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These are the trickiest exercises to master, no matter your fitness level

Have you ever wondered why certain exercises never seem to get any easier? Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, some manoeuvres are destined to elude us. Here’s a list of the world’s toughest moves, according to PTs. 

In the fitness world, it’s fair to say that not all exercises are created equal. How difficult you find a move depends not only on how fit you are but what your body is having to do to complete it. And this means that some moves are just, well… harder than others.

Isometric moves – static exercises that put pressure on a specific muscle– can be excruciating (eg holding a plank), while bigger, more explosive moves such as air squats feel tough because our biggest muscles suddenly need large bursts of energy, fast – which is exhausting.

If the humble push up is still literally bringing you to your knees, don’t despair. Here, we take a look at why some moves feel so much tougher than others and discuss some of the best ways you can master them, step by step.

Bulgarian split squats

“This is a variation of a single leg squat, but the back foot is elevated onto a bench or a box,” explains personal trainer Beth Davis. “These require way more core stability and balance than a standard single-leg exercise, such as a single-leg squat or lunge. With so much emphasis on squats and deadlifts for the lower body, this unilateral (single-leg) exercise will show up muscle imbalances and strength differences.”

How to do them 

If you’re determined to achieve the perfect split squat, start small. Davis recommends adding in some support. “Holding on to something or gradually increasing the height of the box or bench can be a great way to master this tricky exercise,” she says. 


“While squats might seem easy to perform at first glance, very few people use their full range of motion when performing them,” explains military fitness expert and coach Farren Morgan. “If you’re not doing this, you’re reducing the difficulty and the results you can achieve. But when you do, you’ll instantly understand why they’re so challenging to perform and maintain for an extended duration.”


“A burpee is a complex exercise incorporating multiple movements and speed and power,” explains Davis. “This can make it hard to master and quick to tire even those who consider themselves fit. It also requires a good level of strength and coordination to move from the floor back up to the start position in a dynamic way and then repeat multiple times.”

“Burpees use body weight to challenge your cardiovascular system,” agrees Morgan, “and trying to maintain the same speed and intensity for an extended duration will amplify their difficulty significantly.”

How to do them 

Master the moves individually to begin with: a burpee combines a squat, a push up and a jump, so start by slowly working through these moves with good form. 

Then, once you’re ready for a challenge, up your speed. 

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Lateral dumbbell raises

“If you want to feel humbled in the gym, try lateral dumbbell raises,” laughs Davis. “Lateral raises are an isolated exercise for the deltoids (shoulder muscles) and feel hard because you aren’t using multiple muscles to help the movement. The weight is a long way from the joint and you’re having to master multiple elements: hold the weight, move the arms and stabilise the shoulders at the same time.”

How to do them 

If you’re determined to improve, Davis recommends using very light weights to begin with. 

Once you can complete a few reps, add a few more. 

Lastly, add more weights, but don’t go too heavy too soon. 

Clean and jerk

“The hardest exercise to master regardless of fitness level, in my opinion, would be an exercise called the clean and jerk,” says personal trainer Mandy Wong Oultram. “It’s tough because there are so many components to it and each part connects to the next. If you get one part wrong, the whole exercise can break down.”

How to do it 

Firstly, you need to master the simple deadlift. 

Next, work your deadlift into a high pull (up to your shoulders) 

Then, focussing on leg drive, thrust the bar/weights above your head. 

“When you are ready to join the movements together, start light (use a tech bar or broomstick) and gradually increase the weight of the bar as you become more proficient,” advises Wong Oultram. 

Push ups

Many people’s personal nemesis, we have it on good authority that the push up deserves its place in the list of hardest exercises.

“Push ups require lots of core and shoulder/arm strength and essentially work the whole body,” reassures Davis. “So they are definitely tough!”

How to do them 

Start on an incline and work your way down to floor level as you get stronger and more confident. 

To help you build strength, Wong Oultram recommends incorporating more dumbbell chest presses to your routine.

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Pull ups

You don’t often see these performed frequently, and with good reason. “Pull ups require intensive core and upper-body strength,” advises Morgan. 

How to do them

Start by grabbing hold of the pull-up bar, then follow with a false grip – wrapping your hand further around the bar than normal – with your thumbs above the bar. 

Engage your lats by straightening your legs and point your toes as you maintain a hollow hold position.

Then lift your body while you engage your core to propel you upward.

“If your core and upper body strength require additional assistance to conduct the workout, you can start with bench press training and transition to muscle-ups as your strength and fitness levels develop,” recommends Morgan.

Whatever your level of challenge, don’t forget to warm up properly first, and remember to listen to your body. While it’s great to push your comfort zone, make sure you’re not risking strains or injury. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s time to stop. 

Images: Getty 

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  • Posted on February 13, 2023