There’s a lot of confusion out there about the best exercises for building strength, losing fat, increasing muscle mass, etc. It’s simpler than you might think, though. There are five types of exercises that just about everyone can benefit from incorporating into their workout routine, regardless of their fitness goals.
Read on to learn about these five exercises and get some ideas of how you can start adding them to your workouts.
Ah, squats. It wouldn’t be a list of the best types of exercises without mention of them.
I consider squats to be one of the most functional movements a person can do. Think about how often you mimic the squatting motion throughout your day. Every time you sit down in and stand up from a chair, or a bench, or a toilet seat, you’re doing a version of squatting. Because this movement is so fundamental to our activities of daily living, it’s imperative that squats are a part of your workout program (in my opinion).
Now, when it comes to the specific types of squats you do during your workouts, you definitely have some wiggle room. Not everyone needs to do heavy barbell squats in order to be healthy and move in a functional way. There are lots of other squat variations that have value.
You can do bodyweight squats or box squats. You can do goblet squats or squats with resistance bands. You can do split squats and lunges to strengthen muscle imbalances and get some extra support for your low back if regular squats are painful (that being said, I also recommend working on your mobility so that regular squats do not remain painful, but that’s a different discussion).
Deadlifts are another example of a functional exercise that has a place in everyone’s workouts. To be more specific, hip hinging exercises have a place in everyone’s workouts.
Hip hinging motions help to strengthen the posterior chain (back of the body). Like squats, they also mimic activities of daily living — how often do you bend over to pick something up throughout the day? Do you want to be able to that in a pain-free way?
In the same way that not everyone can or needs to barbell squat, not everyone can or needs to barbell deadlift.
You ought to be incorporating some kind of hip hinging motion into your routine, though. This could be a Romanian deadlift, a split stance deadlift, a single-leg toe touch, or even a bodyweight hip hinge.
3. Overhead Presses
At first, this might not seem like a super functional exercise. That is, until you have to lift your carry-on bag overhead to put it in the overhead compartment on an airplane. At that point, you’re going to wish you’d spent a little more time working on your overhead pressing abilities.
Even if you don’t have to lift a weight over your head on a regular basis, you likely have to lift your arms over your head from time to time. If you can’t do this in a pain-free way because your muscles have atrophied or you have imbalances that prevent you from moving your shoulder joints through a full range of motion, your life is going to get pretty difficult.
To avoid this and ensure you can continue to do basic tasks like putting something away on or getting something down from a high shelf, I recommend making overhead pressing exercises a part of your routine.
These types of exercises can take several different forms. There’s a traditional barbell overhead press, of course. You can also do dumbbell shoulder presses, though, or shoulder presses with resistance bands.
4. Bench Presses
Bench presses are another example of an exercise that doesn’t seem super functional at first.
When you consider the muscles it targets, though, it makes sense for it to have a place in your routine. The bench press strengthens the pectoral muscles and the muscles of the arms and shoulders. I can think of lots of instances where having a strong chest, arms and shoulders can come in handy.
You might not find yourself in a lot of situations where you’re on your back pushing a weight off of you, but you very well might one day end up in a seated or standing position and need to push a weight away.
Because they strengthen the arms and shoulders, bench presses also have a lot of carryover to other movements. For example, being able to push yourself up off the floor to stand up or needing to lift a heavy weight over your head.
Finally, rows. I think rows are super underrated, especially when it comes to lists of essential exercises. Consider the way the average person spends the majority of their day in 2019, though.
For most people, a typical day involves sitting in a car on their way to and from work, where they sit at a desk for 8+ hours, then coming home and sitting on a couch while hunching over a smartphone or tablet. That’s a lot of sitting and a lot of hunching, neither of which is great for our posture and spinal alignment.
Upper-crossed syndrome is a serious issue these days, and even kids are starting to struggle with rounded heads and forward shoulders. Rows are a great exercise that helps to strengthen the back and shoulder muscles and counteract all the sitting and hunching we do throughout the day.
There are lots of different types of rows you can do, too. There’s the traditional bent over barbell or dumbbell row, but you can also do seated cable rows or standing cable rows (both of which are great for improving posture), as well as rows with resistance bands.
Are You Doing Any of These Types of Exercises?
There you have it — the five types of exercises I think everyone ought to be doing in some form or another.
If you’re not incorporating any versions of these exercises into your routine, you could be missing out on some serious strength gains and health benefits. Try adding them in today and see how you feel!
Which of these exercises is your favorite? Least favorite? Let me know in the comments down below!