Extreme Efficiency Exercises

You don’t need the 4 minute workout machine to be an efficient exerciser…

Strength training experts always seem to be highlighting the injury-preventive and performance importance of tending to small, supportive muscles that are notoriously weak, such as the shoulder’s rotator cuff, the outer butt’s gluteus medius, the small scapula muscles along the shoulder blades, and the abdominal, hip and low back region, or “core”.

But for the average working, time-crunched individual, it simply doesn’t make sense to devote an extra couple hours per week to exercising these tiny, supportive muscles. After all, the type of exercises traditionally used to strengthen these muscles have very little cardiovascular, calorie-burning or coordination benefit.

For example, a common exercise for the rotator cuff involves multiple sets and high repetitions of internal and external rotation with a piece of elastic tubing. If you have 45 minutes at the gym over lunch hour, do you really want to spend 10 minutes of that time standing relatively motionless, as a few small muscles in your arm and shoulder are firing?

Instead you’ll find your limited time better suited to large, cardiovascular intensive, multi-joint movements that incorporate the rotator cuff, but also use many of the other major muscles of your body, thus producing coordination, motor-unit recruitment, and muscular endurance, while also strengthening the rotator cuff. Two such examples would be barbell or dumbbell cleans, and bodyweight or assisted pull-ups, both of which involve multiple large muscles and a high metabolic demand, but also incorporate the smaller, stabilizing muscles of the rotator cuff.

Below, I’ll give you the top 9 exercises I’ve found to be highly effective for strengthening the common weak links in triathletes, while also producing a high heart rate and rapid development of strength and power.

I call these Extreme-Efficiency Exercises, since you’ll find that many of them actually target every traditionally weak link in the exercising human body. By incorporating these Extreme-Efficiency Exercises into your weekly routine, you’ll never find yourself standing on a mat in the far corner of the gym working one tiny muscle at a time as you watch the minutes tick by.

1. Alternating Lunge Jumps With Overhead Press (gluteus medius, scapula, core)

From lunging position, jump and switch legs, pressing overhead while jumping.

2. Dumbbell or Barbell Cleans to Overhead Press (rotator cuff, core)

Explosively lift the weight from the floor to your shoulders, then press overhead.

3. Single Leg Overhead Press With Knee Drive (gluteus medius, core)

Stand on one leg and press overhead with one arm, while driving the knee on the same side up to the chest.

4. Single Leg Row & Throw (scapula, rotator cuff, gluteus medius, core)

Stand on leg, and row with a cable or elastic band. At the end-point of the row, throw the your arm backwards and open your shoulder.

5. Slow Descent Jump Pull-Ups (scapula, rotator cuff, core)

Jump into a wide grip pull-up, using the jumping momentum to bring yourself as high as possible. Lower your body over a 3-6 count.

6. Lateral Step With Reverse Fly (gluteus medius, rotator cuff, scapula, core)

Holding a cable or elastic band, explosively step to the side as you pull your arm across your body.

7. Lateral Lunge to Overhead Triceps Extension (gluteus medius, scapula, core)

Holding weights overhead, step laterally and bend the knee, keeping the non-stepping leg as straight as possible. Return to the starting position, and as you do so, perform a triceps extension.

8. Reverse Woodchopper (core, rotator cuff, gluteus medius)

Begin in a full squat position, twisted to one side. As you explosively stand, lift the weight over the shoulder as you twist to the opposite side.

9. Stability Ball Push-Ups (scapula, rotator cuff, core) 

Place both hands on a stability ball that is stabilized in a corner. Perform a slow and controlled push-up. For added difficulty, raise one leg as you perform the push-up.

Below is a sample table that shows how to incorporate exercises 1-9 in a 3x/week routine with sets and repetitions. You can easily perform each day as a circuit, moving from the first exercise to the last with relatively little rest, then going back to the beginning, until you’ve completed all sets for each exercise.

Exercise Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
#1 3-4×8/side
#2 3-4×6-8
#3 3-4×8/side
#4 3-4×8/side
#5 3-4×6-8
#6 3-4×8/side
#7 3-4×6-8/side
#8 3-4×8/side
#9 3-4×6-8

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