The 10 Exercises I Use Most
Strength training is the most efficient form of exercise to help you lose weight, tone up, increase energy, improve strength (duh), enhance your physique, and become an expert at cryptocurrency investments (ok, not that last one, but the rest is true).
But if you don’t know which exercises to do, where should you start? This list might only have 10 exercises, but it will get you further than you think, as I explain below.
All You Need is Love… and Squats?
To quote the excellent trainer (who happens to work with a bunch of celebrities) Ben Bruno, “Effective strength training pretty much consists of rotating the same basic 15-20 exercises until you die.”
He’s right (not that he needs my approval).
Part of the reason this is true is because, if you have the right list of exercises, there are a million different ways to use them. That way you can do the same thing all the time without actually doing the same thing all the time.
You can do them with just bodyweight. You can do them holding a kettlebell, or dumbbells, or a barbell. You can do 50 in a row or load them up heavy and just do 5. You can do them one leg at a time. You can do them slowly, quickly, or somewhere in between.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. With that one exercise alone, you have endless options for how to perform it.
Now imagine you have 10 exercises like that. Actually, don’t just imagine it, let’s take a look at the list.
Read This First
Not every exercise is right for everyone. I’m not advising you necessarily do any of these. They’re just ones I tend to rotate heavily in my personal workouts (and for a lot of my clients). Refer to this list at your own discretion (and with the guidance of your doctor).
If it hurts, or you just aren’t sure you’re doing it right, don’t force it. Get help. Email me if you have questions.
OK, now on to the list, in no particular order…
1. Goblet Squat
Not only do I use this one a lot, I have pretty much every single one of my clients do it on a regular basis because it can make squatting easier and it helps teach good form.
That’s a good thing. Especially when you’re not an elite level gym rat who eats squats (and raw eggs) for breakfast.
On top of that, goblet squats go above and beyond the call of duty compared to a lot of other leg exercises by also hitting your glutes, upper back, and core. That means this one exercise can get as much done as 3-4 other (less carefully selected) exercises combined, so you don’t have to spend as much time in the gym.
They do require the use of some kind of weight, but even if you’re working out at home, this one can easily be done with a backpack, as I show in the video…
2. Sumo Deadlift
Deadlifts are one of the most common exercises clients tell me they can’t do because they have back issues. If that’s you, hear me out…
As someone who threw out his back annually for like the first 10 years of my adult life — and a couple times as a kid, too (the very first time when I was only 12) — I feel your pain.
I also know that deadlifts could potentially help your problem by STRENGTHENING your back.
I’m not saying you should jump into heavy deadlifts. Consult a doctor (or PT) if you have back problems. Just don’t resign yourself to the idea that you’ll never be able to lift something off the ground (which is all a deadlift is) without putting your spine at risk.
Sumo Deadlifts tend to be a good one for sparing the spine while still helping to strengthen it. And when you’re first getting started you can do them with hardly any weight at all just to work on good form…
For every person who says they can’t deadlift, there’s another who says they can’t do push-ups. Barring unusual circumstances, I tend to disagree. There are just too many variations to choose from to write them off completely.
I view exercise as a way to improve the way your body moves, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of accomplishment you get when you finally master something you thought you’d never be able to do.
I don’t want you to miss out on that.
That’s why I like finding solutions to problems like “I can’t do push-ups.” Because maybe it’s true, maybe you can’t do traditional push-ups on the floor at the moment. But you might be able to knock out 20 of them someday if we find an easier variation now.
Sometimes that means doing a hand elevated version, or it could be starting with just the lowering portion for a while. You can see both of those variations in the videos below…
4. Neutral Grip DB Bench Press
You don’t need weights for a good workout, but they sure can make it easier. For example, if you get tired of trying to find innovative ways to vary your push-ups, with just a pair of dumbbells and a bench, you can use the bench press to work the same muscles.
Which also means this is a good one for improving your strength if getting better at push-ups is something you’re interested in.
