The 5 Most Underrated Exercises In Fitness History

On Sunday, I did one specific exercise that had my legs throbbing, butt twitching, and heart pounding.

And that was just after the first set.

I still had 2 more sets to complete. Even my training partner looked up at me and commented:

“Oh that looks tough, I’m not looking forward to my turn.”

And I loved every minute of it.

The thing that surprised me the most?

It was a move I haven’t done in months. Not because I don’t like it, but because I had written it off as being inferior to other lower body moves: Squats, deadlifts, and lunges. These are my general go-to moves (and most womens’).

So what is this amazing exercise I speak of?

My Underrated Move: High Step-Ups

Step-ups at “bench height” don’t do much for me, I never feel a burn and often feel as if I cheated myself at the end of a workout.

However, when I saw a 30-inch box at the gym on Sunday, I immediately decided to grab a pre-weighted bar (40-pounds) and give them a go.

Quick Side Note On Step Ups: 

Depending on your set-up strategy, the muscles you target can be changed. Start standing close to the box and you’ll predominately hit your quads (thighs)… stand farther away, and you’ll target your glutes (butt) more.

For this particular workout, I decided that a closer stance would be best.

And wowza, I learned what I was doing wrong all these years, it wasn’t that the step-up wasn’t doing anything for me… it was that I needed a higher step.

I’m Sorry Step-Ups

Even today, two days later, my thighs are still burning. I think that combination of the step-ups followed by box jumps may have been the killer leg burn I was looking for!

One thing is certain, I owe step-ups an apology.

I am sorry, I classified you an a personal insignificant exercise. You were underrated, but now I will use you more often!

Other Common Underrated Exercises

My exercise mistake had me thinking about other workout moves that are often underrated.

Moves that are fabulous, yet often get overlooked.

Underrated Exercise 2: Row Machine

Row machines were all the rage in the 80s, but now you’ll be sent on a scavenger hunt to find one. We belong to a gym chain so we have access to several in Charleston. I only know of a single facility that has a row machine… one single machine.

Why? Rowing is killer! It’s not only a great cardio workout, but you’ll be hardpressed to find a cardio workout that will make your legs, arms, and back “feel the burn” quite like a rower.

If you have one, please, get on it and just try to row for 250 meters as quickly as possible.

Just don’t make this embarrassing mistake:

I don’t think my heart rate has ever shot up so quickly as when I tried rowing. Then again, flying up out of the seat may have contributed to the high heart rate too.

Underrated Exercise 3: Jumping Jacks. 

When I think about jumping jacks, I have visions of elementary school P.E. After that, they are often out of sight, out of mind. Well, not really for me because I utilize them in boot camps all the time.

However, at the gym, I very rarely… in fact, I don’t think EVER have seen someone do jumping jacks.

It’s a shame. A great warm up move since it sends blood flowing to all the extremeties while at the same time increasing heart rate, but it’s also a great active rest exercise.

Instead of sitting around between sets, do 60 seconds of jumping jacks. Muscles still get a recovery period, while blood flow and heart rate continue to stay high.

One more plus… there are so many variations of jumping jacks to make them more challenging and a concrete element of a workout.

Squat jacks (as shown below), plank jacks, slow jacks (not what you think). In fact, I might have to do a “30 Variations Of Jumping Jacks” post soon.

Underrated Exercise 4: Post Workout Stretches

I’m guilty of this, after a tough workout I don’t often take the time to sit and stretch.

BIG mistake.

Stretching has been linked to greater strength gains,  decreased muscle soreness, increased recovery time, and decreased injuries (check out more benefits here).


When stretching, blood flow is increased to the muscles which helps them to be flooded with oxygen and nutrients needed for growth and recovery.

As a runner, I feel my tight hips, calves and achilles on a daily basis… I know how important stretching is, yet I haven’t committed the time to doing it.

Hopefully you have. I’m working on it!

Underrated Exercise 5: Farmers Carry

farmers carry

What is this exercise? Basically, you grab a dumbbell in each hand and walk with it.

The weight should be heavy and you’ll need to really work to get to your destination.

It’s a great move, but one I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman do… at least not at my gym.

Farmers carry is great for grip, endurance, back & shoulder strength (especially the traps), and of course the lower body. It’s an exercise that creeps up on you, and by the end you’re sitting around wondering how that took so much energy out of you.

Give it a go, set a timer for just 2 minutes and try to walk back and forth without setting the weight down.

A Fitness Challenge

I love challenges! So I am giving one to you…

During your next workout, try one of the above moves or look at your current training and choose any exercise that you haven’t done in a long time, if ever.

You never know, it might end up being a new favorite.

Q: What is an exercise you feel is underrated? 

Because I feel it’s only appropriate, later this week I’ll play devil’s advocate and announce the most overrated exercises!

Q: What do you think will be on the list?


  • Row Machine and Step-ups we agree are underrated. We are trying to do more step-ups in our fitness routines, and need to figure out how to row more since we don’t have a rowing machine 😉

    • That becomes the problem! Perhaps if they were more available they would be more popular. Considering they are a fraction of the cost of a stairstepper or elliptical, you would think gyms would be more willing to get one or two.

  • Kimi

    I was just thinking how I want to do high step ups. I had just heard how bad Pistol (sp?) Squats are bad for to do. Thank for writing about it!

    • I do love pistol squats though. Not so great on the knees but a cool move to be able to do in moderation.

  • Love those steps! Feeling the love in my glutes this morning as a matter of fact. 🙂

  • Kim

    Now I’m going to have to try some weighted step-ups! I love trying (and adding in) new moves!!!

    • Definitely get going on those!

  • Cecilia

    Thank you for remIndIng us of jumping jacks. It’s the perfect time-filler between sets. I’m a runner too and was hit hard with Plantar Faciitis and am bummed that weighted lunges and squats were aggravating it. But I replaced those two with high step-ups and Bulgarian squats and am a happy camper again 🙂 P.S. I think jump-rope is a forgotten yet awesome exercise.

    • JJs are awesome! I hope that the PF is getting better!

  • Kelly

    Jumping rope. Two minutes is killer.

    • Yes I agree! I forgot about Jump Rope, I think because we actually do it a lot! Love jumping!

  • Amanda

    haha yeah those steps ups with 40 lbs were rough! (said her work out partner 😉 )

    • Amanda

      that rowing video still gets me everytime by the way haha

    • HAHAHA, liked that?

  • Please say burpees are overrated! ; )

    I have been meaning to get a box for box jumps and step ups for some time. You have given me incentive to move on that!

    • Burpees overrated? No way! haha, love them too much!

  • Amy Hughes

    Planks for ABS are underrated… especially by guys ( my neighbor Tom agrees)! We just finished the “Pittsburgh” Tough Mudder in Powerline park, OH this weekend and I think planks saved me on a lot of those crazy low under-barbed-wire and through tight pipe crawls! The guys on our team had a tougher time with those. The ladies found them pretty simple to do because we rock the moving plank! ( In fairness to the awesome guys on our team…They did push our butts over those 10 foot walls…Thanks guys!

    • thats a gret one. girls are much better than doing them than guys. that sounds like a fun tough mudder!

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  • Jumping rope is underrated. I did it in class for the first time in years yesterday, and it takes more coordination than jumping jacks. If I knew how to hula hoop I might add that to the list too 🙂

    • You’re right! I can’t believe I left it off!

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  • Duke

    Good work. Inverted body rows very underrated.

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