“With kettlebell swings, you can move around and do so many different variations,” Tamir said.

The key is getting the form right, so if you’re new to kettlebell swings, start with the basic movement, watch instructional videos, or get a trainer to teach you how to perform the exercise. Tamir said mastering a plank will also help you get down the form for kettlebell swings, since they both involve holding the core tight.

Kettlebell swings will strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles.

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The overhead press targets the shoulders and triceps.

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Holland said he likes to put exercises together for a quick yet intense workout.
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Tom Holland

Tom Holland, a personal trainer, suggested combining cardio, core, upper body, and lower body exercises to create a simple yet effective circuit- starting with the overhead press.


To strengthen the lower body, Holland suggested squats, which tone the butt, thighs, and hamstrings.

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Combine some squats with 30 seconds of jumping jacks and 30-second plank for a full-body circuit.
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Tom Holland

A squat is a simple move that requires zero equipment. Holland said changing the positioning of your feet (turning your toes in or out, or moving them closer together or farther apart) in a squat can also add variety to the movement and target different muscle groups.


Holland likes the bodyweight bicycle crunch to strengthen the core and work on coordination.

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Keep your core muscles tight during bicycle crunches.
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Tom Holland

Bicycle crunches target the abdominal muscles including the obliques, which are the side ab muscles, and help to make the core stronger.

Read more: The 5 deadliest habits to avoid as you get older


Skaters help with daily balance and movement.

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Skaters can get your heart pumping and help with coordination.
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Tom Holland

Holland said doing functional moves, like a skater, can help you move through your day-to-day life with more ease, since these exercises focus on balance and mind-body coordination.

In addition to a circuit, where exercises are completed one after another, Holland said he likes to put exercises together into one bigger exercise.

“I like to combine upper and lower body [exercises] to compound moves and use as many muscle groups as possible,” Holland said. For example, you can lower yourself into a squat while holding dumbbells. When you rise back to standing, do a shoulder press with the dumbbells and repeat.


Pliés are great for your thighs, butt and core, especially when you add small pulsing movements to the exercise.

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A plié releve resembles a squat.
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Andrea Rogers

Andrea Rogers, the founder of Xtend Barre, recommended barre-inspired exercises because they help tone the muscles without putting too much pressure on the joints. One of those exercises is called a plié releve.

To intensify the exercise, increase tempo of the plié into the releve and add small jumps as you extend legs and lift heels off the floor, landing softly through the feet with knees bent.


Dead lifts can strengthening the butt, hamstrings, and core.

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If you’re a beginner, McClain suggested first trying the exercises with bodyweight and no added barbell.
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Anthony McClain

Soulcycle Master Instructor Anthony McClain suggested first trying the exercises with bodyweight and no added barbell if you’re a beginner.

“You can do 10 reps and focus on the individual elements of the exercise,” he said. “Before doing these, have a firm understanding of how your body moves and how everything is connected.”

He also stressed the importance of keeping the core muscles tight throughout the dead lift and positioning your spine so it is neutral as you lift weight off the ground.


Kira Stokes, personal trainer to Ashley Graham and other celebrities, said the key to a great exercise is getting the form down. For this reason, she suggested a basic plank. Rogers also recommended a plank.

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Stokes likes planks because there are so many variations a person can do.
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Kira Stokes

“Your core is the powerhouse of your body and all movement stems from there, so without that initial strength you won’t be able to even stand correctly or move efficiently,” Stokes said.

She said she likes planks because there are so many variations, but stressed that mastering a classic plank is essential. “They’re not fancy or exciting, but you have to think inside the box before you think outside of it. If you don’t think its challenging, you’re not doing it correctly,” Stokes said.

Rogers suggested a barre-inspired variation called the passé plank. Increasing the tempo during passé planks can increase the intensity of the exercise. Rogers suggested doing 8 reps at a slow pace and then 8 reps at a faster pace for each leg.

Read more: Margot Robbie’s personal trainer thinks breakfast is overrated, and he says there are 2 clear benefits to fasting in the morning


There are endless variations of push-ups to try.

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“It’s a beautiful move and it feels so good, especially for people who have trouble with an actual push-up.”
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Kira Stokes

Stokes suggested what she calls the “crouching tiger push-up,” because it’s easier than a classic push-up and can be therapeutic for the spine.

“It’s a beautiful move and it feels so good, especially for people who have trouble with an actual push-up,” Stokes said.

Try doing crouching tiger push-ups after an exercise that puts pressure on the lower back, like a dead lift, since it takes pressure off that area.

Read more: 3 truths about lifelong fitness that personal trainers will never tell you


Bridges, like the one-legged bridge, are essential for creating hip mobility and firing up the butt muscles.

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Like with planks, it’s important to squeeze your butt muscles during a bridge.
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Kira Stokes

Single-leg bridges will ensure you’re working out both sides of the body equally, according to Stokes, since people often distribute more weight into their stronger side during exercises that work out both sides at once.


Rogers said that basic crunches are ineffective for creating a strong core.

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Planks are better than crunches for working out the core muscles, Rogers said.
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Undrey/Shutterstock

“Crunches are often executed with little emphasis on form and do not recruit total core engagement,” Rogers said.

Instead, she said the best ab exercises are ones that use the entirety of the core, including the lower back muscles – like a plank.


Burpees are difficult to master, and beginners should steer clear to avoid potential injury.

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If done incorrectly, burpees can put unwanted stress on the lower spine.
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Mihai Blanaru/Shutterstock

“You can do a [hip] thruster and then a push-up [right after] instead of a burpee so you don’t put as much pressure on the shoulders and rotator cuffs,” Tamir said.

He said that burpees aren’t a complete no-no, but too many people do them at the end of an intense workout, when they’re already fatigued and can easily mess up the form. If you’re unable to keep your back in a tight plank-like position during burpees, it’s best to skip them or try the alternative recommended above.


Although Stokes believes there is no “bad” exercise, she said that incorrect form during any exercise can lead to unwanted injury.

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Stokes doesn’t believe any exercise is a bad one, but bad form can ruin even the most helpful of exercises.
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Undrey/Shutterstock

“I always see people planking incorrectly, sticking their butt out and up and arching their backs,” Stokes said.

Additionally, certain weight machines, like the thigh machine, are unnecessary unless you have an injury and it’s the only way you can work out, according to Stokes. “Functional workouts are better,” she said.