What Are The 5 Basic Exercises? (Plus One Incredible BONUS Exercise)

A Woman Stretching

I’ve just discovered that, “What Are The 5 Basic Exercises?” is an extremely popular question that is asked online.

You can find people asking this question through various search engines, such as Google, and on the many Question and Answer websites.

This tells me one thing – that a lot of you are extremely knowledgeable when it comes to the workings of the human body.

Now we all know that there are literally thousands of exercises out there, and even someone with very little knowledge of health and fitness could still name at least 20 different exercises.

However, irrespective of your body composition goals, whether you want to lose weight, burn fat, or build muscle and strength, you only really need 5 basic exercises.

Actually, that’s not completely correct, let’s call them the 5 basic human body foundational movements, as you can incorporate hundreds of variations of each exercise.

With that said, the basic 5 movements will suffice.

Plus, I’ve got a fantastic bonus exercise for you as well.

What Are The 5 Basic Exercises?

1. Squat

When most people hear the term “squat” they will immediately think of either the bodyweight squat or the barbell back squat.

Both wonderful exercises, but there are still lots of other ways to squat.

The barbell back squat is often heralded as one of the greatest exercises ever, but in truth it’s not for everyone.

Personally, the type of squat that is best for you will depend on your body type, level of skill, and your history with injuries.

So, while the barbell back squat may indeed be one of the “greatest exercises ever”, there may be another variation more suited to you.

In fact, one of the most respected (and outspoken) personal trainers in history, Vince Gironda aka The Iron Guru, one said, “Barbell back squats spread your hips and give you a fat ass”.

He was not a fan.

With that said, I’ve mentioned before that when Vince first met Arnold Schwarzenegger (before he was famous), he looked Arnie up and down and told him, “You look like a fat f*** to me”.

So, Vince certainly had many controversial opinions.

RELATED====>Vince Gironda Legend and Myth

Anyway, back to the point – squats.

As I say, the squat is one the foundational human movement patterns and definitely one of the basic exercises we should all be performing.

Squat Variations

2. Hip Hinge

The hip hinge is probably most well-known as touching your toes for the bodyweight exercise variety, and the deadlift when it comes to weights.

I have to say that the deadlift is one of the most massacred exercises I typically see, and this is especially true of us guys.

I see far too many people overload the bar with more weight than they can manage, and the idea of “good form” goes straight out the window.

Admittedly, the deadlift should be the heaviest weighted exercise that you will perform with a barbell, but technique is more important than the weight.

CHECK THIS OUT====>4 Tips If You Are Scared of Deadlifts

We use the hip hinge in our everyday lives, typically when we pick items up off the floor.

However, when it comes to exercise there are certain factors that you need to take into consideration.

For me, the best way to practice the hip hinge movement is as follows:

  • Stand about 12 inches in front of a wall (with your back facing the wall).
  • Your feet should be approximately shoulder-width apart.
  • Place both hands on your upper thighs.
  • Bend at the hips and push your butt back until it touches the wall.
  • Your hands will automatically slide down your legs until they end up somewhere near your knees.

The whole focal point of this movement is to bend at the hips.

Throughout the movement your shins should remain perpendicular to the floor, you bend over by pushing the hips (and butt) backwards, and ensure that your spine stays perfectly aligned.

The main issue I have with people who put too much weight on the bar when performing the deadlift is that their back is rounded throughout the entire movement.

Basically, they’re just asking for an injury to happen.

The Hip Hinge

3. Push

The push exercise variation is probably made most famous by push ups as a bodyweight move and the bench press when using weights.

However, there this is only one plane of movement when it comes to push exercises.

You should be incorporating push exercises with your upper body being both horizontal and vertical.

So, the push up or the bench press will see your upper body maintain a horizontal position.

Probably the most well-known vertical upper body push movement will be the overhead press.

With the overhead press you will generally either be standing up or sitting on a bench and pushing a weight overhead.

In terms of upper body exercises we actually tend to overdo the push movement.

In reality, the next foundation movement I’m going to discuss, the pull, should actually be performed twice as much as the push.

However, I think there’s a number of reasons why we don’t do this.

Why We Push More Than We Pull

It’s probably easier to push than it is to pull – look at the 2 most basic bodyweight exercises using these movements, namely the push up and the pull up.

I can guarantee that most people can perform 2-3 times as many push ups as they can pull ups.

I would also say that as many push exercises focus on the chest and shoulders, these are the “showy” muscles, or the one’s that we can actually see with our own eyes (with or without a mirror).

So, as we can’t see our backs we often focus on our fronts more.

Just to blow the theory (of more push than pull) completely out the water, working the triceps involves using a push movement, and working the biceps involves a pull movement.

And even though the triceps are actually twice the size of the biceps, most people concentrate on bicep exercises when they want bigger or more muscular arms.

Quick Tip: If you want bigger or more muscular arms, work the triceps more.

A Science-Based Push Workout

4. Pull

I’ve already introduced the pull movement above.

