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6 Exercises Everyone Should Do

by Shane Barnard, JD
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6 Exercises Everyone Should Do

No matter your age or perceived ability, there are certain exercises that have incredible benefits for every body. These functional strength exercises mimic movements in our daily lives and help strengthen our core, made up of our abdominal wall, back and hips. Developing a strong core assists with proper postural alignment, decreases pressure on your back and knees and makes everyday activities easier.

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To ensure safe execution, we have provided variations of each exercise with corresponding progressions once you have mastered a movement. Start with 8 repetitions of each exercise, working your way up to 12-15 reps (unless otherwise stated).


Muscles worked: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, erector spinae

Why: The squat is a compound movement that uses multiple muscle groups to improve balance and stability. The exercise helps create strong, flexible hips to sit and stand without discomfort or assistance and targets the gluteal and quadricep muscles to help relieve pressure from your back and knees as you walk up or down stairs.

Key points: Keep your weight in your heels as you push your hips back, keeping your knees tracking over your toes and your chest lifted. Push your heels into the floor to stand tall and complete one rep. Begin with unweighted squats, adding weight as you progress.

Progression Sequence: Wall, Air, Weights


Muscles worked: quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals

Why: Like squats, lunges are compound movements and increase functional strength, balance and stability.

Key points: To perform a static lunge, keep your spine neutral as you extend your left leg directly behind you. Place the toes of your left leg on the floor as you slowly soften your knees, lowering your body toward the floor. Only go as low as you feel comfortable while keeping your pelvis and spine neutral and shoulders stacked on top of your hips. Drive upward through your legs to straighten them and complete one rep. Perform all reps with your left leg behind you, and then repeat the exercise with your right leg extended behind you. Begin with unweighted lunges, adding weight as you progress.

Progression Sequence: Static, Reverse, Alternate


Muscles worked: pectoralis major, deltoids, triceps, transversus abdominals, erector spinae

Why: Pushups develop postural support and upper-body strength to aid in your daily life as you push and reach for things.

Key points: Start with your knees or toes at hip-width (or a little wider than hip-width for more stability). Place your hands on the floor a little wider than your shoulders. Slowly bend your elbows and lower your body toward the floor while maintaining a neutral spine. Push back up to complete one rep, keeping your body in a straight line throughout the entire movement.

Progression Sequence: Elevated, Knees, Toes


Muscles worked: erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, biceps, deltoids

Why: Rows develop postural support and improve upper-body strength in your back and shoulders to help you perform pulling and carrying movements.

Key points: Beginners should start with the superman exercise: Lay down on the floor in a prone position. Squeeze your glutes to extend and lift your legs off the floor. Slowly lift your shoulders off the floor in a back extension, keeping your head and neck relaxed. Hold this pose momentarily and then lower to complete one rep. Only extend the arms overhead if you want to increase the difficulty.

When you’ve mastered the superman, progress to the row: Start in a table top position with your hands gripping two dumbbells on the ground below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Keeping your arms neutral, pull a dumbbell up keeping your arm close to your torso, flexing your elbow and extending your shoulder. Lower dumbbell to the floor and repeat with the opposite arm. Progress from your knees to your toes to increase the difficulty and work on core stability.

Progression Sequence: Superman, Knee Row, Plank Row


Muscles worked: rectus abdominals, tranversus abdominals, erector spinae, quads, deltoids, obliques

Why: Planks develop postural support and strengthen your abdominal, shoulder and core muscles. Planks also increase stability and balance.

Key points: Beginners should start on your forearms and knees: Start on your forearms, with bent elbows placed below your shoulders and your knees behind your hips. Maintain a neutral spine and neck while you hold the plank position as long as you can. Shoot for at least 10 seconds.

Progression to hands and toes: Come up onto your hands and toes to increase the difficulty. Place your feet hip-width apart, or step them a little wider for more stability. Maintain a neutral pelvis, spine and neck.

Progression to forearms and toes: Come down to your forearms, with bent elbows placed below your shoulders. Maintain a neutral pelvis, spine and neck.

Progression Sequence: Knees, Hands, Forearms


Muscles worked: quadriceps, abductors, adductors, gluteals, hamstrings, transversus abdominals

Why: Single-leg exercises increase postural support, balance and stability.    

