The Single Best Exercise You Can Do

by in Health & Fitness February 26, 2014

Time for a little reality check, and a mental exercise (don’t worry, I will get to the physical stuff here in a second!)  Imagine you can only do one exercise for the rest of your life. If you had to choose ONE single exercise to do for the rest of your life, right here and now, what would it be? It’s a popular question with a multitude of answers, depending on who’s being asked!

If you ask the AARP, it’s the plank, which is easy on the joints, involves every body part, strengthens the core which can help prevent falls, is very safe for seniors (the intended audience of AARP), and you can do them anywhere without equipment. I have no fault with the plank.

If you ask the NY Times to ask various experts, it’s the squat, or maybe the burpee, or maybe sprinting uphill. These are all exercises that stress the entire body, and can be performed with high intensity to elicit the highest possible training effect in the least amount of time. You could do a lot worse than squatting, doing burpees, or sprinting.

If you were to ask a group of sports physiologists, I imagine you’d hear “the low-bar back squat” because it supposedly elicits the greatest hormonal response, builds the often-neglected posterior chain strength (because most of us spend too much time sitting on it!), makes your entire body stronger, and simply “makes a man outta ya.”

If you ask power-lifting athletes, it’s the barbell thruster, a fairly simple to learn “two-in-one” exercise combining a squat with an overhead press.

If you ask trainers of Olympic athletes, such as Charles Poliquin, it’s the snatch grip deadlift done on a platform, which increases the range of motion over the regular deadlift and builds overall strength and size better than any other exercise he’s seen.

Those are good candidates. A person could get and stay very strong, fit, fast, and healthy doing any one of those exercises for perpetuity, even to the exclusion of all others. But a thruster isn’t the best exercise there is, hands down. Nor are squats (of any kind), deadlifts (of any kind), or planks. Sprints are cool, but they aren’t the best.

The single best exercise there is, hands down, is the one you’ll do.

I know, I know….let me pause here so you can get the eye-rolling, and scoffing out of the way. Go on, I know you’re thinking it. “The best exercise is the one you’ll stick with!” is a cheesy, cliche answer that you’ve heard a thousand times before.

But it’s true. By the most objective definition, the most effective exercise is the one you’ll do. It’s true:  heavy squats are fantastic for strength, unless you don’t do them. Yes, sprinting makes you lean and fast, unless you’re not sprinting. The same is true for everything. It only works if you do it.

One reason is consistency. You don’t get stronger or fitter or leaner because of a single workout. You get stronger or fitter or leaner because of the cumulative effect of many, many workouts done on a consistent basis.

The key is figuring out which exercise you’ll actually do. And I don’t need scientific references for the notion that you’re more likely to do a physical activity that you actually enjoy doing. It’s a fundamental law of nature.

So…if you like going to the gym and throwing down some serious weight — do it!  If you would rather go for a marathon Ultimate Frisbee game in the park — do it!  If you want to try your hand at three sports at once and commit to a triathlon — then do it!  If you’ve been eyeballing that ballroom dancing course, then sign up!

Change up your routine, get out and have fun with whatever it is — just get out and be active every day… get your exercise in with fun and play.  If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to stick with it.  And the BEST exercise you can do is simply the one you will stick with.

How are you going to exercise today?  What sounds like fun?  Get out there and do it — and with consistency, you will see the results you want to see!