But even though muscles aren't built in a day, that doesn’t mean a solid workout can't give you instant definition.
But even though muscles aren't built in a day, that doesn’t mean a solid workout can't give you instant definition.
See, by performing certain moves-think, three to five sets of eight to 12 reps-you force a ton of blood into your muscles’ fast-twitch or power fibers. Long story short, this makes your worked muscles bloat in a good way, says Erica Suter, C.S.C.S., a Maryland-based trainer and strength coach.
The result is a sneak peek of how awesome your muscles will consistently look after weeks of training, she says. (It's also a secret strategy among fitness models everywhere-ahem, nature’s Photoshop.)
A study in Strength and Conditioning Journal shows that this technique-called the “pump”-can also prevent the muscle breakdown that often occurs when you’re working out to lose weight (we're looking at you, cardio queens).
Take any of the following seven exercises for a spin, then check yourself out in the mirror, good lookin'.
This dynamic, high-intensity move works the power muscles throughout your entire backside, like your butt, back, and hamstrings, making them look more toned, says exercise physiologist Pete McCall, C.S.C.S. Plus, it’ll rev your cardiovascular system and get you sweating, which will help reduce any belly bloat caused by excess fluid retention, and even constipation.
Get instant results: Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees, push your hips back, and grab the top of the kettlebell with both hands. (The kettlebell should be heavy enough to demand serious work, but allow you to maintain proper form.) Swing the bell back between your legs and, as you straighten your legs, thrust your hips forward, squeeze your glutes, and swing the kettlebell directly in front of your chest. Let it fall back through your legs to return to start. That’s one rep.
This one is all about the booty. After just one set, you’ll notice that your glutes feel firmer, look bigger, and even sit rounder and higher on your backside, he says. Your glutes are your body’s biggest muscle group, and this move hits them hard.
Get instant results: Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip, and hold them at arm's length in front of your thighs. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Without changing the bend in your knees, bend at your hips and lower your torso until it's almost parallel to the floor. Pause, then raise your torso back to the starting position. That's one rep.
“Resistance bands are my go-to for curls because they provide continuous tension in the muscles,” says Taylor Gainor, C.S.C.S., co-founder of LIT Method in Los Angeles. And the longer you keep your biceps tense, the more of a pump you get, she says. “Resistance band bicep curls will leave your arms looking a little bit tighter and toned for the rest of the day,” she says.
Get instant results: Stand on the center of a resistance band with your feet about shoulder-width apart. (Adjust your feet if you need more or less resistance.) Hold the handles at your sides with your elbows fixed to your waist. Slowly curl your arms up to your shoulders, and then back down, while keeping your core engaged. That’s one rep.
“If you want to improve definition in your arms, shoulders, and back with one simple movement, the chin-up is essential,” says McCall. “You’ll see an immediate difference in the definition of those muscles.” Seriously. This move is awesome.
Get instant results: Stand facing an assisted chin-up machine or wrap a band around a chin-up bar so there is a loop hanging underneath it. Grab the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing you. Kneel onto the bench or band and let your body hang, arms straight. Squeeze your back and brace your core to pull your chest to the bar. Pause, then slowly lower back to start. That’s one rep.
Since this exercise seriously engages both your core and booty, it can make a visible different fast, says Suter. For the best results, perform as many reps as you can, she says.
Get instant results: Get on all fours and place a resistance band handle snug around one foot. Hold the other handle with the opposite hand so that the band is stretched. Then, keeping your core strong and engaged, simultaneously extend the banded arm and leg so that your body forms a straight line from head to heel. Make sure to squeeze the glute of your working leg as you kick back. That’s one rep. Complete reps, then repeat using the other arm and leg.
Prepare for beyond-burpee levels of impressiveness with the "man-maker" (or "woman-maker!") This move will blast your arms, legs, shoulders, and-if you are using a moderate to heavy amount of weight-your core, says Suter. Expect your stomach to de-bloat from all that sweat as your muscles swell.
Get instant results: Get into a high-plank position, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Keeping a straight line from head to heels, perform a single row with each arm. Then, jump or step your feet forward and stand up (Kind of like you’re doing a burpee). Immediately press the dumbbells straight overhead. Lower the dumbbells to your sides. That’s one rep.
Get instant results: Stand with your feet more than shoulder-width apart, and your toes turned out to 45 degrees. With your hands clasped in front of you for balance, brace your core, and lower your body as far into a seated position as you can. Pause, then slowly push through your glutes and inner thighs to return to start. That’s one rep. For extra results, pulse up and down at the bottom of the squat for 30 seconds.
“You could argue that dumbbell thrusters are the most efficient total body exercise for burning calories and working major muscle groups,” says trainer Albert Matheny, R.D., C.S.C.S., co-owner of SoHo Strength Lab in NYC and a registered dietitian for ProMix Nutrition. “It’s a great move for your glutes, hamstrings, quads, abdominals, shoulders, triceps, and gives you a great cardiovascular workout.”
Get instant results: Hold dumbbells at shoulder height, elbows bent and palms facing each other, feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and sit your hips back to lower into a squat. Explode back up, pushing the dumbbells directly overhead until arms are fully extended. That’s one rep. Pause, then lower the weights as you squat. Repeat for three sets of 10 reps.
Your muscles generate more force during the eccentric phase of exercise-when the muscle lengthens while producing force-which is why this type of chin-up can pump up the appearance of your biceps, says Matheny.
Get instant results: Standing on a box or bench, grab the bar with an underhand grip, then jump up so that your chin touches it. Pause, then lower yourself as slowly as possible, aiming for about five to 10 seconds. Once your arms are fully extended, let go of the bar and step back onto the box. That’s one rep. Repeat for three sets of 10 reps.
