Find a category of exercisers and you’ll find a list of “must do” exercises. Whether it’s powerlifters, crossfitters, yogis, bodybuilders, athletes, or Olympic lifters, they all have exercises that they swear by and that you can’t live without. So, where does that leave you, a busy working adult who is just trying to squeeze in workouts to look a little better and stay healthy to keep up with your kids or spouse?
First, realize there are no “must do” exercises. You don’t have to squat, bench, and deadlift to be in shape. You don’t have to run a mile or be able to hold an Eka Hasta Vrksasana pose (Google it). On the other hand, if you’re training for something specific like a race or competition, then of course your training should reflect that. You don’t want to enter a marathon having never run more than a mile, but if you hate running and you’re never going to run a race in your life (like me), then don’t run!
Choosing the right type of exercise for you is important because all of the health, fitness, and weight management benefits of exercise depend on you being physically active regularly and for the long term.
Start with what you enjoy
For most people exercise is hard enough to fit into their schedule as it is. If you hate what you’re doing for exercise, it’s going to be that much harder. Start with things you already know you like doing. Something is always better than nothing, so if it gets you moving, do it! If you get bored with that then you can branch out, but don’t feel like there is anything you have to do.
Know why you’re doing an exercise
If you’re like most people, you probably get your workout ideas online or from social media. That’s a great place to find motivation but be careful to plug and play what other people are doing into your own routine. It’s important to know what an exercise is doing and why you need it. There is no reason you need to do heavy barbell squats if they hurt your back and cripple you for two days afterwards. There are other ways to squat that will probably work better for you!
Movements not muscles
When I think of functional training, I think of performing exercises that allow you to get through everyday activities better.
Do you stand up and sit down during the day? You should perform some form of squat. Do you bend over? Better practice hinging movements. Do you push or pull things in multiple directions? Your training should reflect that. Do you ever walk? Lunges will help you out. How about carrying stuff? Yup, practice that too.
These foundational movement patterns reflect movements that you do every day, so if you’re training to be fit and healthy, they are what you should focus on.
3 energy systems
The final recommendation I give to people when they’re choosing an exercise program is to find enough variety to train each of the three energy systems in your body. You’re probably already familiar with the Aerobic and Anaerobic pathways, but there is a third, Phosphagen, and you should train each.
The Phosphagen system is instantaneously available and is essential at the onset of activity, as well as during short-term high-intensity activities lasting about 1 to 30 seconds in duration, such as sprinting, weightlifting or throwing a ball.
The Anaerobic system is used during activities requiring large bursts of energy over somewhat longer periods of time, 30 seconds to three minutes max, or during endurance activities prior to steady state being achieved.
Aerobic is predominantly utilized during longer-duration, lower-intensity activities after the phosphagen and anaerobic systems have fatigued.
All three of these systems are used regularly and in conjunction, one system is just dominate depending on the type of activity you’re doing. To be well rounded and equipped for everyday activities, it’s important to train all 3 systems and a critical reason to incorporate variety into your routine.
Finding what's right for you can take some trial and error, but it's crucial to stay injury free and to enjoy exercising long term. Focus on moving in a variety of ways and performing exercises that will strengthen you for the activities that you love to do outside of the gym!
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