The ONLY 5 Exercises You’ll Ever Need

 My family and I played "The Deserted Island" game this weekend.  We each asked ourselves if we were stranded on a deserted island, what 5 items could you take with you and why.

I said that I would take a water bottle, water purification tablets, a tent, matches and a frying pan.

That pales in comparison to what my 4 year old Frankie would take: her plastic pink sunglasses, her Alvin & The Chipmunks DVD, the other 6 people in our family (apparently we only count as 1 item), Rice Crispies and a giraffe.

The game got me thinking about a question that I received over email last week.  

Someone had asked me if I could only choose 5 exercises, what would they be? Which 5 do I think are essential to anyone’s program?

So here’s my answer…

1) Turkish Get-Ups – I wrote an article about TGUs HERE and why I was convinced that they are now the King of all exercises.  Anytime you have an exercise that can help correct muscle imbalance and help with mobility issues in addition to being a great conditioning exercise, you have to at least consider it in your top 5.  TGUs combine shoulder & abdominal stability with lower body strength, coordination and mobility all into one exercise.  If you don’t do these, you need to start now.

2) Chin-ups – If you do chin-ups the right way they become a full body exercise. Doing them the right way involves you contracting and arching your entire posterior chain from your calves to your upper back. Focus on pulling your chest to the bar (not jerking your head at the top to barely get your chin over). Stop the exercise when your form starts to deteriorate.

3) 2-arm KB Swings – I’ve been using 2-arm KB swings as my primary conditioning exercise over the winter. No other exercise combines hamstring & glute strength & endurance, athletic power and grip strength into one exercise.  I’m fully convinced that doing swings have helped me get a lot stronger and have allowed me to stay lean over the "hibernation" months.

4) Push-ups (all variations) – Hand stand push-ups (with my feet on a wall) are my favorites right now. I also like doing these off rings (or blast straps) for some added shoulder stability. If you’re tired of doing the plain vanilla kind or find that you’re just bored of them, try some decline-close-grip push-ups with your feet on a chair. Those are my go-to push-ups early in the AM to help me get some blood into my muscles.

5) 1-Leg Squats – I was a little reluctant to put Pistols in this list because it’s really hard to do them properly. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that pistols are an important exercise for both muscle building and performance. I’m a HUGE fan of 1-leg exercises (the TGUs can be considered a 1-leg exercise as well). There isn’t much in life that we do with 2 legs at a time, so the carryover of 1-leg exercises into the "real world" is very high.

So, did I miss anything?

Leave your comments below and let me know.

Chris, CSCS, CTT

P.S. There’s a BIG Promo coming up on Wednesday.  Stay tuned for details


  • Reply May 10, 2010


    I completely agree with your top five. They are tough exercises and they get the job done. It takes a lot of practice to do them properly and get the full benefit. I just did my first 1 leg squat and I have been practicing for several months. The great thing is you don’t really need much equipment to do any of them. Good stuff.

  • Reply May 10, 2010


    Love you list of 5 – have not done the single leg squats for a while – will put them back in again. tx

  • Reply May 10, 2010


    Nope, you didn’t! This is great, Chris. I think bodyweight exercises are the most underrated things nowadays. Can you do a one-armed push up? If not, why are you benching 500Ibs now? That’s what I would say to people who sneer at bw exercises. And kettlebells – need it say any more about them? Fantastic tool!

  • Reply May 10, 2010

    Wayne Richard

    I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with this exercise, but I’d have to add burpees. Whenever I’m pulling together a backyard training session or have time to “sneak in” a conditioning session while travelling it’s my go-to.

  • Reply May 10, 2010


    Hey Chris! Would you consider doing a “demonstration” links for each of these 5 exercises where you can verbally go through & demonstrate the proper form for each and any cautions or instructions. I get so much more out of a visual and would love to hears you talk about each exercise. Thanks for your expertise!

    • Reply May 12, 2010


      yes, i am more of a visual person, and would like to see a demonstration for the 5 exercises.

  • Reply May 10, 2010


    Hey Chris,

    Great stuff. I have a question for you regarding the TGU’s. If I could only do 1 excercise, this would be it. But……when I use a heavy KB, I inflame my SI joint (only on one side, though). Any idea what would cause this or how I could eliminate it?


  • Reply May 10, 2010


    Hi, Chris, I’ve been using 1 arm swings, switching arms every 10 reps lately, and it is a great conditioner (have worked up to 600 swings. Before that I was doing 30 seconds on 30 off with 2 hand swings, also a nice lung opener. I think that I would probably choose lunges over pistols, as pistols bother my knees, but that is after college football, and two knee operations….

  • Reply May 10, 2010


    Like the list, so would you recommend doing all these excercise in one workout. Or spreading them out throught the week in different routines?

  • […] The ONLY 5 Exercises You’ll Ever Need | | Kettlebell Workouts For Fat L… […]

  • Reply May 10, 2010

    Bernadette Chilvers

    Received your e-mail with video for kettlebells has sound but no picture. Any suggestions?

  • Reply May 10, 2010


    I completely agree, there are a lot great exercises out there, but I would agree that those would be in my top 5 as well. Good post Chris!

  • Reply May 11, 2010


    Hey Chris,

    Sorry this isn’t about the exercises – good though they are. I’m just giving you a heads up that you’re probably losing anyone with a Mac.