The most famous bodyweight and weighted pull movements are the pull up/chin up and bent-over row respectively.

Once again I’ll reiterate that I believe it is more important to exercise the pull movement than the push.

Just because we can’t see the muscles of the back doesn’t mean they should be avoided.

In fact, strong back muscles play an important role in the human body.

The back actually connects the neck, shoulders, chest, hips, and butt.

Strong back muscles also help to improve posture.

Many niggles or injuries that we typically suffer in our everyday lives (whether you exercise or not) is due to having poor posture.

So, training the pull movement is more of an obligation than a luxury as far as I’m concerned.

Once again, just as with push movements, the pull movement should be trained when the upper body is both horizontal and vertical.

In terms of bodyweight exercises, this will encompass pull ups (vertical) and inverted rows (horizontal).

When hitting the weights, lat pulldowns (vertical) and bent-over rows (horizontal).

It’s also interesting to note that many pull exercises, especially those performed with weights, will also incorporate the hip hinge movement.

A prime example of this being the bent-over row.

In fact, most people when performing a pull-based workout will integrate various deadlift variations.

Pull Workout

5. Lunge

The lunge can be performed with just your own bodyweight or a variety of weighted apparatus.

I think the lunge as a single-leg movement pattern is extremely important for all of us.

If you think about it, even walking is a type of single leg movement, as all of our weight transfers from leg-to-leg as we propel ourselves forward.

I also believe that incorporating single-leg exercises into a workout is essential, as it helps to improve our quality of movement and is fantastic for increasing overall strength in the lower body.

An exercise I love to perform, and of which I have spoken about many times before, is the walking lunge.

I’ll typically do this for hundreds of reps and over long distances.

I think that the lunge movement pattern is fantastic for increasing our overall mobility and flexibility, and is therefore something that we should all be concentrating on.

Lunge Variations

BONUS: Loaded Carries

Yet another type of exercise that I have spoken about many times before.

I just think loaded carries are absolutely fantastic and will help anyone achieve whatever goals they have for their body.

A loaded carry is basically picking up something heavy and walking with it.

Plus, it’s a basic movement that we all use all the time.

Surely, I can’t be the only man who tries to carry every single shopping bag from the car into the house in one trip?

Whereas, the ladies are far more sensible about this.

However, loaded carries literally have it all.

You can expect to burn fat, get stronger, and build lean muscle by performing just about any type of loaded carry.

Probably the most famous of all the loaded carries is the farmer’s walk.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the strongman competitions, such as the World’s Strongest Man, where the competitors carry a ridiculous amount of weight in each hand over a short distance.

With that said, just carrying a weight in any way, over a distance, can be considered a loaded carry.

If you want to practice loaded carries at home, simply pick up your child, your pet (goldfish not included), your partner if you’re feeling brave, or anyone for that matter (make sure you ask permission first), and then just walk around.

Loaded Carry Variations

The 5 Basic Exercises Turned Into Workouts

Okay, hopefully the videos here have given you a wealth of information about the 5 basic human movement patterns and how to use them.

However, I’d also like to provide you with a couple of fantastic workouts that will use just 5 exercises (okay 6, because I want to throw a loaded carry in at the end).

The Single-Leg Hip Thrust Exercise
The Single-Leg Hip Thrust

Bodyweight

  • Squat
  • Hip Thrust
  • Push Up
  • Pull Up or Inverted Row
  • Walking Lunges

Let’s say you’re performing this workout at home and have no access to any type of equipment, e.g. a pull up bar.

Then there are alternatives.

You can lie on the floor underneath a table, hold onto the table-top, and then pull yourself up in inverted row fashion.

As for your loaded carry – grab a suitcase, fill it with stuff, and then walk around with the suitcase as you please.

You can actually perform the exercise known as the “suitcase carry” by walking a distance with the case in one hand, and then swapping over to the other hand.

You may want to hold onto the suitcase in a bear hug and walk around, or perhaps even hoist it overhead and go for a walk.

An ideal workout for the garden.

Weighted

  • Barbell Back Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Overhead Press
  • Bent-Over Row
  • Reverse Lunges
  • Farmer’s Walk

With all that was said earlier about the barbell back squat, I still think it’s a fantastic exercise, so I’ve included it here (but there are many variations as you now know).

I’ve chosen the overhead press over the bench press.

This won’t make me very popular.

I just think it’s a better exercise, and if we go back over a century to the original strongmen, they were forever hoisting large objects over their heads, and had probably never set eyes on a bench.

Additionally, there are obviously many, many lunge variations you could perform, I just happen to be a fan of the reverse lunge.

For me, I find that I seem to work the quads and glutes far better with this variation.

And you can end off the workout with the standard farmer’s walk.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it, what I consider the 5 basic exercises.

Or more accurately, the 5 basic human movement patterns.

If you want a great workout, you need nothing more than to concentrate on these five basic movements.

Oh yes, and don’t forget to finish off by carrying something heavy around.