Key points: Start standing tall with a neutral spine and pelvis with your shoulders relaxed and chest open. Pull your right knee up and lift your foot off the floor and balance on your left foot. Keep your standing knee soft and hold for 10 seconds. Switch legs and hold for 10 seconds.

Progression to single-leg deadlift: Start with the single leg balance above, then slowly start to extend your right leg behind you and allow your upper body to slowly shift forward. Only go as low as your hamstring will allow without curving or flexing through your spine, using your arms for balance. Slowly return to a standing position. Keep your legs hip-width apart, hips square and spine neutral. Perform 5 repetitions per leg.

Progression Sequence: Single-leg balance, single-leg deadlift

Written by Shane Barnard is NASM-, ACE-, AFAA- and USATF-certified and the creator and founder of the Urbankick format and instructor certifications. She is also the co-founder of Urbanplay, a nonprofit health and fitness education program for youth, and a business partner at Studio360.


  • Savannah Johnston

    Would be nice if you explained how to do the variations, too.

    • Eliza Spear

      Agreed I was just thinking the same thing

  • Jaco Conradie

    You can search for Samantha Clayton’s channel on YouTube. She is Cristiano Ronaldo’s personal coach and have a ton of great video’s explaining these and many other exercises with step by step instructions. Enjoy!

  • Tarka

    Why is a super fit person demonstrating the hardest versions of the 6 exercises that everyone should do – inadequate explanation of the simpler versions no linked videos. I’m 57 lost 20 lb so far with another 50 to go. Demoralising as there is no way I can do these yet. Doing 10000 steps a day, at least 10 stair cases and over 45 ‘active Fitbit minutes a day’.

    • Mark Evans

      Welcome to life. Keep working, stop complaining. No one ever put a gun to your head forcing you to eat into being 70lbs overweight.

      • Sunnie Scarlett

        Interesting comment. Obviously you don’t know about things like insulin resistance, hormonal imbalance, hypothyroidism, metabolic syndrome, or menopause. Diet is only one aspect of the many influences on weight gain. I hope for the sake of the people in your life you’re not such a jerk in every interaction you have with them, Mark.

        • robinbishop34

          Weight gain/loss comes from either being in a calorie surplus or a calorie deficit. Don’t hang your weight loss hopes on some silver bullet solution… it will never happen.

        • Pete Peterson

          I hate to tell you this but unless you’re 15-25… diet is like 80% of weight gain/loss. It’s extremely important. There are obviously health issues that come into play that can hinder weight loss, but for a lot of the problems out there, it comes back to what you’re putting in your body.

        • Armadillo

          I think he’s just an a**hole, along with some others here.

          Its always easy from the outside looking in. Thank God they don’t actually have to walk in anyone else’s shoes. Good luck to you!!

        • DaBoss

          Calling someone a jerk is not big or clever. Neither is defending someone that you know nothing about.

        • Paul

          There is always someone who is going to make excuses like these for overweight people but the truth is 99 percent of the time it’s simply overeating….

          • Steph

            I totally agree with you. I know people that eat fast food every day
            for lunch and blame being heavy on a medical condition. Really??

      • Susan Ward

        Mark – take your punk a$$ elsewhere to troll.

        1) she has an VALID point. If EVERYONE should be doing this, demonstrate it for the least able denominator.

        2) This woman is old enough to have seen more things in her life then you can even imagine. Your Beta Mentality approval is not needed or wanted. F. Off.

        • EchoDeltaEcho

          Susan, Mark apparently does not understand the role of diversity in the causes of health conditions. However, using language, which can be perceived as abusive or offensive, may not motivate him to become more knowledgeable and less prone to articulating opinions that are based on ignorance.

        • Greer Paulsen

          Very aptly put and thank you for saying it!

      • Strangerinastangeland

        Lighten up.

      • Janet

        I agree with sunny

      • GlendA

        Why is it necessary to be so rude?

    • Pete Peterson

      Seriously?? This is supposed to help people and you’re offended? It addresses the progression in the explanation and the picture is what the end goal is. You should always aim for the end result. I applaud you for where you are right now and I’m challenging you to go after these goals. Progress not perfection.

