The Only 4 Exercises You’ll Ever Need

by Dr. Christopher on August 9, 2010

Babies squat. But when you don't use it, you lose it.

Our time is precious.  We spend time doing things either because we enjoy them in the process, or because we fulfill some purpose out of the process. 

Do you enjoy exercise?  All the power to you.  Keep it up.  

Do you exercise for some specific purpose other than enjoying the act of exercising itself?  Well, then I’m going to make exercise a whole lot easier for you and save you some time! 

If exercise were a job, the least effective movements would make you pennies.  You’d spend a lot more time getting minimal results.  Not these … they’ll make you rich! 

Use it – or lose it!

 As hunters and gatherers throughout most of our evolutionary history, we moved on a much more consistent basis than we do with 9-to-5 jobs.  We cooked, cleaned, built, played, walked, ran, hunted, and gathered.  Our lifestyles required movement.  Because we used our bodies, we didn’t lose our ability to move.  

Without toilets, we had to squat to go to the bathroom.  We ran to catch food.  We worked because there was no one else that would do it for us. 

Today, we have it easy.  We no longer move the way our body wants us to.  We pay pennies for food out of a box.  We sit at a desk to create income, so that we can use that income to pay housecleaners, landscapers, and carpenters the jobs that we don’t know how to do … so we can sit even more.  

Specialization does allow society to become more efficient with its tasks.  But it causes our bodies to degenerate much quicker than they should.  The sedentary lifestyle leads to an inability to use our bodies, and eventually pain and sufferring. 

Wouldn’t it be great if there were minimal movements we could be doing to get the most bang for our buck, allowing us to maintain our ability to function and keeping pain at bay?  Lucky for us, there are! 

4 Exercises That Will Make You Rich!

1.   The Squat: In Eastern countries, they have holes in the ground instead of toilets.  Card games are played on the ground by squatting in a circle.  They also have much lower incidence rates of knee, hip, and back pain.  A first person account: My grandfather went to go to the bathroom one night (number two … so he had to sit), fell, and hit his head on the sink, and died a few hours later.  He couldn’t squat.  This doesn’t have to happen to you. 

Purpose:  

  • Practice the motion of sitting and getting low to the ground as if to pick something up from it.
  • Strengthen primarily our hamstrings and gluteal muscles (supposed to be the strongest muscles of our body that are able to handle moving our entirety through space).
  • Stabilizing or locking the spine (keeping the core muscles tight as if somebody were about to punch you in the stomach).
  • Lay strong foundation for sitting, bending, and lifting.

2.  The Lunge: Many of us don’t run.  If we run, we don’t sprint.  If we don’t sprint, we lose the ability to use our body’s workhorses – hamstrings and glutes.   In my chiropractic exams, if an athlete or runner cannot perform a proper lunge, I can almost guarantee they will eventually injure their knees, hips, and/or back. 

Purpose:  

  • Maintain flexibility of hip flexors (front of hips) – vital for sedentary populations and back pain sufferers.
  • Strengthen primarily our hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and adductors (groin).
  • Stabilizing or locking the spine (keeping the core muscles tight as if somebody were about to punch you in the stomach).
  • Lay strong foundation for walking, running, and sprinting.

3.  The Push-up: I once trained a 50-year old woman.  I would have her do exercises on the ground laying on her back.  The first time she did this, she couldn’t get herself off the ground without using her hands to climb nearby machines.  She also needed me to pick her up.  The ability to do a push-up allows you to lift your body off of the ground, get your feet beneath you, and stand.  A much more efficient way to get off the ground.  

Here’s how to do it (Courtesy of Mark’s Daily Apple).  My only note in addition would be: Keep elbows at 45 degrees from the body to avoid overloading shoulders. 

Purpose:  

  • Strengthen back, chest, and entire arms (everything above your hips).
  • Stabilizing or locking the spine (keeping the core muscles tight as if somebody were about to punch you in the stomach)
  • Lay strong foundation for any arm movements as well as the ability to get yourself off of the ground.

4.  The Press: My grandmother, although active, used to ask me on a daily basis to get food out of the cabinets for her.  The cabinets were right above her head.  She couldn’t reach.  The hands were designed to reach out into space and grab things.  The press ensures that you never lose the ability to use your hands. 

