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The Big Five Exercises

Updated: Jun 13

There are virtually unlimited exercises available to tone and strengthen muscles, improve mobility and flexibility, and increase endurance. Among those, there are countless variations, progressions, and regressions. Taking things further, exercises can be combined into compound movements, allowing you to target two or more muscle groups simultaneously. What we're trying to say is: there are a lot of options available to you when putting together a training session.

That being said, of all the options and variations out there, there are exercises that are, for lack of a better term, "exercise royalty," which should be incorporated into every full-body workout you do no matter your age or ability level. The reason these "big five" exercises are so important is because they are functional strength moves, meaning they are not highly specialized and mimic basic human movements we need to be able to execute our entire lives.


The importance of training and maintaining your ability to properly hinge at the hips cannot be overstated. It's how you sit and stand, get into and out of bed, and pick things up off the floor. If you've ever tweaked your lower back, you've experienced the painful reminder of how frequently a successful hinge is required during your daily activities. A successful hinge exercise primarily targets your core and posterior chain. Here are some options:

  • Deadlift

  • Glute bridge

  • Hip thrust


Like hinges, squats and lunges are critical and often overlooked exercises that contribute to your ability to move your body successfully well into old age. Squats train us for getting up and down from a seated position—something we want to be able to do unassisted forever! And lunge training contributes to your "walking economy," meaning how well you can walk, which is a predictor of longevity. Also like hinge exercises, squats and lunges will draw in part from your core strength, where your body's largest muscles, which also control your balance, reside. Here are some options:

  • Squat (so many variants)

  • Split squat

  • Reverse lunge

  • Lateral lunge

  • Bulgarian split squat

Upper Push

So far, we've touched primarily on exercises where the primary muscles are in the legs. We haven't forgotten your arms! Functional upper body strength really means the ability to power yourself or something away and the ability to pull yourself or something towards each other (more on this next).

Putting things away on high shelves, lifting something off yourself, or trapping a monster behind a closet door (just kidding!)—these are all examples of push strength. Here are some push options:

  • Push ups

  • Overhead press

  • Band/cable press

  • Any kind of dumbbell/barbell press

Upper Pull

The reverse of the push (and equally important) is the pull. Strength training should incorporate both push and pull motions. You execute pull strength when lifting things off the ground. Here are some pull options:


We saved the best for last. Core training is arguably the most important and most misunderstood type of training you can do. If you think core training is sit-ups and crunches, think again. If you think the word core is synonymous with abs, that's wrong too!

Your core muscles are basically all the muscles in your torso (front and back), plus your glutes. (Some people also include quads and hamstrings in the core muscle group.) If you train to strengthen your core, eventually you will find that you can execute other exercises better and with higher weight than previously. It's that valuable!

Beyond that, your core muscles are where your balance lives. Training your core means avoiding falls and (along with hinge and squat/lunge training) being able to get back up in the event that you do fall.

Finally, good core training means using both dynamic moves and static holds, as well as rotational and anti-rotational training. Here are some core exercise options:

  • Planks: high, low, and side

  • Bird dog

  • Dead bug

  • Suitcase (aka farmer) carries

  • Leg extensions and kicks

  • Pallof press

  • Russian twists


Ready to create your own workout now? Share a post of your awesome workout on Facebook or Instagram and tag us! Not sure you're ready to write your own workouts? Consider working with a personal trainer or attending our boot camp, BodyPump, or Les Mills Core classes. We can bring the science to you!


The above material drew in part from a post by @rosentrain.


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