Ask any fitness enthusiast to identify the painful-yet-rewarding workout they dislike the most, and there’s a good chance they’ll mention burpees. And understandably so: The exercise is an intense form of cardiovascular and core training that leaves you breathless after just one set. However, once you experience manmakers (also known as human makers or people makers), burpees will seem easy.
A man maker is a weighted, full-body exercise that can be thought of as a slower and more deliberate version of a burpee. According to Michelle Razavi, a fitness and yoga instructor at Equinox and co-founder of ELAVI, a protein snack company, with a man maker, you perform three different exercises in one rep, including high planks, single-arm rows, and thrusters. The transitions between these exercises are seamless. Due to its complexity, the man maker is an advanced exercise that should not be attempted by beginners in fitness.
But if you’re ready to step up your workout routine, how do you actually perform a man maker? Here, Razavi and Nikki Elliott, a fitness instructor at Equinox and co-founder of ELAVI, share the primary muscle groups targeted by man makers and provide step-by-step instructions to help you master the exercise. They also offer tips on modifying the man maker for beginners.
What Muscles Does the Man Maker Exercise Work?
The man maker is a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups, providing a complete full-body workout. The single-arm rows work your upper back muscles, including the lats, traps, deltoids, and rhomboids. The low squat and rise involve your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Additionally, your shoulders, triceps, biceps, and upper back muscles come into play when you press the dumbbells overhead. Throughout the entire exercise, your core, which includes your abs and lower back muscles, works to maintain stability, according to Razavi.
Despite being a slow and focused strength exercise, the man maker will leave you feeling breathless after just a few reps, says Elliott. “It significantly raises your heart rate… and you don’t necessarily have to move quickly,” she explains. “Simply lifting a weight from a plank to a standing position immediately increases your heart rate because it activates various muscle groups in the body.” Due to the combination of muscle-building and cardiovascular challenges, man makers are incredibly efficient, adds Elliott.
How to Perform the Man Maker Exercise
Before you even contemplate attempting the man maker exercise, Elliott suggests mastering the conventional burpee first. Although done at a faster pace, burpees teach you how to transition from a plank position to standing, all while keeping your core activated. If you were to skip burpees and immediately start with man makers, which typically require dumbbells, you may heighten your risk for injury, particularly in the lumbar region, according to Elliott. “We often observe in classes that introducing dumbbells without a solid foundation can lead to chaos,” she remarks. “Instead of utilizing their legs and pushing through their heels to rise, people tend to rely on their lower back. This places excessive strain on the lower back, potentially causing long-term injury because this pattern can carry over to other movements as well.”
For the same rationale, Razavi recommends mastering the fundamental squat prior to attempting the man maker. Novice individuals often lean forward onto their toes and neglect to contract their glutes at the apex of the movement, she explains. However, to extract the maximum benefit from the exercise and ensure correct form, “it is imperative that you distribute your weight towards your heels, lean slightly backward — envision yourself sitting on a low toilet — and when ascending, exert deep pressure on your heels to propel the energy upward. You should also engage your glutes and core at the pinnacle of the movement.” If you were to undertake a man maker without first becoming proficient in squatting, you may not effectively target your lower body musculature and increase your risk of injury.
When you feel prepared to tackle the man maker exercise, opt for a lighter weight compared to what you would typically use for a strength-building exercise. This will allow you to master the seamless movement and refine your technique, advises Razavi. “If that feels comfortable, then you can gradually progress and advance to heavier dumbbells,” she adds.
Once you have chosen your dumbbells, follow the step-by-step instructions below to execute the man maker. It is recommended to practice each movement individually before amalgamating them into a single seamless man maker once you have become familiar with the exercise.
Man Maker Movement 1: High Plank to Single-Arm Row
A. Position two dumbbells shoulder-width apart on the floor. Commence in a tabletop position, aligning your shoulders directly above your hands, each gripping a dumbbell. Bend your knees and position them directly under your hips.
B. Gradually move one leg back at a time to assume the high plank position on your palms.
Feet ought to be equidistant apart. Activate quadriceps, buttocks, and center, and tuck coccyx marginally.
C. Pull shoulders down and away from ears, and slowly flex one elbow back, keeping arm close to your side as you pull dumbbell up towards your hip. Make sure to keep hips stable and avoid swaying to the side.
D. Return to start, gently placing dumbbell down. Repeat the row on the opposite arm.
Man Maker Movement 2: High Plank to Low Squat
A. From a high plank position, leap both feet forward to the outside of hands. Quickly elevate chest upright and settle into a low squat. At the same time, swing both dumbbells forward and up to chest with palms facing in.
Man Maker Movement 3: Low Squat to Overhead Press
A. From the low squat, activate glutes and press heels into the floor to lengthen legs, all while pressing dumbbells overhead. The press is finished when legs are straight and dumbbells are directly above shoulders, biceps pressed against ears.
B. Lower dumbbells back to shoulders, then extend elbow to lower dumbbells to sides. Descend into a squat, place dumbbells on the floor in front of feet, and leap feet back to the high plank starting position. That’s one repetition.
Try the Complete Man Maker Exercise
When you’re initially learning how to perform man makers, contemplate commencing with two to three repetitions, then progress to eight to ten, says Elliott. Regardless of the number you aim to accomplish, ensure that you listen to your body. “The moment you begin to tire and lose form, that’s when you cease,” adds Razavi. “If you’re endeavoring to achieve that final cardio burn and you start to observe your form deteriorating, I suggest doing one more and then concluding.”
Man Maker Exercise Modifications
Initiate Only with Bodyweight
If a complete man maker seems excessively demanding, there’s no disgrace in adapting the movement to align with your current capabilities. You might begin by discarding the dumbbells and performing a bodyweight version of the exercise, says Razavi. During the single-arm rows, contract your elbows back while keeping your palms flat to engage your upper back. When you jump into the low squat, bring your hands into a prayer position in front of your chest and then press them upward, similar to a conventional thruster. “Simply start without dumbbells to activate the lower body and allow your core to adapt to bearing only your body weight, and then once you feel at ease, you can incorporate the weight,” she suggests.
Utilize a Single Dumbbell
If you only have access to one weight that is suitable for your needs, you can also execute the man maker with a single dumbbell, transferring it between hands for the rows and holding each end during the overhead press, adds Elliott.
As you gain more strength, incorporate the second dumbbell to guarantee continuous advancement. (“)
Keep Your Hands On Your Mat
Some individuals may experience discomfort in their wrists while gripping dumbbells during the high plank, asserts Elliott. In that case, feel free to place your hands on the mat directly adjacent to your dumbbells and pick up the weights once you’re prepared to row and jump into the low squat, she recommends.
Expand Your Stance
While in your high plank, contemplate spreading out your feet as wide as your shoulders or your mat, which will aid in preventing your hips from swaying while you row, suggests Razavi. “When you’re performing the row, it’s crucial to ensure that both your hips are stable and balanced because if they’re oscillating, you won’t derive the full advantage of the row and you’ll be susceptible to back injury,” she explains. “Adjusting the placement of your feet will stabilize your weight and enable you to row without swaying your hips back and forth, thus enhancing the strength of your core and your back.”
Furthermore, while mastering the man maker exercise, make sure to pay attention to your form, your breath, and your overall well-being for each repetition, advises Razavi. “I believe that sometimes individuals push themselves just to complete a rep, but… there’s no need to hurry — you don’t have to achieve perfection today,” she remarks. “I’d prefer that you work progressively and safely on your fitness journey rather than injuring yourself now and impeding your progress.”
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