As a personal trainer, I constantly get asked (in my free time, nonetheless!) what exercises are “best”. While this is a highly variable question, which depends on the person’s health, injury status, stress level, and other individual variables, there are some “classic” exercises that tend to give you the most “bang for your buck”. While this list is highly debatable and subjective, this will be a good starting place for lots of individuals, especially those that may be time-crunched.
The normal state of being these days is one of a sedentary, overweight, office worker. Is that how you really want to be? Do you want to live your life this way? Do you want to come home, be a slob on the couch, and be covered in corn chip dust?
Or would you rather be a lean, muscled specimen, who others look to for advice? Someone who can easily tackle physical feats? Someone who constantly accomplishes goals, and looks for more? This is nearly everyone’s fantasy. With these 5 simple exercises, you can start getting closer, one day at a time, to becoming this person, that you so desire to be.
Our first exercise is squats. The ‘go-to’ leg exercise, squats offer a myriad of benefits. One of the three powerlifts, squats work a variety of muscles. A compound, full body exercise, squats hit your thighs, hips, butt, quads, strengthen bones, ligaments, and also hit your hamstrings. Hard to find a better lower body exercise than that!
Your legs and butt will get stronger and ‘more toned’ as a result of doing squats. In adidition, core strength will improve, as well as strength in other muscles, such as the costals, abdominals and the lower back. Squats are also a functional exercise, meaning you are using movement patterns that are common to everyday life. When was the last time you did a bicep curl in any location besides the gym? On the contrary, you squat down to move things or grab things, all the time (I hope). This is a fundamental advantage to functional movements.
Are you having trouble starting out? Do you lack motivation to exercise? These are common problems. The beauty of these exercises, is that you can start your fitness journey by incorporating them into your routine. Don’t be embarrassed at having to start with no weight on the bar. Many of us start our fitness path at a crawl – not an exuberant victory lap.
Our next exercise is the bench press. Long standing as one of the first exercises practiced by men when they first start weight training, the bench press offers a myriad of benefits. For those unfamiliar, imagine a sort of ‘inverse’ push up, meaning that you are facing up, instead of facing down. From here, the bar will be lowered to your chest, and then you will push it back up, mimicking the motion of a push up.
There are many reasons for the popularity of the bench press. Firstly, since you are lying prone, nearly anyone can perform the exercise. Secondly, it is one of the three powerlifts (remember, squats were also one of these lifts). Thirdly, men love to develop their upper body, and the bench press is a great way to develop your pecs.
Besides your chest, you also develop a group of other muscles, like the anterior deltoids, triceps, trapezii, and serratus anterior. Also, you can scale the bench press to high weight, or very little weight. This is an important component of any “global” exercise. There are also many variations to the bench press, including incline, decline, wide grip, thumbless grip, etc. This also makes it an exercise that a beginner can use, as well as an expert in the weight room.
No one is going to do the work for you – you must do it yourself. A complicated, intricate plan – this is not what gets results in the beginning. What gets results in the beginning is just getting up and going to the gym. Avoiding the ice cream and getting to bed. Staying away from alcohol. These are the simple, basic steps that you must follow, to get results.
It may surprise you to know that our third exercise is simply jumping rope. Vastly overlooked, until CrossFit started to make it more popular, jumping rope is a simple, but very effective way to do cardio. Many hate long bouts of cardio (I don’t blame you there) but jumping rope is one quick way to bring your heart rate up. Vital to any good traveling workout, jumping rope can also take place nearly anywhere. And jump ropes are very inexpensive, as well. All of these elements help to make this very simple exercise, vital to anyone’s toolkit.
If you are very de-conditioned, you will start by simply jumping rope as slowly as possible, for as long as possible. Once you’ve mastered that, it is time to move up to the higher end of things. By speeding up your pace, you will bring your heart rate up even more, and start the equivalent of “sprinting” instead of “jogging”, as it were. Then, when you’ve mastered that (many never make it past this phase, don’t feel bad) you will be ready to try “double unders”.
Double unders are simply letting the rope pass around you twice, per jump. While this sounds easy, it is in fact, quite difficult. The other caveat, is that you can’t really perform this exercise, fluidly, at a slow pace. Meaning that you will be going faster, by default. A great way to incorporate this into your regular routine, is to team it up with some pushups, and air squats. This will give you a brisk, quick workout, which you can do even in cramped hotel rooms.
As mentioned, pushups are another great exercise to do. I doubt I will need to explain to anyone how to do a pushup, but the variations of this exercise make it a great way for beginners and experts to work out. There is the diamond push up, the wide pushup, the one-handed push up, and many others. We likely all remember the many 1980s films which showed montages of exercise, and invariably, they all included the pushup.
This universal inclusion shows that basic exercises can be extremely powerful, no matter how simplistic they seem to be. I challenge anyone to perform 200 pushups in a row. It sounds easy, but most will never make it. Keeping things as simple as possible is very hard in life. Modern times have brought upon a barrage of intrusions into our health, and our own, private, world. Maintaining your health is vital to your longevity. Maintaining your social calendar is not.
Much like jumping rope, pushups can be done anywhere, at any time (sorry to interrupt your wedding…). This is part of what makes them so vital to any good fitness regimen. They are also an exercise that can be performed by nearly anyone, adding to their value. In fact, there are over 15 different ways to do pushups, and that is just on their own, not counting the multitude of ways to incorporate them into a circuit training program.
Our last exercise is deadlifts. Fundamental to many functions in life, the deadlift rounds out the three powerlifts, and with good reason. Besides the bench press, the deadlift has long since been the de facto way to measure one’s gym-going prowess. There are also variations and different grips that can be used for a deadlift. And, in case you haven’t noticed the theme, they can be practiced by anyone, from beginner to expert.
I’ve written this post to show that what you need to do most, even if you’ve been working out for 15 years, is to follow the basics, constantly improve, and to stay the course. This sounds so simplistic. However, modern life is not a computer program, and it throws many variables at us. We must remember to keep it simple, stupid.
We all start from a simple place. Maybe we were bullied in school. Maybe we’ve always been overweight. Maybe we have health issues. Maybe we’ve been told over and over again that we can’t do things. This simple plan can help you to fight back. To stick it right in the eye of those doubters and haters, who say you can’t make it.
Did I accomplish my goal? Did you learn new things, or remember the basics, that you may have forgotten? Let me know, in the comments!