Sign up for the BETTER newsletter

You have been successfully added to our newsletter.

NBC News BETTER brings you wellness news and tips to make the most of your mind, your body and your life.

5 exercises that target those hard-to-tone body parts

Target your abs, glutes and arms — or combine all five movements for a total-body tone up.
by Brianna Steinhilber /
Image: Heavy weight exercise
Start out using your own body weight, then pick up a pair of dumbbells to keep these moves challenging. gilaxia / Getty Images
Get the Better newsletter.

You slip into a tank top for the first time this year and notice your triceps could use a tone up. Or perhaps it’s the leg-baring shorts or the thought of going shirtless at the beach that has you running to the weight room for the first time since January.

We know it’s not possible to spot reduce in specific areas — no amount of squats will instantly lift your rear if you aren't getting the recommended amount of cardiovascular exercise and decreasing your overall body fat. But as a part of a well-rounded fitness routine, there are certain exercises that hit those hard-to-tone areas, strengthening muscles and giving you a “tighter” look.

“There’s no such thing as a magic set. You can’t perform these exercises on Monday and go back to the gym on Sunday. It’s about consistency,” says Ackeem Emmons, personal trainer and Aaptiv strength and running coach. That being said, he does have go-to exercises for targeting those pesky trouble spots that many people have a hard time with.

“Everybody wants the same thing. Sculpted legs and glutes, a strong core and defined arms,” says Emmons. “These five different movements for five different body parts will get you ready for the summer.”

Target zone: Abs

Exercise: Mountain climbers with gliders

Equipment: Ab gliders, socks or paper plates

"Your core is your abs, obliques and your lower back. It's the trunk of your body," says Emmons. "You see people at the gym performing a thousand crunches, but to get a strong core you need work on stabilization. This exercise incorporates stability, in addition to strength, and recruits muscles that are often ignored.” If you don't have access to gliders, you can use your socks or paper plates on a slippery surface. Place your feet on the gliders and hold a plank position, shoulders stacked over wrists. (If you are completely new to planks, simply hold for 30 seconds.) Then alternate between pulling your right knee to right elbow, and left knee to left elbow.

Variations:

  • Intermediate progression: Pick up the pace and complete as many mountain climbers as you can in 30 seconds.
  • Advanced progression: Turn it into a bear plank by pulling both knees towards your elbows at the same time. You can also pull both knees around to the right and both knees around to the left to target the obliques. Or try doing mini circles away from each other with each foot (while in a plank position).

Target zone: Triceps

Exercise: Plank to push up

Equipment: Soft surface or yoga mat

"The secret to great arms are the triceps," says Emmons. "The best move for triceps are push-ups. Alot of people can't do a push-up, but this move will get you there," he says. This exercise strengthens and sculpts the triceps, while also engaging the core and working the biceps. "This looks simple, but it can be very difficult," says Emmons. "If you don't work out that often, begin on your knees." Come down into a forearm plank on your elbows; from this position, push up into a high plank position, then lower yourself back down into a forearm plank. Be sure to alternate between the left and the right hand when pushing up and lowering back down.

Variations:

  • Intermediate progression: Come up to your toes and perform exercise from a full plank position. You can also add a 30-second plank hold to the end of the exercise.
  • Advanced progression: Once you've mastered the first two progressions, move on to full push-ups, keeping your arms close to the body and fulling extending through the triceps on the way up.

Target zone: Glutes

Exercise: Elevated glute bridge

Equipment: Bench or elevated platform

"This exercise strengthens your lower back, and sculpts the glutes and hamstrings,” says Emmons. Lay down on your back facing an elevated platform, which could be a bench at the gym or your couch at home, and place both feet on the platform. With your hands flat on the ground, squeeze the glutes upward creating a straight line from your neck to your knees, lower to the starting position, and repeat. "I like to do the glute bridges for time instead of numbers of reps," says Emmons. "Aim for 30 seconds on, 30 seconds rest."

Variations:

  • Intermediate progression: Transition to a single leg glute bridge by keeping one foot on the elevated platform and raising the other straight up towards the ceiling. Perform 30-seconds of glute bridges keeping one leg in the air; repeat on other leg.
  • Advanced progression: Once you have mastered the other two variations, add weight by placing a dumbbell across your hips.

Target zone: Shoulders

Exercise: Lateral raises and front raises

Equipment: Two, 5-10 pound dumbbells

"I'm going to take 10-pound dumbbells and make it one of the most difficult exercises you've ever done," says Emmons. "There's three parts to working your shoulder: your front, medial and rear delts. This move targets all three, building aesthetic and strength.” Stand up tall and squeeze your glutes, with dumbbells at your sides. Beginners will want to start with 3-5 pound dumbbells. Keeping your arms straight, perform lateral raises by lifting your arms out to your sides creating a "T" shape; slowly lower back to the starting position, repeat for 10 reps. To transition to front raises, keep your arms straight and lift the dumbbells out in front of you.

Variations:

  • Intermediate progression: As you become stronger, increase the weight of your dumbbells.
  • Advanced progression: Add a a set of overhead shoulder presses to the routine. Continue to increase weight.

Target zone: Legs

Exercise: Bulgarian split squat

Equipment: Bench or elevated platform; Two 20-30 pound dumbbells

People tend to default to regular squats and lunges when they want to tone their lower body, says Emmons, but his go-to move is a squat variation that combines both to target the quads, hamstrings and glutes. To perform this exercise, you’ll need an elevated platform, which could be a bench at the gym or your couch at home. Take one leg and place it on the elevated platform, take a big step out and find your balance, and then sync into a lunge and return to standing. Complete 10 reps on one side; switch legs and repeat.

Variations:

  • Intermediate progression: Grab a pair of 10-20 pound dumbbells and hold them at your side while completing the exercise.
  • Advanced progression: Once you have mastered the first two variations, you can add a plyometric movement. Instead of standing to the top position, add a hop, bringing the front leg off of the ground, and then returning to the low lunge position.

TRY THESE FITNESS ROUTINES

Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Get the Better newsletter.
MORE FROM better