A patient asked me this question last week: "What are the best exercises that everyone can do?"
Before I could give an adequate answer, I had to give it some deep thought.
Initially, my mind thought to recommend incorporating more natural movement into their day over traditional exercises, just like I outlined here. But then I realized that some people are looking for a more structured exercise routine in addition to moving their body more overall.
So what are the best exercises, or movements, that someone of any fitness level or experience can do?
Sure, there are a ton of challenging lifts and exercises that could be done in a well outfitted training facility but unless everyone had access to such a place or access to the required equipment, some of those movements just wouldn't be realistic (and honestly, they're not even necessary).
The other major criteria that needed to be accounted for when considering movements that everyone could do is scalability. Could the movements be scaled down for those with minimal fitness experience, or limited strength, endurance or mobility?
With that said, here are the 5 best movements that I'm recommending.
The squat is a full body, compound movement that strengthens your thighs, hamstrings, hips and glutes. Due to the weight bearing nature of squatting, this movement also strengthens your bones, ligaments, tendons and is one of the best ways to encourage natural movement in the joints of your low back, pelvis, hips, knees and ankles all at the same time.
There are a number of different scaling options for a squat:
Squat with extra resistance across your back (yes a barbell works, but so does carrying a child)
Squat with extra resistance in front of you (holding a kettlebell will do, but so will a moderate to heavy item you have around the house)
Squat to wash the floor or get dishes from a lower cabinet
Squat to play with your kids on the floor
Partial squats while holding onto a chair or doorway for stability
Movements like this that mimic the ranges of motion of a squat (child's pose or knees to chest)
The deadlift is straightforward…bend down and pick something up. It’s a movement most people perform multiple times a day already. Once again, it could range from picking up a barbell from the floor, but it doesn't require equipment. Try just bending over slightly with a bend in your knees and neutral spine. Then stand back up again.
Think of this as your ideal-picking-something-up-off-the-floor movement. It's useful when picking up children, moving furniture or boxes, or picking a moderate to heavy object up off the ground and placing it on a table.
In addition to it’s simplicity, the deadlift requires minimal equipment, strengthens your core, trains more muscles simultaneously than another other lift, is safe, develops grip strength and has real world application.
A natural extension from the deadlift is “the carry”. It’s as simple as walking with resistance.
This movement can be performed by carrying something at your sides, over your head, or in one hand only. The benefits of this movement include upper body, core and grip strength.
Trust me…it sounds easy but 100 feet later you’ll be huffing and puffing.
Speaking of gasping for air…sprinting is next on our list.
Sprint training is among the most explosive training you can do. It trains the lower body, burns fat and builds muscle.
I know you’re thinking: “how would my grandmother be able to sprint?” It’s all relative. Even walking as fast as possible would pass as sprinting.
The push-up is a full body, highly functional movement that requires core stability, upper body strength development, and best of all, requires nothing other than your hands and something to push against.
The gold standard version of a push-up includes maintaining a plank-like torso and pushing your body off of the floor. If this is too difficult, even pushing yourself away from the wall will give you similar strength benefits.
Each of these movements are capable of being modified where required or can be made more difficult if your strength and mobility are there
I hope you found these 5 movements helpful. If you're still unsure of where to start, what’s the biggest challenge keeping you from exercising?