If You Could Only Do 3 Exercises….

Personal Trainer NYCImagine rubbing a lamp from which emerges a malevolent genie who proceeds to cast this curse over you: “Henceforth you shall only be allowed to do three exercises for the rest of your life, so choose wisely” (bare with me and my little thought experiment). I’ve pondered this question a lot more than I’d like to admit. Over my 20 years as a personal trainer in NYC, coach, and teacher, my philosophy and recommendations have evolved, but my answer to this question has remained same.

Since this is my game, here are the rules: You can add weight, resistance, and variability to these exercises so long as the foundations remain intact. Cardio is separate and does not count. The three winners are:

1. Planks

2. Squats

3. Pull-ups

Each exercise incorporates a majority of the neuro-muscular/skeletal system and has endless variability. They are relatively safe and the benefits usually outweigh the costs. An efficient and effective workout program can be designed around these three movements. And because they incorporate the whole body, they can be set up to progressively challenge any athlete or amateur.

* Planks are a great exercise because they train the core to do what it was created to do: prevent movement (anti-rotational) and stabilize the spine. Planks provide three-dimensional activation for all the deep and superficial core muscles including the transverse abdominals, gluteals and even the latissimus. They also work many non-core related muscles such as the shoulders and pectorals.  The isometric contraction required to do a plank strengthens the TVA and multifidis helping to protect the spine from injury. Most physical actions originate in the deep core and the stronger these muscles are the better our overall movement patterns will be. There are many variations to this exercise including:

* Squats are unarguably one of the best functional exercises one can do. In fact, it is a movement pattern humans do several times a day: bathroom, sitting down/standing up, picking things up etc. It is one of the primal innate movements all homo sapiens sapiens have. The gross motor demand on this multi-joint closed chain exercise is enormous. In order to do a squat correctly, one’s body must coordinate hundreds of muscles eccentrically, concentrically and isometrically.  It takes balance, core strength, stability and flexibility to do a squat well. Weighted squats place a great amount of force on the axial skeleton, increasing bone density while overloading the neuro-muscular system. Squats also help the body maintain natural ranges of motion around the joints, specifically ankle, knee, hip and lumbar.  Here are a small number of many variations one can do with squats:

* Pull-ups: The quintessential exercise for building functional strength. Pull-ups are hard for many people. When I first started working out they were very difficult for me too. This became a challenge. Every other day I would do 100 pull-ups with a variation of grips.  My goal was to do 100 pull-ups in 3 sets. The first time I did it, it took me at least 12 sets to get to 100.  I discovered my weak link (which I share with many people): grip and forearm strength.  I continued working on them eventually breaking my high school record of 37 strict pull-ups (no kips and full hang).  In that time my posterior chain musculature, biceps, and forearms got exponentially stronger. This helped me perform better in virtually all of my other exercises and sports endeavors. Most people need to work their posterior chain twice as much as their anterior chain due to all the sitting we do. Here are some variations in the pull-up:

Next time you have only ten minutes to train, incorporate these 3 exercises into a circuit and voila you’ve got yourself a pretty decent full body workout.  Thank goodness we don’t have to make deals with the evil genie…but just in case keep these 3 exercises in mind!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather