If You Only Have One Exercise In Your Routine, Make It One Of These
When you find an exercise routine that works for you, everything clicks. If you’re still waiting to have this experience or if you’ve fallen out of love with your usual standby, we feel you.
It’s easy to feel defeated when you’re just not vibing with your physical fitness. But discovering a workout you enjoy ― whether it’s an invigorating walk, a calming yoga stretch or a challenging HIIT class ― is so undeniably worth it. Exercise isn’t just for your body; it’s for your mind.
So yes, it’s worth trying something new when your current groove just isn’t working for you anymore. But with the endless options available, especially now, maybe you feel a little overwhelmed.
That’s why we asked fitness experts to share a favorite exercise they would do every day if they could.
Of course, exercise is not a one-size-fits-all prescription, and there are so many wonderful ways to move your body. Keeping this in mind, we’re sharing these expert-approved movements in the hopes that you’re inspired to try something new or fall back in love with an old favorite. You might even try each one throughout the week to see what sticks.
Whatever you end up loving (or hating), we give you props for prioritizing you.
Any Cardio ― Bonus If It’s Outside And Feels Like Play
Walk, rollerblade, bike, dance around or jog. Running coach Meg Takacs said that any type of cardio (especially when it happens outdoors) is what she would do every day and recommends to everyone else.
“Spending time outside can help with concentration,” Takacs said, and it’s true; just spending time with Mother Nature has so many well-researched benefits.
“The endorphins your body releases from exercise can be your secret weapon to handling stress and problems better,” Takacs continued, adding that she personally takes a break to run outside if she’s stuck on a work or life problem. The fresh air usually does the trick.
Takacs said that in times like the coronavirus pandemic — where we’re cooped up indoors and stress is pretty much a given — outdoor cardio can be used as a kind of “moving meditation or forward momentum.”
“I always encourage my clients and members of my app to use the work ethic and discipline they have in their workouts, and apply it to the rest of their lives. Think of cardio as raising your mental and physical baseline,” she said.
Squat Inch Worm To T-Rotation Pushup
Health and fitness expert Deanna Robinson got a little sneaky here, since this “one” exercise is really a hybrid of several moves. But she has good reason for her craftiness.
“The seven fundamental body movements are push, pull, squat, lunge, hinge, rotate and gait (walking, jogging, crawling),” she explained. “This exercise incorporates five of these movement patterns and can help you become stronger and more efficient in addition to decreasing physical stress and risk of injury in activities of daily living, like picking up the kids or grabbing a box off a high shelf.”
Because the exercise incorporates mobility, flexibility and strength, it can prevent those really frustrating road bumps, like pulling out your back, while propelling you forward in your fitness journey. Here’s how to do it, according to Robinson:
Perform a wide, deep squat and reach your arms down toward the ground.
Walk your hands away from your feet into a high plank position.
Do a pushup, returning to a high plank, and then rotate your body 90 degrees, fully extending one arm in the air and supporting yourself with one on the floor.
Do another pushup and rotate to the other side.
Return back to a high plank, then walk your feet toward your hands.
End in a standing position. Repeat.
Of course, Robinson noted that not everyone can jump right into this movement. And that’s totally OK. (This statement actually applies to all of the exercises on this list.)
“Although this is a great exercise that incorporates most of the fundamental body movements, it is important to know your body and your physical fitness level,” she explained. “You may need to start off with mastering one or two of the fundamental movement patterns, and add on movements as you improve.”
Be mindful that everyone’s at a different place in their fitness journey, so don’t feel bad if you have to make some alterations to fit your body and mind. Modifications can do wonders, even for the fittest of the fit.
“The kettlebell swing is one of my favorite exercises because it is great for building overall posterior strength, power and conditioning,” said Eric Leija, a workout instructor and kettlebell coach. “Considering most people today live sedentary lifestyles — sitting at a computer desk, stuck in traffic, spending countless hours on our phones stuck in flexion with poor posture — th
e kettlebell swing can have a therapeutic effect by helping engage the posterior muscles.”
In other words, this move can undo much of the harmful strain we put on our bodies in everyday life. “Strengthening the back can help people fight back pain by reinforcing a proud posture, and it allows for better breathing, which can work wonders for better circulation and mood,” Leija said.
And while kettlebell swings definitely count as weight training, Leija said that upping the reps or volume of the motion “can be great for kickass cardio.”
New to the move? Below are the instructor’s Kettlebell Swing 101 tips. And if you’re looking for some more kettlebell workouts, Leija’s got a ton on his Instagram.
Start with a kettlebell slightly in front of you. Hinge the hips and grip the kettlebell with both hands.
Tilt the kettlebell and point the handle to your pelvis. Think about breaking the handle with your hands and pack your shoulders down into their sockets, engaging your lats.
Keep your shoulders above your hips and create a deep stretch in your glutes and hamstrings. Then, explosively pull the kettlebell high underneath your pelvis.
Explosively thrust the kettlebell and swing it forward and up to about shoulder height but try not to muscle it up with your upper body muscles. Imagine like you are trying to “throw” the kettlebell as far forward as you can.
Let the kettlebell float at the top then let it swing back under your hips, hinge on the back swing and then set it forward and down to the start position. Touch it to the ground, then immediately swing it back up.
Life coach and fitness pro Estelle Archer is all about the stairs. Walking or racing up and down “is a quick but effective option for cardio,” plus it “increases flexibility in your joints,” she said.
Archer noted that while the average home has 16 steps, a nearby set of stairs outdoors can also do the trick. She said to start with a goal of climbing 100 stairs every day and to check in with how you feel.
And, as Archer put it, there are always modifications. If your knees give you problems and stairs cause more pain than anything else, she advises laying on your back and moving your legs as if you are climbing stairs. These will somewhat resemble bicycle crunches.
Hand planks beat out any other exercise intended to strengthen the core, according to master trainer and lifestyle coach Ashley Borden. They also can help us undo the damage from sitting at our desk and being sedentary.
“Because we are a sitting and computer population and we’re home on the couch more than normal, we need to activate our core in a way that can translate to the body when it’s upright,” Borden said. “Crunches and movements where you pull on your neck add to forward head carriage and poor posture. Hand planks will activate your triceps, lats, shoulders, core, quads —practically your entire body.”
Borden said the position uses gravity to its advantage. As your stomach may naturally drop, you’ll need work against that to the pull it away from the ground. Gravity will give you the proper feedback of pulling your core in away from the ground. Focus on keeping your head in line with your body and not dropping forward.
You can do these basically anywhere, especially since no equipment is required. Here’s how:
Start on your knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders, legs long and feet flexed.
Push away from the floor and visualize hollowing your chest and creating more of a “turtle shell” between your shoulder blades (don’t collapse between shoulder blades)
Squeeze your quads and glutes tight
Pull up through your belly button like there is a swing holding up your hips.
Throughout the move, Focus on keeping your head also in line with your body and not dropping forward.
No matter what exercise you choose, just make sure it’s one you enjoy. A new fitness journey won’t stick if your workout feels like punishment.
This story is part of Don’t Sweat It, a HuffPost Life series on improving your relationship with fitness. We’re giving you a guide on the latest thinking on exercise and why we’ve been conditioned to hate it in the past. Mental health and body-positive fitness experts will offer guidance and show you how to find a routine that works for you. Find all of our coverage here.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.