I briefly mentioned him earlier, but I honestly think that Vince Gironda was someone who knew absolutely everything there is to know about exercise.

Okay, he mainly trained professional bodybuilders, so many of his workouts were focused on building strength and muscle.

However, whenever he spoke about exercise or nutrition, his pearls of wisdom were just pure gold.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting out with exercise, or a seasoned professional.

It makes no difference whether you’re male, female, young, old, fit, or out of shape, Vince had something for everyone.

Most of what Vince knew and said was actually published in a wonderful book following his death.

So, if exercise or getting into great shape is your thing then please take a moment to check out my review of Vince Gironda Legend and Myth.

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8 thoughts on “What Are The 5 Basic Exercises? (Plus One Incredible BONUS Exercise)”

  1. Very good article, you explained these exercises well. I did a lot of them when I was in my twenties and thirties but I stopped. Like your website, we can just follow and do some at home. Thank you for sharing this
    Lyne

    Reply
  2. The hip hinge is unquestionably one of the most crucial movement patterns that everyone should master. My form while executing other excersices has drastically improved because after years of doing it wrong, I finally learned how to bend my body correctly, and now I can comfortably say that I’ve gained more strength because of that.

    It’s funny how our body teaches itself to move the wrong way from an early age. We as adults need to put more time and effort into fixing our flaws, and I would definitely recommend the hip-hinge exercise as the first one to start with.

    Your content never seems to disappoint, my friend. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Hi Gorjan,

      Always good to hear from you.

      Funnily enough, we typically start out life by being able to complete the basic, functional human movements perfectly.

      I’ve even spoken before about how a child that can barely walk is able to drop into a perfect squat.

      However, as you say, as we get older, we seem to lose the ability to perform these basic movements, until they are completely gone from our artillery.

      I totally agree, the hip hinge is of the utmost importance, and let’s face facts, the hip joint is the largest weight-bearing joint in the body, so it should be “used and trained” correctly.

      I’ve been a firm believer in using perfect form with exercises, and if you continue with this mindset then the additional strength and weight on the bar will come naturally.

      As I’ve mentioned, I’m forever seeing people add far too much weight to the bar, especially for a hip-hinge exercise such as the deadlift, and they are just asking for an injury to happen.

      Gorjan, thank you for your kind words too, it’s always appreciated.

      Partha

      Reply
  3. LOL, really, Partha, did you have to start with the squat?? I should have included it in my dreamboard I made last Sunday, in hopes I actually will put in an effort to do squats.
    Or better yet, I should make a whole dreamboard dedicated to exercising and putting squats and lunges (not a favorite either!) in. Maybe I will. I’ll let you know. 🙂

    Anyway, as always an interesting read. I guess you could turn each item into a separate post. Getting to know you better, you probably will. So I am looking forward to that.

    Especially the pull and push exercises have my interest. I have push-days and pull-days, but have changed some of the exercises during time and probably it’s a messy collection at the moment, with no ‘line’ in it. (don’t know the proper English way to say this)

    Thanks for the inspiration, as ever, Partha.

    Reply
    • Hahaha,

      Funnily enough I even thought of you Hannie while I was writing this article, and even considered moving the squat further down the page.

      But, alas the squat is probably the most important of the basic human movement patterns, so it deserved it’s place up top, sorry, LOL.

      I will forever talk about squats and lower body exercises because in my mind they are the key to producing a healthy body.

      If you think about it, even some of the “most popular” exercise, such as jogging, cycling, swimming, involve using the legs. So, this just goes to show how important they are when it comes to keeping fit and healthy.

      Plus, I always say Hannie, the exercises that you generally hate doing are the ones you should be doing more. There’s a reason you hate them, so by doing them you are not only training the body, but the mind as well.

      Oh yes, I’m sure I’ll break the movement patterns up into various articles, although I have already written many articles focusing on the numerous body parts.

      It’s funny actually that you mention your push and pull days – one of the most popular exercise splits in the gym is push, pull, legs.

      So, you have one day when you focus on just pushing movements, another day when you focus just on pulling movements, and finally a day to focus completely on your legs.

      I guess it does depend what you’re looking to achieve, but this is a great way to train.

      With that said, I know from what you have told me, that you will be better off just focusing on the body as a whole whenever you exercise.

      So, a little bit of everything will probably work best for you (and don’t forget those squats and lunges, LOL).

      Partha

      Reply
      • Hmmm, and here I thought you were such a laid back guy without any ‘you have to’s’. And now you tell me that I hate squats because they are the best for me and I should do them. Ai.

        These push and pull days are from a guide I bought last year. But I hear you. 🙂

        Reply
        • Hahaha, no pressure from me Hannie, I am indeed very laid back.

          I just love the fact that you always have something to say whenever I mention “squats” that now I automatically think of you whenever I write the word, LOL.

          I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, I think you’re doing great, and you’ve achieved a lot over the last few years, so it shows that you’re definitely doing something right.

          Partha

          Reply

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