      • Colleen Chouinard

        Right on Pete!! It takes much effort and determination to achieve your goals. The key is to never quit. If an exercise is too difficult work on the modified version until you can do even 1.
        Toe push-ups are very hard but if you can do one more each week before you know it, you can do 10, 20 or more!!

    • Tom Briggs

      Hi Tarka,
      Please ignore Mark’s comment – I think he’s probably having a bad day. Why anyone would want to attempt to undermine the efforts of someone who’s evidently putting the time in to get fitter.
      I looked at this post as I was interested in finding out a bit more how to move my fitness journey forward – as I’m sure was your motivation too. I’m going to struggle with these too, at first, but you know what? It’s given me inspiration to look up a video or two on YouTube to see if there are any “entry level” tutorials. Why not give it a try yourself (and let me know if you find any good ones).
      Don’t be disheartened – this isn’t a barrier, it’s just a goal to head towards 🙂

    • DaBoss

      Yoga helps tremendously. Walking and stair climbing will not improve your core strength in the same way as yoga.

  • It would be great if they’d put them on YouTube. That way, you could select which one you want to do, and kinda work out with it while watching it, without having to stroll through all the print and stuff, like on this page. Randy McDaniels, TLC.

    • robinbishop34

      You can find perfect examples of each on youTube… just not provided by MFP.

  • Meg

    Hi, interesting article. As an older female who really enjoys fitness I would like to give you some feedback. Really I just want to clarify that planking can have very bad consequences for people with pelvic floor weakness – and this issue includes a fair proportion of women at any given time, from post-childbirth to post-menopause. So planking, while effective, is really not an exercise ‘everyone should do’. I personally find it frustrating when a good workout includes planking – to me it is just lazy thinking to always go to that exercise.

    • George D

      Meg, thank you for your observation. Do you have any references of where I could go to read more about this? This is the first time I have heard that planking could be harmful to women with those conditions.

    • robinbishop34

      Odd, I would think planks would be nothing but beneficial to women with that issue. Every one of these routines actually.

    • Chris C

      You are not entirely correct, there are modifications that you can make:
      Kneeling rather than weight bearing through your feet and forearms
      Activating the abdominal muscles gently rather than forcefully
      Activating the pelvic floor muscles throughout the exercise
      Avoiding too many repeated Plank exercises
      Doing short duration Planking exercises – the ideal length of time to hold the Plank exercise is different for every woman
      Avoiding this exercise with your forearms on an unstable surface i.e. exercise ball

      • Annie Furtado

        Just to add to this indirectly, I recently bought an electronic pelvic floor exerciser and it has made a huge difference. It’s really important to keep the pelvic floor strong, as we know, and learning to engage it before doing exercises like the plank is important.

        • barbara.guidry@hotmail.com

          Wher did you get the electronic pelvic floor exerciser?

    • Jennifer Kepler

      Interesting – because i have gone to two different specialists in this area and both had me plank- they feel that overall core strength helps in pelvic stability. of course this is not the only exercise I have done- the key pelvic one that i struggle with is while sitting, squeeze close pubis muscles hold on “ground floor level” raise the elevator to level three holding, stand up, march in place (still holding), sit back done (holding) lower to level one and release

  • pamelalaroche

    I would like to be able to print these out & post them on the wall of the room I use as my home gym. Is there a printable version? Thanks.

    • anotherworriedmom

      Right click on the images and select Copy. Then Paste into a word doc and then print. You can adjust the images on the pages in the document to the size that works for you.

      • John

        Menshealth has a dvd called Gladiator. These exercises, paced and expertly coached by David Jack. When I started it at 63 years old I was 60 lbs overweight and could hardly get up off the floor. The first day I lasted for 3 minutes. 6 months later and 50 lbs lighter I was yelling at the video, IS THAT ALL YOU GOT,? If you have to put both hands on a table to manage a squat but get up in the morning and do it one time each day until you feel up to trying for 2 then, YOU GOT THIS!! Don’t let anyone tell you you don’t!!!!! I just keep telling myself no matter how bad it hurts its not as bad your dying will hurt those around you and then do one more rep!!! and feel good about your choices!!!!!

  • kristimaloney

    All of these exercises are included in the book Fitter Faster. I did lunges with weights two days ago and my quads. STILL hurt. I am a 49 yr. old female, beginner. My advice is to take it slowly on those miserable lunges!

