The only 5 exercises you’ll ever need

What if you had to choose only five muscle-building movements for every workout? You don’t need a ton of variety to hit the major and minor muscles responsible for making you a powerhouse. Boredom aside, here are the only five moves you’ll ever need in your workouts to get strong and stay healthy.

1. Deadlift

Barbell_DeadliftMuscles Worked: posterior chain, quads, core

Nothing builds muscle and power like the Deadlift. The move is simply picking up a heavy thing off the ground to your waist height and then putting it back down again. You want to include the Deadlift in your routine because it works a significant amount of the muscles in your body in a highly functional capacity. Plus, it’s one of the most impressive lifts to show off!

2. Back Squat

Back SquatMuscles Worked: quads, glutes, calves, core

Squatting is one of the fundamental human movements, right on par with sitting and walking. A good squat works your legs, butt, & core muscles (like your abs). It also has a practical component: if you ever need to carry a person to safety, the best way is by squatting them onto your shoulder and then walking wherever you need to go. The stronger your squat, the bigger the person you can carry.

3. Overhead Press

Overhead PressMuscles Worked: triceps, deltoids, lats, traps, pecs, core

One of the weakest movements for most new lifters is just pressing something above your head. You see this in every day life when you put something on a high shelf from standing, or have to lift a heavy laundry basket over a baby gate, for example. Another benefit of training the overhead press is the amount of core activation you get from needing to stabilize the weight above you. Last, in the event you ever end up upside down needing to press your bodyweight out of that position (such as falling, car accidents, or James Bond villains) the stronger press gives you a better chance to escape effectively.

4. Push-up

push upMuscles Worked: triceps, pecs, core

So many people hate the push-up, but usually because they can’t do a good one! Being able to push with significant force doesn’t just help you get up off the floor (though that’s great, too). It also lets you react more effectively in self-defense against an aggressive person or animal. If you’re so inclined, the push-up also improves your ability to punch with enough force to damage an object or attacker.

5. Pull-up

pull upMuscles Worked: lats, biceps, deltoids, core

A lot of the time people don’t need the ability to pull themselves from dead hang to an object above them in everyday life. That’s fine, until you actually do need to do that! Having the back and arm muscles to move your body up against gravity is a good one for the “impressive party tricks” bag as well as a potential life saver if you ever find yourself hanging from a cliff, building ledge, or tree branch.

Sample Routine

So you’re ready to get all this together and start working? Great! Here are two training splits you can use to maximize gains on these moves. Note that these plans don’t include a reasonable warm-up set for each barbell movement, so you need to take that into account in your planning. By time you reach the bodyweight only movements (push-up and pull-up) you should be warmed up enough to go right into the working sets.

3-Day Plan

When: Mon/Wed/Fri or Tue/Thu/Sat

  • Back Squat – 3 sets of 5 reps @ 80% max
  • Deadlift – 1 set of 5 reps @ 80% max
  • Overhead Press – 3 sets of  reps @ 80% max
  • Pull-up – 3 sets of max reps (2 min rest between)
  • Push-up – 3 sets of max reps (2 min rest between)

4-Day Plan

When: two days on, one day off (e.g. Mon/Tue & Thu/Fri as working days)

Days 1 & 4

  • Back Squat – 3 sets of 5 reps @ 80% max
  • Overhead Press – 3 sets of  reps @ 80% max
  • Push-up – 3 sets of max reps (2 min rest between)

Days 2 & 5

  • Deadlift – 1 set of 5 reps @ 80% max
  • Pull-up – 3 sets of max reps (2 min rest between)

Days 3 & 6

  • Rest