The Only Exercises You Need to Create The Most Efficient Workouts

Why do mediocre exercises, when you can do the best exercises?

You already have an awesome workout template that'll improve your strength and fitness levels, now you need some exercises to fill it in.  

Busy professionals don't have an hour to spend at the gym.  

The exercises that you use in your routine can make or break your workout program. Improper exercise selection can mean the difference between accomplishing your fitness goals and wasting your time.

Today, we will go over the only exercises you need to create effective workouts and get in shape.

These exercises are not only efficient, they are essential.


Welcome to Part 4 of The WCT Series on Training.

In Part 1, 3 Basic Principles Of Exercise You Ought To Know Before Working Out, we go over 3 critical concepts you must understand about exercise and fitness.

In Part 2, Every Fitness Training Program Needs To Include These 3 Things we discuss the 6 movement categories as well as the how to alter the amount of sets and reps to achieve your goals.

In Part 3, The Best Workout Template For Busy Individuals, we discuss provide a drag and drop template you can use to begin training. We also discuss using Major Upper Body and Major Lower Body Compound Exercises, as well as Minor Upper Body and Minor Lower Body variations.

This post will discuss each one of these categories in detail.



This post will cover:

  • The Exercises You Need to Get in Shape Broken down by

    • The Only Exercises You Need for Your  Lower Body

    • The Only Exercises You Need for Your Upper Body

    • The Only Abdominal Exercises You Need to Build a Strong Core


*The exercises included in this post are not comprehensive, instead; we selected the ones we think are the best of the best.*


Let's get started...

1. The Only Exercises You Need to Build Muscle: The Squat Pattern

The Squat pattern is the most fundamental Lower Body Compound exercise for basic human movement.  


If you could only do one exercise, this would be it.

Believe it or not, everyone squats numerous times a day. Every single time you sit down and stand up you are squatting. Every time you pick something up off the ground (if you do it correctly) you are squatting.

The fascinating thing about squats is that it has so many different variations that every single human can find a scalable version of the squat that they can perform.


Squats could be done

- Against resistance (barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells) 

- With your body-weight (air squats, jump squats, box squats)

- With support (i.e. holding onto a chair that is placed in front of you for additional support)


It is unfortunate to hear people say that they cannot squat down because of pain or restrictions.  

So what you're saying is that you cannot ever sit or stand back up?


Regardless of whatever limitation you may have, there exists a squat variation that you can perform to strengthen and relearn this natural pattern. This is a movement pattern that must be trained and nourished for the rest of our lives.


Squat Exercises Improve

- The strength of the legs, glutes and core muscles,

- The mobility of the hips, knees, and ankles,

- Lean muscle mass development of the lower body


Major Compound Squat Exercises


Minor Compound Squats Exercises


2. The Only Exercises You Need to Get in Shape: The Hip-Hinge

The next best Lower Body Compound pattern is the hip hinge. These include exercises that activate and strengthen your glutes, your back, and your hamstrings.

These powerful muscles work synergistically to extend (straighten) your hips from a flexed position.  


Not only do these muscles look good, many trainers would argue that the glutes are one of the most important skeletal muscles in the body.

The glutes are responsible for keeping you erect while you stand and while you walk, and allow you to stand up from a seated position.  

Hip hinge exercises include all variations of the deadlift exercise and a few other close variations.  


Hip Exercises Improve

- The strength of the upper back, low back, hamstrings, glutes and core muscles,

- The mobility of the hips and thoracic spine,

- Lean muscle mass development of the lower body and posterior chain


Major Compound Hip Exercises


Minor Compound Hip Exercises

3. The Only Exercises You Need to Burn Fat: The Pull

The upper body pull is the first essential Upper Body Compound exercise that training programs must include in their arsenal.  

These exercises train the large muscles of the back including the rhomboids, the posterior deltoids, the trapezius muscles as well as the spinal erectors.  

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when it comes to their training is neglecting the upper body pull.


Unfortunately, the back muscles are not ‘mirror muscles.’  This means that they are less likely to be trained because they cannot be readily seen in the mirror.  

Being able to pull objects towards you is a critical human movement that deserves constant attention.  These exercises include all rowing variations as well as pull-up variations.  


Pulling Exercises Improve

- The strength of the upper back, lats, and posterior shoulder muscles,

- The posture that is created from rounded shoulders and a kyphotic spine,

- Lean muscle mass development of the upper body


Major Compound Pulling Exercises


Minor Compound Pulling Exercises

You can also vary the height at which you pull which can emphasize a different part of the back; i.e you can row towards your face, towards your chest or towards your abdomen.


4. The Only Exercises You Need to Get Ripped: The Push

The opposite of the upper body pull is the upper body push.