  • Daisy Mortimer

    No, EVERYONE should NOT do these exercises!!! As someone with, not ‘perceived’, but ACTUAL nerve damage to my upper extremity, doing some of these exercises would cause further damage and cause even less functionability to the limited function I already have. You should be ashamed of yourself!!! Stop already! Bait clicking is bad enough. At least I have the medial background to know I shouldn’t listen to idiots like you.

    • Latoya Esquire

      If you have a problem, guess what that’s you. Not everyone has nerve issues.

    • iolani64

      What’s the difference between the man who says he can and the man who says he can’? Nothing, they’re both right. Ease into the exercises and loosen up before starting.

  • Joan

    At age 70, with back and knee problems, no way I can do these exercises. How about some for elderly and disabled. I haven’t been able to get on the floor for 15 years.

    • PamK

      Have you checked into Silver Sneakers?

    • Muir

      I am 70 also, have Rhumatoid Arthritis since age 27 and fibromyalgia since 50, also full of osteoarthritis . I must exercise it keeps me going. I have modified a lot but gradually I get it . Just do what you can that day and in time the rest will come. I had a really good trainer.
      Some days, I admit are harder than others, walking daily is a must for me. I like to go for an hour. Some days I have to break it down to half hour, if I feel up to it I try another walk in the afternoon.
      Try a short walk each day and add to it the following week, it will come. Goog luck,
      Healthy will follow, you can do this.

    • Annie Furtado

      Joan, if you live in the UK, look up your local Age UK organisation. They run classes specifically for older people with well qualified instructors who will help you to do what you can. You might find tai chi helpful but make sure it is a class for older people. Tai chi helps you regain muscle tone, balance and movement abilities.

  • elemengee

    While the blurb says these exercises are for all ages, I doubt very much, as a senior in fairly good shape, I could do these exercises.

  • CM

    These are good exercises but it is incorrect to say everyone should do them. I know women who have prolapsed bladders and the squat is not a recommended exercise for them. The pressure on the bladder when squatting works to a health disadvantage. I love the plank. I did it regularly on the gym floor during Body Pump class. After a year, I got a bump on one of my lower arms about three inches from my elbow.
    I went to the doc and he told me it was a dangerous situation. If the cyst had continued, my radius and/ ulna could become infected and the condition potentially serious. I think the fault might be doing the plank on a bare gym floor rather than having a mat of some kind. In conclusion, I think it is wiser to suggest these are very helpful exercises for conditioning but limited if an individual has problems. Let’s face it, there is a wonderfully broad choice of exercises and to limit or enforce a select few because of popularity or personal preference lacks benefit to many people.

  • Cindy McCafferty

    Laughing. Good luck with those exercises when you’re 61 years old, 100 pounds overweight, with arthritis in the knees. I looked at the pretzel shapes and thought, You’ve got to be kidding.

  • Jim Estep

    I think this is a great article and in fact are exercises that “everyone” should do as they are basic exercises. I believe this article, as most, expect that people will use some common sense as to whether they are able to do these based on their health and physical fitness level. As always, consult your physician first. I am a 59 year old male and these exercises are essentially beginner level that I first began with. I now perform much harder versions of these and progressed to that level under the guidance of a personal trainer.

  • Sallie L Burt

    Would be handy to have short videos demonstrating the exercises so I can make sure I don’t hurt my self .

    • 2skinny

      Sallie, go to you tube and type in the name of the exercise such as “plank exercise for beginner”. It’s right there.

  • RN

    I do these regularly twice a week with some alterations. I love all of these. I am 66 years old. Use common sense here. If you’re not sure, seek other options. Thanks for the great exercises.

  • Phillip Hoskins

    MFP strikes again with exercises that a lot of people who are beginners will struggle to complete. Or based on their movement pattern shouldn’t even attempt.

    • Andrei “Jorje” Gheorghe

      This is not MFP invention. These compound moves are the basics of anybody that wants to keep a balanced and strong body foundation.