    I’m not sure if you’re up with the play with the battle between Adobe & Apple… but the iPad doesn’t support “flash” based apps. & the dude from Adobe said hey “get used to lots of “Blue Cubes” then…. which is a sign that flash isn’t working…..
    & that’s what i’m getting ALL over this site… little blue leggo bits.. & the site ‘bitched’ at me when i landed here… again saying something about flash..
    thought you’d want to know

  • Reply May 11, 2010


    Hiya Chris,
    I’ve been to a kettlebell class the other day, I was sore for 3 days after that but I enjoyed it so much that I bought a 16kg kettlebell. I checked your website before but needed to be sure first if it was something i’d enjoy. I’m defenately going to purchase your program!
    I’ll just wait to see what your BIG promo will be haha 😉 So looking forward to lose the fat and look great on the beach in november when i’m going to Australia! 😀

  • Reply June 24, 2011

    Mike Eves

    Hi Chris:

    I agree with all your five essentials; and it’s a good reminder for all readers. I think sometimes many of us, myself included, can get side tracked and unintentionally move away from these’back to basics’ exercises. The only one I would add in is the burpee.

    Best wishes


  • Reply June 24, 2011


    Good stuff Chris, but I think the top 5 needs to include heavy dead lifts. It is great full body, with emphasis on the often negelected posterior chain.

  • Reply June 24, 2011


    Hi Chris, great article! I think using an ab wheel would be a great adition. Also, ¿how can we arrange all of these great exercises in a single program?
    Best wishes

  • Reply June 24, 2011


    Yes, me too; Love your demo vids and this would be the best !!

  • Reply June 24, 2011


    Hi Chris,

    Great list-thank you so much! I’ve recently had a health issue that has resulted in a huge loss of strength for me, and I’m starting over from scratch. What do you recommend for beginners or women who are unable to do a chin-up? Is there some variation that will offer the same benefits while building the strength to eventually do them the traditional way? Or is there some other routine that I should start with?



  • Reply June 24, 2011


    Nice list Chris. Get ups were something I “discovered” about 2 months ago and your assessment, I fully agree with. You feel those through every inch of your body!

  • Reply June 24, 2011


    Hey Chris – Great info as usual!

  • Reply June 25, 2011


    I love this list. I have a question about the T Get-Up’s…how do I get them not to hurt my back? I’ve tried them several times and always get discouraged. Any suggestions would be really appreciated. 🙂 Thanks!

  • Reply June 26, 2011


    Hi Susan,
    Where in your back does it hurt, and at what part of the move?
    Generally – Are you ‘firing’ (i.e. tensing) your lats on both arms? Keeping your core engaged throughout? Lifting up your chest at the elbow and arm post? Are your hip flexors working, or are you ‘borrowing’ movement from your low back (probably most common cause of pain in exercise?
    You can try doing them naked; not with no clothes on, but with no weight!! Until the movement seems more natural and you aren’t getting any pain.
    And, as I always say – go spend some time with an RKC, who can spot the slightest technique imbalalnces and set you right.

    @ Zentner, Vero, Fern and anybody else who wants demo videos – I’ve subscribed to this site for a number of years now, and can assure you, Chris has probably done a video for anything he mentions. Lucky for us he’s not camera-shy 😉
    Either go to the ‘proper exercise form’ link on the right menu, or type the exercise into the search panel at the top right of the page.

    Keep up the great info Chris! We do really appreciate it.

    PS: I’m personally happy you left off the burpees!

  • Reply June 26, 2011


    Thanks for the great info, Kylie. I find that it hurts my lower back when I actually try to get up off the floor. I am totally sure it’s a posture/positioning issue in which I am doing the proper technique. I’ll keep at it and try to get better. 🙂 I appreciate your comments. Have a wonderful day!


  • Reply July 4, 2011


    I am 72 years old and can’t do a pistol . I used to be able to do them back in the 60’s when I was a young man. I have some balance problems now as well. I think I can get strong enough to perform them again, but I don’t know about the balancing. Right now the Turkish get ups with a 25lb kettlebell are a challenge!

    Thanks a lot for all the information you provide.


  • Reply August 1, 2011


    These all sound excellent but it doesn’t help when I don’t know how to do any of them.

  • Reply October 21, 2011


    I am a little slow, but I want in. Your program is $39.99, I think, and I want to get in! Are the five exercises you promote as the best 5 in your book?
    I want to sign up.

  • Reply January 4, 2012


    Deadlift variations. Trap bar DL for most people. (Also, I prefer step-ups to 1 Leg Squats.) TGUs cover the lunge pattern. Great list. But, I couldn’t perform a program with only 5 exercises for very long. And, I prefer a periodized routine and use more than 5 exercises (especially during a power phase).

    • Reply January 5, 2012

      Chris Lopez, RKC

      Hi Simon, great insight. I agree with you. 5 exercises alone, for people who have been training as long as you have, will get mundane and boring. Most general population people have an aversion to exercise, so this post was written mainly for them. Guys like you and me need the variety for sure.


  • Reply January 7, 2013


    Id throw burpees in there somewhere ( killers )

  • Reply March 21, 2014

    Tory-Craig Siler

    I would say if we coulc choose six we could add planks!!

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