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The ONLY Four Exercises you need for a Full Body Workout

Updated on May 22, 2016

Disclaimer: I am not a personal trainer or a medical doctor. I don't even play one on TV. If you have any uncertainties about yourself either physically or medically, you should always consult a professional in those fields before you start any new exercise routine, especially if you have a known condition. Safety is ALWAYS the priority.

It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.

— Cicero

No Purchase Necessary

It seems like every year there is a new fitness trend exploding onto the scene, bringing new equipment and philosophies into our gyms, and a lot of the time bringing lots of confusion as well. Should you buy that shiny new piece of equipment you saw on that infomercial last week when you couldn’t sleep? Of course you should! It’s only 4 easy payments of $19.95 and it’s going to get you shredded in just 2 weeks!

Equipment and trends come and go. I’m not saying they’re all bad, some have definitely proven effective for many people and that’s awesome. But you would be wise to remember that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and more often than not the latest trend is simply a tried and true exercise protocol re-packaged by a clever marketer. So before you go out and spend your hard earned money on the latest trend, remember that you already have a tool you can exercise with any time and any place – your own body – and if you apply that tool correctly, you can utilize it to work every major muscle group with ONLY FOUR exercises.

Bodyweight Training Explained

The preferred training method of military organizations, bodyweight training has a long and deep history dating back thousands of years. From the Spartans and Romans, to the modern day US Navy SEALs and British SAS, it has been a crucial and consistent component of the training methods of nearly every successful and notorious military group in history. This can largely be attributed to the military need for being able to train anywhere and at any time and in any conditions. However, setting aside the convenience aspect, the effectiveness of bodyweight exercises for strength and conditioning is hard to deny.

We live in a period of such technological marvel and advancement that it is sometimes hard to remember that often the simplest solutions are the best ones. You may be skeptical of exercise that uses no shiny, expensive machines or heavy loads, but research has shown that bodyweight exercises can improve strength and endurance, and if incorporated into a well-designed workout, can put the body into an optimal fat burning metabolic state that will last for hours post workout.

Just in case you need additional reasons, here are a few more to summarize:

  • The Price of Admission: This one should be a no-brainer but I’ll spell it out anyway – bodyweight workouts cost nothing. Who doesn’t love FREE?
  • The Convenience Factor: It should be obvious at this point that using your own bodyweight for resistance trumps all weights and machines for convenience. With everything you’re currently walking around with you can accomplish an effective workout anywhere – your backyard, your basement, your bedroom or living room, or a hotel room. You are your own walking fitness center!
  • The Time/Value Perspective: With only a finite number of hours in a day, finding the time to exercise can be its own challenge. But with the efficacy of bodyweight train you can get a heart pumping, sweat inducing workout in just a few minutes time. With no equipment getting in the way, transitioning between movements takes almost no time, minimizing rest periods and keeping your heart rate elevated. This is essentially interval training, and while I won’t get into the science of it here, it has repeatedly been shown to be more effective than steady-state bouts of running/cardio. Couple all that with the fact that many bodyweight movements, squat and push-up to highlight two, are compound movements which engage multiple joints and muscle groups. This gets us that FULL BODY WORKOUT we are after!

Are you sold yet? Good. Onto the only four movements you need to get a full body workout…

The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat.

— US Navy SEALs

Air Squat

This is probably the MOST IMPORTANT movement you can be doing regularly for your general health and fitness. Few exercises engage as many muscle groups as the squat. To successfully execute this movement requires your entire body, in particular your hamstrings, glutes, and your core to stabilize and keep everything aligned properly. Squatting has been shown to increase speed and power, increase overall mobility, and decrease joint pain. Seriously, go squat! Here’s how…

  • Start with your feet shoulder width apart
  • Keep your weight in your heels, and drive your knees away from each other as you descend from the starting position, maintaining a tall chest and neutral spine
  • Don’t be afraid to go deep, your hips should pass below the plane of your knees
  • Maintain that tall, upright chest position and keep your core and glutes engaged as you stand up, driving through your heels
  • Stand up to full extension of the hips
  • Repeat

That’s it. It’s startlingly simple…yet very easy to screw up. So don’t take it from me, this movement is so dynamic and complex it’s best to witness it in action. Check out this excellent demonstration video from prioritystrength.com.