Pump up your quads with this classic lower-body move. “Moving lunges are great for strengthening your legs and challenging your cardiovascular fitness,” says Matheny.
Get instant results: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips. Step forward with your right leg and slowly lower your body until your right knee is bent at least 90 degrees. Pause, then raise up and bring your back foot forward so that you move forward (like you're walking) a step with every rep. Alternate the leg you step forward with each time, continuing for two minutes. Repeat for three sets.
These require the same movement as a push-up, but lowering sloooowly adds an extra challenge to your triceps, shoulders, and chest for the pump effect, says Matheny.
Get instant results: Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor and extend your legs behind you, so your body forms a straight line from head to heels. Brace your core and bend your elbows to lower your body as slowly as possible to the floor, aiming for about five to 10 seconds. Push back up to start. That’s one rep. Repeat for three sets of 10 reps.
“This is one of the best ways to work your glutes, hamstrings and quads,” says Matheny. “Challenge your glutes and core to control the weight and build strength and control in your squats”-that’ll help give you that whole lower-body bump.
Get instant results: Stand as tall as you can with your feet spread shoulder-width apart. Lower your body as far as you can by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Pause, then slowly push yourself halfway back to the starting position. Pause, then lower back down to full depth. Return to stand. That’s one rep. Repeat for three sets of 10 reps.
You need to be quick and explosive to do this move correctly. “The power needed for every slam will pump the whole body,” says Christi Marraccini, certified personal trainer and training manager at Tone House in New York City.
Get instant results: Stand with feet hip-width apart holding a medicine ball. Bend knees to lower the ball to the floor, then jump both feet back to move into a plank. Lower chest to the ball, then push back up, jump feet back up to hands, and stand back up. Lift the ball up overhead, slam it into the ground. That’s one rep. Repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps.
This core-focused movement burns out your entire core. “Adding weight to most core movements is a great way to up the challenge,” says Marraccini. “A few reps of these will have those abs popping in no time.
Get instant results: Lie on your back holding an eight- to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand. Lift your heels until they're two to three inches off the floor, and hold as you extend your arms straight overhead. Lift one leg until it’s at a 90-degree angle from the floor while bringing the opposite arm to touch your toe. Lower leg and repeat on the other side. Continue alternating for 15 reps on each side. Repeat for three sets.
Get a sneak core attack in while working your lower body. “Just a few reps of these will leave those legs looking better than they will feel,” says Marraccini. Get your form right and then go for speed to get that extra burn.
Get instant results: Stand six to eight inches back from a six-inch box with feet underneath hips. Drop hips and push through your legs, to explode up landing softly on the box. Come to a full stand then jump or step down. That’s one rep. Do as many reps as you can in 20 seconds, working your way up to one minute. Repeat for three sets.
Instead of just slogging through a run, add sprint intervals to your cardio routine. “Sprinting will get your blood flowing all over, but the key is to not hold back-go as fast as you physically can,” says Marraccini.
Get instant results: Warm up at an easy pace for five to 10 minutes. Crank up to a sprint pace (an eight to nine on a scale of one to 10) for 10 seconds. Ease back to a jog (about a six) for 30 seconds. Repeat for 15 to 25 minutes. Cool down for five to 10 minutes.
Goblet squats are an amazing exercise if you want to see quick results. “Holding the kettlebell at your chest forces your body to engage your entire core, including the muscles of your lower and upper back,” explains PJ Stahl, C.S.C.S., a trainer at Lock Box LA Fitness & Performance Center. “And while all those muscles are engaged, you’re performing squats, which use the largest calorie burning muscles of your body: the legs.” You’ll feel the burn-and see the effect.
Get instant results: Start with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and hold the kettlebell against your chest in a front rack position. Keeping the kettlebell in that position, lower into a full-depth squat, maintaining a neutral spine. Push through each midfoot continuously to ascend back into your starting position. That’s one rep. Repeat for three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
“This is one of the more challenging lower body exercises, because using the weights in the hands increases the difficulty on the legs, core, and grip during the movement,” says Stahl. You’ll fire up your hamstrings, glutes, and quads to see results in no time.
Get instant results: Start in the standing position behind a box holding dumbbells in each hand by the side of your body. Step one foot on top of the box and press through your heel up into a fully extended and standing position on top of the box. Slowly lower yourself down using the same leg on top of the box. Remove your leg from the box and repeat on the other side. Do 10 to 12 reps on each leg. Repeat for three sets.
You’ll feel your hamstrings, glutes, inner thighs, core, and back quaking after just one set-it’s a total-body exercise, says Stahl. “As you finish the movement, the upright row will pump up your arms and shoulders so you feel like an Amazonian warrior.”
Get instant results: Start in the sumo deadlift stance (feet wider than shoulder-width apart and turned out slightly more than in a traditional squat stance) with the kettlebell on the floor between the legs. Hinge at the hips, maintaining a flat back, to grab the kettlebell. As you move up, progressively increase your speed. Then transition the momentum from your hips to your arms and shoulders, to perform an upright row. Finish with your knees locked out and elbows just above the shoulders. Lower the kettlebell down in reverse order. That’s one rep. Repeat for three sets of 10 reps.
If you’re looking to lift your glutes and tighten your lower body, you can’t beat lunges; but adding the sandbag on your shoulders will force you to engage your core and stabilize more than a regular lunge, says Stahl. “When you lunge, keep your knee in line with your ankle and hip all while leaning forward slightly and driving through your front leg (that’s the working leg),” he says. “You’ll feel it immediately.”
Get instant results: Start in a standing position with a sandbag resting behind your head on your shoulders. Step one foot forward and lower the back knee lightly to the ground (or as low as possible). Press through your front foot and maintain a neutral spine to return to stand. Continue alternating legs for two minutes. Repeat for three sets.