I love to draw and paint the figure. I also love to teach figure drawing and painting. There are several techniques that I routinely employ, both as lessons and in my own drawings. Hey - I promise never to make my students do something I wouldn't do!
A typical session of figure drawing will start with quick - gesture - poses, that usually last anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. These drawings are important for several reasons - they get the artist to really look at the figure and assess the large shapes quickly, they warm the artist up, getting them familiar with the materials, and the model. Any athlete will tell you - the warm-up is a vital part of the game.
It took me a long time and a lot of classes to start to embrace gesture drawing - but now I love the pages of gesture drawings, sometimes even more than my pages of drawing longer poses.
One gesture technique that I find very effective is "thick and thin" - blocking or massing in the largest shapes of the figure using a 1 inch piece of pastel or charcoal on it's side, then overlapping that shape with more descriptive lines using a charcoal pencil. With a few quick marks on the paper, usually in less than 2 minutes, you can develop a very nice figure drawing.