The upper body push is the group of movements that train the deltoid (shoulder) muscles, the triceps and the pectoralis (chest) muscles.  

The options are numerous, and they include horizontal pushing, vertical pushing, and incline pushing variations.  


These exercises are extremely popular and are already being performed frequently in all gyms. It is important to know that excessive use of the upper body pushing exercises can exacerbate an anterior dominant posture, creating muscular imbalances and shoulder pain.  

Push exercises must be balanced by an equal amount of pull exercises.

Examples are the barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, barbell overhead press, dumbbell overhead press (standing and seated varieties), incline barbell bench press, incline dumbbell bench press and all pushup variations.


Pushing Exercises Improve

- The strength of the chest, the arms, the triceps and the shoulder muscles,

- Stable shoulder positions in the horizontal and vertical plane,

- Lean muscle mass development of the upper body


Major Compound Push Exercises


Minor Compound Push Exercises

These Are The Only 4 Exercises You Need, Period

I could stop there. These would be the only 4 exercises you need to build muscle, get in shape, burn fat, get ripped, and create effective workouts. 

  1. Squat

  2. Hip Hinge

  3. Upper Body Push

  4. Upper Body Pull

These 4 exercises will provide a full body workout and drive significant changes in your body composition.

The other advantage is that you can use a variety of exercises that fall into one of these four categories. 

But what about abs?

Many of the aforementioned exercises will train your core indirectly, but no training program is complete without some direct ab work.

5. The Only Abdominal Exercises You Need to Build a Great Midsection

Core training is already a key component of all training regimens.  However, most programs go about training the abs in the wrong way.

The abdominal muscles should not be trained via sit-ups or crunches.

Sit-ups and crunches are horrible exercises that have become extremely popular with magazines and other fitness ‘gurus.’ These exercises create poor spinal mechanics and repetitively place your neck and spine in compromised positions.  


Your abdominal muscles are meant to stabilize your core and allow you to maintain a well-aligned posture despite external forces.  This is why your abs should be trained for stability.

Having true core strength will allow you to resist lateral, sagittal, and rotational forces on your spine.


Core Exercises Improve

- The stability of the rectus abdominis, the obliques and the transverse abdominis muscles

- Spinal health and integrity

- Low back pain


Major Core Exercises

These are the 5 best exercises ever.

If you only use the exercises listed above, you will improve your strength and fitness levels significantly over the long haul. Stop wasting your time doing tricep kickbacks and bosu-ball sit-ups. (If you want a good list of the worst exercises of all time, check out 9 Horrible Exercises You Should Never Do

If you want real results, and you don't have an hour to spend at the gym, use the best template, and only the best exercises. 

We have also designed a step-by-step 15-week strength program that utilizes the only exercises you need and can be done in 35 minutes. Check it out at WCT Strength Program.



What if I Have Pain When Doing Exercise?

One of the biggest excuse people have for not exercising is... pain. 

I've been there many times, and believe me, pain sucks.

Sometimes pain only occurs during certain exercises such as a squat or a bench press.

The number one reason for pain is improper technique AND poor joint positioning when performing the movement.  Besides working on your technique, your posture may also play a role in preventing you from achieving these positions.  Check and see how your posture holds up at You Probably Have Bad Posture- Here's How to Tell

You will be shocked to learn how pivotal a role posture plays in how well you move and exercise.


How to Get Fit At Home Without Equipment

What if you can't make it to the gym and you could only exercise from home?


Thankfully, our bodies could be used as external resistance. There are several bodyweight exercises that you can do, all of which resemble the 5 exercises described above.

If you want a simple yet effective plan that covers the bread and butter of fitness, check out Bodyweight Training: The Definitive Guide To Home Workouts.

We also provide a list of the best bodyweight exercises listed by body part in our body-building series: How to Build Arms, Legs, Glutes, and Back!


Final Words

So there you have it. These are the only exercises you need to create effective workouts, get in shape, build muscle, and lose fat!

To quickly recap

  • The best exercises to build muscle and get in shape are large compound exercises that train functional movement patterns

  • These include the squat, the hip hinge, the upper body push, the upper body pull and ab stabilization exercises.

  • Each of these 5 exercises has many variations, making them useful for any trainee at any level.

Now we turn it over to you. What do you think?  

Do you agree with our list? Any exercises you would remove from the list? Any exercises you would include?

Comment below and let us know!

Share these awesome exercises with someone you care about.


And don't forget to download your copy of the WCT Workout Template to get you started!

Alex & Brittany Robles are the founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and wellness of busy individuals. Learn more about them here and connect with them on instagram and Twitter. Feel free to send them a message here