Air Squat Demo w/ Noah of Priority Strength

Push-ups

If you grew up playing team sports with a coach…or attended a gym class prior to the year 2000…you might remember the push-up as a form of “punishment”. What you might not have realized is the coach/teacher doling out the punishment was doing you a favor. When you drop and give someone twenty, the last thing you are thinking about is how many muscles you are using. But if you pay careful attention you’ll feel your biceps, triceps, anterior deltoids, core muscles and lower body muscle groups activating to support and stabilize the movement. It may feel the hardest in your chest and arms, but you are hitting every major muscle group with the push-up!

Push-ups can be varied for difficulty, but here’s how to do a basic push-up correctly…

  • Hands and elbows shoulder width apart on the floor, feet slightly spaced apart
  • Fingertips should be pointing directly in front of you
  • Your entire body should align from head to toe, DO NOT let your hips sag
  • As you lower yourself toward the floor, keep your elbows inside your wrists and close to your body
  • Full depth occurs when your chest touches the mat/floor. Your elbows should form a 90 degree angle
  • Maintain posture and position, push up from the floor to return to the starting position, simply reversing the downward movement

The most common mistake is to let your elbows drift outward on the descent. Focus on keeping them inside of your hands in order to reduce stress on the joint and to properly engage your chest and shoulders.

Beginners may find it easier to maintain form using equipment to assist with the movement.

Pull-ups

Another compound exercise, the pull-up incorporates and activates muscles in the back, shoulders, chest, and arms. The movement can be varied quickly and easily simply by changing your hand position on the bar. No matter the variation, the same muscle groups are involved, but some will be emphasized more than others.

A standard pull-up works primarily the upper back and shoulder and is done by placing your hands slightly outside shoulder-width apart in an overhand grip, with your thumbs wrapping around the bar.

  • From a dead hang, slowly pull yourself from the bottom, squeezing the shoulder blades together throughout the pull
  • Allow your chin to clear the top of the bar
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position until your arms are fully extended
  • Repeat

Maintaining a hollow body position through the ascent/descent will engage your core muscles to help stabilize the entire movement and keep the rest of your body in alignment with your arms and the bar.

Pull-up Bar Options for the House

Plank

The plank is one of the best exercises for training your core, but it also works your glutes, hamstrings, shoulders and back, and helps support proper posture and improve balance. It is not a complicated exercise, but if you’ve never tried one, it may very well be the most deceiving.

A standard plank requires holding yourself in the top position of a push-up, while bracing your abdomen and glutes. Getting into the proper position is easy, however holding it for any period of time requires strength and endurance throughout your entire core.

To execute a standard plank…

  • Assume a starting push-up position, with your hands shoulder width apart on the floor and your elbows locked out
  • Tighten your abdomen and butt to help stabilize your body and maintain a rigid posture
  • Ensure that your body is in a straight line from head to toe, with no sagging of the hips or arching of the back
  • Hold this position for 30-60 seconds, or you can find your max hold time by holding the position until you can no longer maintain a rigid line from head to toe

Done correctly, the plank is a popular exercise that over time will strengthen your abdomen, leading to a tighter mid-section and flatter belly.

Which of these exercises do you like the best?

See results

Finding the Signal Inside the Noise

With all of the gyms, fitness programs, and specialized equipment that is marketed by the fitness industry it’s hard for someone starting out not to be overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of it all. The important thing to remember is that your health and fitness doesn’t have to be complicated. You were born with everything you need to stay fit, it’s just a matter of applying it correctly. Start with these simple exercises several days a week and you’ll be well on your way to improving your strength and endurance, and developing a habit for fitness that will serve you well for a long time!


What do you think about bodyweight training? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

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    • profile image

      Instructive and lifechanging 

      13 months ago

      Practical , simple and cost-effective

    working

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