  • Yukibar

    I’m a 64 y/o female, bad knees, wrists and back due to being hit by a pick up truck years ago. On May 2nd I started boot camp with my 40 something year old coworkers. I explained my limitations to instructors and he modified almost every exercise. I haven’t sweat that much since high school, I couldn’t even get down to a squat. 3 weeks later, I’m in a full squat, and no, there is no way I can do a burpee. But I finish the class each and every time. The older we get, the more we have to adapt things to what we can do. And then we kill it!!!!! It’s forever changing.

    • Andrea Stapp

      You go girl! You are awesome!

  • Andrea Stapp

    As a personal trainer at a women’s gym, I train all ages and all types of bodies. Some of my younger clients can’t do these exercises. Age and weight have nothing to do with ability. All of my clients go through a fitness assessment before I begin training them. I train a 78 who is stronger than I am. I also have a 75 year old who told me she will not get on the floor for exercise. Took me only 4 months and she is planking right next to me. Another lady who has arthritis now gets on the floor because I went and bought knee pads for her. I use ankle weights and leg lifts sitting on a bench instead of lunges. I tell my ladies, I train for strength, balance, coordination, and living. I want them to be able to get off the toilet for the rest of their lives. If you are in doubt about doing one of the exercises mentioned, I encourage to seek out someone with the ability and knowledge to help you. Yes, most everyone in time can do them even if modification is needed.

    • Heather Keeney

      Have you worked with women who are partially paralyzed from the waist down? If so what types of modifications would you suggest and what types of questions would you ask when looking for someone to work with?

    • MarK

      Can I say this is the most sensible post from a PT that I have seen in years. Mine is the same. Rippetoe is similar. Train for strength, which is basically what you are doing, and you are a better person in life for it being able to reach that can on the shelf, get out of a chair/toilet etc.

      Well done and keep preaching this.

      Get stronger people. The stronger you get you are in general more useful and harder to kill.

    • Deeze Dizard

      I love you! Where are you located? Are you in the Cleveland OH area?

    • Tony Isaacson

      I wish there were more like you. I am 61 yrs old and the classes at my local gym mainly cater for younger clients with high intensity, loud music, rapid movements done badly etc, just waiting for accidents/injuries to happen. I hear free weights being dropped onto floors or equipment, and music so loud in classes that you cannot hear any instructions being yelled. Its totally crazy!
      Where are you? 😉

  • Nicoline Remmet

    I try to find an alternative for push-ups, row and plank on hands because of my wrist-problems. Can you advice me on that?

  • IzzyBashir

    I’m so glad burpees were not on this list.

  • Papapabs

    I learned from my Crossfit Coach “Modification is the Rule – Rx is the exception” Im 70 soon to be 71 Male.

  • Mike Beagley

    As a below knee amputee, half of these are “no can do”s for me! 🙁

  • Kim Povey

    I do all of this in my routines already. Can’t believe people are calling these advanced techniques. Very basic I thought…

  • Marie-Eve Gelinas

    An idea… could you add a section in the MyFitnessPal app so that we can archive the post we want to keep?

  • Awesome.

  • Elena Zimmerman

    I really like these advice overall with one exception.
    I do not really think that Row specifically is a beneficial exercise. To be of any value, a person should always use the weight is >> bicep curl, and nobody really does, so they do not get into working the right muscles. I honestly would rather start with a free hang and then whatever form of a pull-up a person (a lying down one under a low bar, whatever it’s called, in particular) could do over rows.
    Just my 2 cents, don’t kill me!

  • Arpad Cseh

    Video instead of static pictures would be much better

  • Glenda

    I see this list as a gold standard for a good level of all round strength. I would use it as a 6 minute wake up routine or a 12 minute hotel room workout. It covers most bodyparts and requires little space or equipment. Not everyone can do these, especially if carrying a bit of extra weight, but its a good list to work towards with modifications along the way.

  • Neil Fitzgerald

    I am 60 years of age and have been doing these exercises twice a week intensely, in a group core fit class. I no longer have any back pain and my posture is now much improved. I have also improved my body shape.. thinner waist, shoulders are square, legs are defined, my tummy is flat. I no longer have any backpain. these exercises have transformed me.

  • I’d like to say, people who have been doing these kinds of workouts, should always try to include pull-ups too.
    They work your back like magic!

  • Sheila

    How can these exercises be modified for those living with herniated disc with spinal stenosis (chronic pain)?