“What if you could only do a handful of exercises? Which do you think are most important? Why do you think that?”


Someone asked me this question a couple weeks ago. I’m not sure what prompted the conversation, but it did get me thinking. She didn’t give any parameters for the decisions, but I did create a few to help me narrow down the exercise list.

I wanted movements that would give great “bang for the buck”. They had to be exercises I can to do now and should be able to do when I’m 90. I wanted to restrict them to a minimal amount of equipment. Here is my list and my reasons for the mentioned movements:

  • Sprinting (50 meters to 400 meters)
  • Squats (any variation)
  • Overhead Pressing (any style, including handstand pushups)
  • Pullups/chinups (any variation)
  • Swings (any variation)


Sprinting: A basic movement human movement. Sprint repeats are tough, but the benefits are tremendous. Metabolic, functional and sprinting will strip away body fat.

Squats: Back squats, front squats, Kettlebell squats – all great. When coupled with significant weight, squats build muscle everywhere on the body. I put on 5 pounds of muscle doing a 16 week weighted squat routine. When you weigh 110#, adding 5 pounds of muscle is a big deal. Even done with only bodyweight it’s a fantastic movement.  Another basic movement everyone should be able to do.

Overhead Pressing: Strict, push, jerks – it doesn’t matter. Handstand pushups are a great alternative when my lower back is sore or I have no weights.

Pullups/chinups: Upper back, core and grip strength. Back and grip get worked, but when I do a high number of pullups (strict or kipping) my abs feel pretty sore the next day. The core does engage during pullups.


Monkey Bar Gym Pullup

Pullup Monkey Bar Gym


Swings: Kettlebell, dumbbell, sandbags, whatever. Great for engaging the back side of the body. Can be done to increase explosive power with heavier weight, for “cardio” with a lighter weight. A viable substitute for running if I have sore knees or ankles.

Honorable mentions if the list were the list were longer: Burpees, Car Pushes, Slegehammer Swinging, Deadlifts, Jumping variations and Power Wheel Crawls.

If you could do only a few exercises, what would they be and why?