4 exercises that are harder than they look

Have you ever watched someone perform a new-to-you exercise, thought ‘that looks easy’, tried it yourself and utterly failed?

Chances are that it’s not the first time they’ve done it.

As with most physical tasks, it requires practice before a new exercise can be executed fluidly and with apparently little effort. The mind and the muscles need to connect. Assisting and stabilizing muscles need to be woken up and recruited. Range of motion needs to be explored, often a little bit at a time.

The following 4 exercises are harder than my video demonstration of them would have you believe; trust me, I’ve had to work hard to make them look effortless 😉

4 exercises that are harder than they look

1. Bosu sit-to-stand crunch

How it’s done: Start by sitting on the dome side of a Bosu, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Slide down until your bum is just two or three inches from the floor. With knees bent and feet flat on the floor, lean back until the Bosu meets the curve of your lower back. Tighten your abdominals and extend your arms (and the weight) in front of you to pull yourself sitting. Continue on to standing by pushing through the soles of your feet. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position and repeat.

Why it’s hard: The exercise requires you to be able to get up off the floor without using your hands. It requires a strong core and the ability to generate power by the hip flexors.

What it’s good for: Developing a functionally strong core that will allow you to get up off the floor and out of bed for many years to come. Building strong abdominal muscles without putting the lumbar spine at risk.

2. Bosu weighted squat jumps

How it’s done: Start by standing just behind the Bosu, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Make sure the handles of the Bosu are facing north and south to minimize the risk of landing on one or the other. Extend arms (and weight) out in front at mid-chest height. Bend your knees, hips and ankles and drop down into a partial squat before propelling yourself forward and up onto the dome. Land with knees slightly bent and pause briefly, ‘sticking’ the landing, before stepping back down. Repeat.

Why it’s hard: Jumping onto an unstable surface and stopping requires you to be able to accelerate and decelerate quickly. Extending the arms away from the body forces both the legs and core to do more work. In addition to being physically challenging, this exercise is psychologically challenging for many.

What it’s good for: Building power in the legs, strengthening the deep core stabilizers and improving balance and proprioception (knowing where your body is in space). When done quickly, elevating the heart rate and burning calories.

3. Hamstring curls on the ball

How it’s done: Start by laying face up on the floor, with legs extended and feet resting on the top of a stability ball. Extend your arms straight up over your chest and lift your hips up and off the ground. Dig your heels into the ball and bend your knees and ankles to roll the ball in towards your torso. Roll the ball back to the starting position and repeat, without letting your bum touch the ground between reps.

Why it’s hard: The ball wants to move under your feet. With only your shoulders touching the floor, the muscles of the core and lower body must work together to stabilize you and keep you from rolling off the ball.

What it’s good for: Strengthening the glutes, hamstrings, calves, abdominals and lower back. Improving balance and proprioception.

4. Shifting 3-point plank

How it’s done: Place 2 or 3 light dumbbells (or weight plates) on the floor in a vertical line. Come into a forearm plank such that the weights are directly above your right hand. Keeping back flat and hips facing downwards, use your left hand to move the weights, one at a time, across the mat to just above where the left hand will be when you return it to the floor.

Why it’s hard: When you lift your hand off the ground, your body wants to compensate for the lost support by rotating. Forcing the hips to remain facing downwards requires the obliques and glutes to work harder than they would in a standard plank.

What it’s good for: Improving anti-rotational core strength, learning to engage your glutes and enhancing chest and shoulder stability. I also find that the task of moving the weights makes me forget about watching the clock while I plank 😉

As with all challenging exercises, practice them regularly to improve your execution. Focus on form before increasing intensity, volume or load.

And remember, once you’ve mastered them, others will be copying YOU in the gym (although modelling your workouts on those of your fellow gym-goers isn’t necessarily a great idea…).


Have you ever been surprised by how challenging an exercise was?

What was the exercise?



  1. I love the hamstring curls! They always burn but I love what they do for my legs and backside!
    Pamela Hernandez recently posted…Skipping Strength for Cardio – Are You Making This Workout Mistake?My Profile

  2. Oh yes. Hamstring curls look so simple but man do they burn! I haven’t tried the other 3 before but now knowing that they aren’t as simple as they look, I’m a little hesitant! 🙂
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…High Five Friday: Halloween and MarathonsMy Profile

  3. I really want to get a bosu ball! It’s on my christmas list 🙂
    Alysia @ Slim Sanity recently posted…Garlic Roasted Pumpkin SeedsMy Profile

  4. Pretty much any plank exercise I see demonstrated is harder than it looks! I think it is because the person doing it always makes it look so easy breezy! 🙂

  5. YES YES YES! They are harder they they appear!!!! 🙂
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted…HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!My Profile

    • Don’t you love it when somebody tells you that you made an exercise look easy? 😉 Practice, practice, practice!

  6. You don’t need to get all your exercise at one time. Ten minutes morning, noon, and night can give much of the same benefit as 30 minutes all at once.

  7. I’ve been doing those hamstring curls, but with my arms down. I can see how it would be so much harder with them up in the air!
    Coco recently posted…November Virtual Coffee DateMy Profile

    • Did you try them Coco? The first time I did them, I wobbled all over the place (before falling off the ball…)

  8. I still don’t understand what evil gnome invented side planks. The first time I tried doing one, it felt as though I was glued to the floor. Now, I can lift my body a very little bit, but it’s still hard as hell.

    • They are surprisingly difficult. More so than a standard plank. Probably because we don’t use our obliques enough! Keep trying Angela, I promise, it will get easier with practice!

  9. I think anything with an unstable element and complex movement is hard, the first few times you try it. Or if you’re not ready for it.

  10. I do side planks in tree pose and with leg extended upwards/held by my hand. These are the most challenging….but I can sure tell when I do them versus NOT doing them for awhile. Trying the hamstring on ball next time I am in the gym!
    cherylann recently posted…Do you? Would you?My Profile

  11. Loved the bosu ball jump-ons…! I nailed them-so I guess my mountain biking is engaging my core then? Loved the hammy curls too!
    cherylann recently posted…Do you? Would you?My Profile

  12. I believe such exercises are great for your muscles and for the whole body. To provide enough nutrients for active workouts I am taking Super Army Formula by Military Grade.
    I was always opposed to all kinds of chemicals, but this supplement contains natural compounds, like siberian ginseng extract and caffeine. Never expected that supplement would provide such a tangible result, but for me it works perfect. Just pure energy, right before the workout. It helps me increase my reps and enhance overall endurance and strength.