Purpose:  

  • Maintain flexibility of arms.
  • Strengthen back, chest, and entire arms (again, everything above your hips)
  • Stabilizing or locking the spine (keeping the core muscles tight as if somebody were about to punch you in the stomach)
  • Lay strong foundation for any arm movements.

The Big Picture

The exercises and their benefits are listed here.  If you don’t know how to perform them, be sure to get a strength coach who knows his/her stuff to teach you how to perform them properly because you can hurt yourself.  “How to Perform Them” will be discussed in a later post.  

Doing workouts consisting of these movements will achieve most of an individual’s results, whether the desire is weight loss, increased muscle mass, greater health, greater flexibility, and greater ease of movement in everyday life.  

My grandfather literally died because of an inability to move properly.  My grandmother’s quality of life was lower because of her inability to move properly.  I often wonder if people would do just these 4 movements on a daily basis, how much better would their lives be with the ability to do the things that they love? 

How many of you practice these exercises? 

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Stugart August 9, 2010 at 8:38 pm

GREAT blog buddy. This article is a great source of information that everyday people can use. I think you, as a health care practitioner, NEED to emphasize that the ordinary person can do these as well. You don’t need to be a gym-rat to do these exercises and get yourself fit. Well written Dr. Chris.

Chris August 10, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Thanks for the comment Jay. Means a lot coming from you. My intention was absolutely to empower the “ordinary person” to do these exercises. That as hard as exercise may be for some, as lazy as some are, these exercises, at BARE MINIMUM, can get people huge results with minimal time and energy investment. Basically, every human being needs to be squatting to maintain optimal biomechanics in order to function. Hope all is well!

Madeleine Kolb August 12, 2010 at 8:32 am

Chris, This is really useful.I look forward to more info. on the “how to” part. For example, when you do a squat, how far down do you go? And, if initially you can’t go down that far, do you work up to it over time?
Madeleine Kolb recently posted..6 Brilliant Actors Over 60 or 70

Christopher August 12, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Thank you for comment Madeleine!

I need to take some pictures to clarify some things, then I will get the post up. In the meantime, when you squat, you want to keep your spine NEUTRAL (everything above your hips is LOCKED and static) the entire time. That means all of the motion should be happening at the ankles, knees, and hips. So you only want to go down as far as you can without your lumbar spine (your lower back) rounding, sometimes called a “butt wink”. This means that the hip motion STOPPED and low back motion STARTED. We don’t want low back motion!

Hope this makes sense. Will make more sense with the pictures! There will also be some special advice for the aging crowd Madeleine!

Dennis Lesniak August 16, 2010 at 11:29 am

Chris,

Great article, I agree with you 60-75% of the way. There is no pulling exercise, you know that is one of the fundamental movements that we have evolved as humans to perform. More than likely it was an oversight but I think that either a deadlift or pull up exercise of sorts should be included in this article. I know that the DL is similar to the squat and the pull up would probably be better as all you really need is a ledge whether it be the side of a building, a set of monkey bars, a tree branch, or within a gym, it is fairly easy to find a spot to do it but it is an extremely challenging exercise for a majority of people in the world. I appreciate your thoughts and keep up the great work!!!

Christopher August 18, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I agree … I would have substituted a “pulling” exercise (ie. deadlift or pullup) for the press had I wanted this article to be for the more advanced lifter. However, the goal in mind was to reach out to readers who may struggle to fit exercise into their time and explain how easy and effective exercise can be if you do the right movements. Also, if people do a push-up by actively pulling their torso to the ground and contracting the posterior rotator cuff and scapular muscles, they can work the back muscles, although not as effectively as the movements you mentioned. Again, thanks for input Dennis, always curious as to where your head is at.

Rose April 15, 2014 at 2:35 pm

I know you are keeping it brief but I didn’t see any “core” exercises included. I am a very out of shape and overweight middle-aged woman. I think my weakest muscles are my mid-section muscles as opposed to my arms and legs. What would you recommend for that? I have lower back issues (and a huge stomach) which make crunches difficult to execute.

Dr. Christopher April 17, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Hi Rose,

Start with the squats. It’s not a direct core exercise, but it will strengthen your core. After that, you can add planks.

See the squat here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKtOS-xIbhg

Hope this helps!

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