5 Exercises That Are Way More Effective Than You Think

If you think you need to run five miles a day and grab a heavy pair of dumbbells to reap the benefits of exercise, think again. Whether you’re training for a half marathon or just trying to stay active, there are plenty of simple, effective exercises you may overlook. Some of these easy moves require little to no extra equipment other than your own body and are great for improving your cardiovascular health. There’s no need to put extra stress on your joints and push your muscles to their limit to get a great sweat session, so here are five exercises that are more effective than you think.

1. Walking

Walking is an effective exercise

Of all the effective exercises out there, walking is probably the easiest. | iStock.com

You do it everyday without thinking about it — whether you’re walking around your house, on a hiking trail, or strolling around your office building, walking has numerous benefits that help your heart. Mayo Clinic explains that a brisk walk can help with weight management, prevent heart disease and diabetes, strengthen your leg and core muscles, and keep the endorphins flowing in your brain to boost your mood.

The faster and farther you walk, the more your body will thank you, and proper walking technique is also important. When you walk briskly, you should make sure you’re looking forward with your head up, and your neck and shoulders should feel relaxed. Swinging your arms lightly with a slight bend in your elbow is fine, and to work those stomach muscles, engage your core by tightening the core muscles, keeping your back straight as you walk. Proper footwear is also important — you want to protect your knees and hips, which you can do with sneakers that support your feet.

2. Jumping rope

Jumping rope is an effective exercise

Jumping rope is a real challenge. | iStock.com

The beauty of jumping rope is that you can buy your own high-quality rope for less than $20, and you can perform this exercise pretty much anywhere. WebMD explains after just 15 to 20 minutes of jumping rope, you’ll improve your cardiovascular fitness, tone your leg muscles, and burn a ton of calories — more calories than you’d burn jogging for the same amount of time.

Though jumping rope does put more stress on your knees, ankles, and hips than walking does, this exercise is still low-impact compared to running. Make sure to land on the balls of your feet after each small jump to minimize the impact to your joints, with your elbows near your sides and your wrists doing most of the work to turn the rope. You can vary your jump rope routine up by crossing the rope, trying to jump over two consecutive turns of the rope, or by jogging in place over the rope to give your heart rate a boost.

3. Push-ups

fit woman doing push-ups on the floor

Push-ups are a go-to for a reason. | iStock.com/undrey

There are few exercises as effective for the chest and back as the humble push-up, and it may be even better for your body than you originally thought. You can do this exercise in your office or in the gym, and you’ll be feeling the workout in your chest, back, shoulders, and triceps, and core muscles immediately. According to 9Coach, the push-up is one of the best exercises for guys wanting to build up their chests or for women who want to tone their upper arms.

Starting with five to 10 reps per set is good for those just beginning a routine that involves push-ups, and you can add five reps to your sets as you advance. For an even bigger challenge, try keeping your hands closer together during your push-up or elevate one leg to target your core.

4. Climbing the stairs

Professional man walking up the stairs in a suit

Climbing up the stairs is great cardio exercise. | Thinkstock

Taking the stairs and ditching the elevator is one of the best lifestyle improvements you can make — and it’s easy to do, too. Climbing stairs elevates the heart rate, which improves cardiovascular health and protects against high blood pressure and clogged arteries, explains StepJockey. This simple move improves strength in the muscles and bones, and it can help in weight management, as it burns more calories than walking on a flat surface. Like other types of exercise, climbing stairs can also boost your mood.

Climbing the stairs is ideal for those who want to build more exercise into their lifestyle in general without needing a gym membership. No special training is required, and you can make your routine as easy or as difficult as you’d like. Compared to walking, climbing up stairs at a regular pace burns two to three times more energy, making this exercise more effective than you ever imagined.

5. Planks

man planking

Planks are hard work. | iStock.com

There’s no need to buy any fancy equipment to strengthen your core — that’s what planks are for. This simple exercise is extra effective for using those deep, inner core muscles, tightening the midsection, improving flexibility around the shoulders, and improving your balance and posture, explains Mercola Peak Fitness. You’ll primarily feel this exercise working your abs, but you’re actually exercising your entire body, from neck to toes, as you work to keep your body aligned.

Strengthening the core has also been known to help reduce back pain, and planks are a great choice for this since you’ll also be working your lower back muscles. If you’d like a little extra help in toning your obliques, then side planks are another good option — they’ll also help you achieve better balance and stability. Try holding your plank for one minute, adding 10-second intervals as your progress for added challenge.