There are just as many (or more) variations of bench press as there are push-ups. This particular one is a favorite because it’s easy on the shoulders…
5. Inverted Row/Pull-Ups
I only exercise 3 times per week on average, but I usually do pull-ups in 2 out of 3 of those workouts. They’re hard to beat when it comes to strengthening your back muscles.
That said, they’re just too difficult for most people to do at all. But if you’ve been paying attention, you know I’m not going to say you’re out of luck.
If you want to, you’ll be able to do pull-ups one day. It IS possible for both men and women. For now, a good alternative is the Inverted Row. They’re a great exercise even when you CAN do pull-ups, so don’t think this is some kind of cop-out, either…
6. One Arm Row
This is another exercise for strengthening your back muscles. It can be done with dumbbells, or a backpack filled with books, rocks, or the dark, heavy soul of your worst enemy (but probably books would be easier).
I do this one a lot because I don’t have an abundance of equipment in my home gym. But if you go to a normal gym, this could be replaced with pretty much any other type of row such as a cable row, chest supported row on a bench, t-bar row, etc.
The exact variation (and whether you even know what any of the ones I just mentioned are) doesn’t matter. The point is to find as many different types of rows as possible at your workout location of choice and do them often.
The video below gives you some universal tips for most rows (and then the One Arm Row specifically is below that)…
7. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
Single leg exercises are more and more becoming my go-to for strengthening the legs (and butt) because of how effectively they work so many aspects of your fitness all at once.
In other words, they get more done in less time.
Besides improving lower body strength, you also get an extra element of balance (since you’re on one leg), core control (because you have to stabilize yourself more), and safety (because you don’t need as much weight to make it difficult and you can reduce muscle imbalances that go unnoticed with normal “two leg” squats).
Just be sure to pay close attention to the form I share in the video…
These last 3 exercises are for your core, and the deadbug is one that can easily be adapted to any skill level. Many of my clients start with the easiest version and are ready for more challenging alternatives within weeks.
That’s also part of the reason I use it so regularly. I can use an easier variation in a warm up, or I can make it more difficult and use it as part of my actual workout (typically as part of a superset, where I do the deadbug during my “rest time” between sets of another exercise).
Below is a video of a Legs Only Deadbug (start with that one) and then one of a normal Deadbug. To really feel it in your core, you’ll want to pay attention to getting the breathing right…
9. Loaded Carry
As far as bulletproofing your body, this exercise is as good as it gets, and I actually think they’re kind of fun.
You won’t feel this core exercise in your abs, but don’t be fooled, if you’re doing these right, your entire body will be working hard, including all the abdominal muscles which help stabilize your spine as you walk.
But don’t just pick up a weight and start moving. Listen to the instructions for keeping good posture and be sure to maintain that position the entire time…
Planks are unique because a lot of people hate them, but for completely opposite reasons: either they’re too hard and hurt your back, or too easy and you just can’t feel it in your core.
Like I’ve mentioned with some of the other exercises, it’s all about finding the variation that works best for you. If you can’t find ANY variation (and I’m not even sure you could live long enough to try every plank that exists), it’s possible a simple fix to your form could be the answer.
Either way, having a strong core is a major factor in helping your body feel healthy and young (no matter what age you are). And planks are a convenient option for getting the job done.
This video goes over several options for how to adjust a traditional front plank and find something that works for you…
It’s possible that you’ll need different versions of all of these exercises—the specific ones I listed here might not be a good fit for you.
Either way, once you have your own list of exercises you know you can do (even if it’s just a handful of them), you can work off that list for a long time.
Getting in 2-3 workouts per week is an achievable goal for most people. Even if all you do in those sessions is 3 or 4 exercises that work the majority of your muscles (i.e. upper body, lower body, and core), you’d be set.
One of the benefits of working with us as a client is that I can introduce you to all kinds of exercises to add to your arsenal, including some you may have written off as “impossible,” all with just an easier variation or a simple fix to your form.
If you want to gain back control over what your body is capable of, have more confidence, and lose weight while you’re at it, check out how our online coaching works and what we can do to help you.