Is there a definitive list of the top exercises for attaining a high level of fitness? If there wasn't, it now exists. The Neighborhood Alpha Dad brings to you my list of the 11 exercises that give you the most "bang for your buck" in the gym.
So, you are ready to take your fitness to the next level!? Incorporating these 11 exercises into your workout routine will help you build strength, improve your athletic performance, and create a lean physique that doesn't quit!
It's impossible to narrow this down to just 11 exercises but here are 11 that you can't go without... plus 9 honorable mentions at the end haha!
Check out my "21 Steps to Finish the Year Strong" article from last week.
Let's jump into this! Ps click on the exercise name and they are linked to short demos on my YouTube Channel.
1: Squats: The king of leg exercises, squats strengthen your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. They also improve your balance and flexibility.
Get your form right and then get heavy. Best paired with short shorts.
Any variation is great but barbell squats for 5 sets of 5 never fails.
Make your descendants proud by building an impressive set of legs.
2: Push-ups: A classic upper body exercise, push-ups work your chest, triceps, and shoulders. Plus, they can be modified to fit any fitness level.
Mix them up too: Try clap push-ups, diamond, staggered, decline... one-arm maybe!
Try doing push-ups for time, 3 sets of 60 seconds, and see how many quality reps you can get within that time. Rest 60-90 sec between sets.
3: Pull-ups: Improve your upper body strength and back muscles with pull-ups. They may be challenging at first, but stick with it – the results are worth it.
I know this is a difficult exercise... but fight to become proficient. Start with band-assisted pull-ups or use an assisted machine!
Find a modification where you can do 3 sets of 10-12 reps. Over time build to harder variations. Check out my pull-up modifications demo here.
4: Romanian deadlifts: This exercise targets your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. It’s also great for improving your posture.
RDLs will build a dump truck that don't quit! I like going heavy on this exercise, try doing 3 sets of 8 with a challenging weight.
5: Shoulder press: Strengthen your shoulders, triceps, and upper back muscles with shoulder press. This exercise can be done with dumbbells or a barbell.
Try 3-5 sets of 5 reps. Over time, see if you can build the strength to do a strict press with your bodyweight.
6: Bent rows: Improve your upper body strength and posture with bent rows. This exercise targets your back, biceps, and shoulders.
Don't get sloppy on your bent rows. Keep the form strict and squeeze your back at the top! I like to think about pulling my elbows "up and back."
7: Lunges: Lunges are a great way to tone your legs and improve your balance. They can be done with or without weights.
One of my favorite supersets is to do 20-25 leg extensions, followed by max rep walking lunges. I do 3 sets, going immediately from the leg ext to lunges with no rest. Rest 60-90 sec after the lunges.
8: Sprints: Increase your cardiovascular endurance and speed with sprints. They’re a high-intensity exercise that will get your heart rate up in no time.
Sprints are literally the most underrated exercise. They build muscle, burn fat, and look really cool for slomo videos.
Two of my favorite sprint workouts:
12-15x40 yd hill sprints
*sprint up, walk down as rest
*sprint 100m, walk back to start for rest
Make sure to warm-up properly before sprinting and ease in if it is your first time or if you haven't sprinted in a while. My sprint warm-up demo here.
9: Hollow rocks: Improve your core strength and stability with hollow rocks. This exercise may seem simple, but it’s extremely effective.
The hollow rock is tough! Try 3 sets of 15-20 reps and don't be scared to modify as seen in my demo here!
10: Superman holds: Strengthen your lower back and glutes with Superman holds. This exercise may be done on the floor or on an exercise ball for added challenge.
The superman hold is a great way to combat poor posture from sitting and looking at devices all day. Hold this exercise for 2-3 sets of 45-60 seconds.
11: Walking: Boring, I know. But walking is excellent for general health, you can do it anywhere, and bonus points if you get outdoors for some sunlight!
My family has found that some of the highest quality time we get together is when we go on family walks. Put phones aways, get out in nature, and talk. This is a great recovery exercise for Saturdays and Sundays.
If you need some help piecing these exercises together in the gym, check out a free 7-day trial to my daily workout plan!
I tried condensing it to just 11 exercises, but it was tough. Don't get overwhelmed with options. Just start hitting the weights and refine the plan as you go.
Here are 9 bonus exercises to add into your workout program:
1: Biceps curls: strengthen those canons with biceps curls. They can be done with dumbbells, a barbell, or even a resistance band.
I've been liking the paused, alternating biceps curls for 3 sets of 16-20 reps!
2: Triceps extensions: Improve the strength and definition of your triceps with triceps extensions. This exercise can be done with a dumbbell, barbell, or resistance band.
The triceps makes up 2/3 of the upper arm, making it more prominent than the biceps!
I think triceps like heavy weight. Aim for 3 sets of 12 reps at a challenging weight.
3: Calve raises: Strengthen your calve muscles and improve your lower leg strength with calve raises. This exercise can be done standing or seated.
I mainly listed calve raises because I need to do more! Most people are very "bouncy" on calve raises. Slow them down. Pause each rep a the top, lower slowly, and then pause at the bottom of each rep as well. 3 sets of 10-12 heavy, slow reps.
4: Farmer carries: Improve your grip strength and overall upper body strength with farmer carries. This exercise involves carrying heavy weights in each hand as you walk.
Farmer carries are also a great way to get your steps in! Try 3 sets of 50 yd walks.
5: Kettlebell swings: Improve your cardiovascular endurance and strengthen your lower body muscles with kettlebell swings. This exercise is a great addition to any workout. I like 3 sets of 15-20 reps.
6: Band pull aparts: Strengthen your upper back and shoulder muscles with band pull aparts. This exercise can be done with a resistance band or cable machine.
I like to do 3 sets of 33 before an upper body workout!
7: Side planks: Improve your core stability and strengthen your obliques with side planks. This exercise can be modified for different fitness levels.
Level this exercise up by lifting the top leg. Hold 60 sec per side. Ouch!
8: Step ups: Strengthen your legs and improve your balance with step ups. This exercise can be done with or without weights and is easy to modify for different fitness levels.
Try 3 sets of 16-20 reps.
9: Split jumps: Improve your balance, coordination, and lower body strength with split jumps. This exercise involves jumping from one leg to the other while in a lunge position.
Split jumps never disappoint and can be done anywhere! I like doing sets of 12-20 in a circuit with kettlebell swings.
Incorporate these exercises into your workout routine for a well-rounded, effective workout. Your body will thank you!
Team, let's crush the rest of 2023!
ps for more about my fitness and career journey check out my "About Me" page!