Everywhere you turn, you’re bombarded by options — cars in every make, model and color imaginable; toothpaste that fights tartar, bad breath and gingivitis; and Nikes that you can design yourself, right down to the placement of the Swoosh. It’s enough to drive you mad. Working out is no less confounding, since there are literally thousands of exercises to choose from. Not that variety is bad, but when it comes to ultra-efficient moves that work multiple muscle groups, there are a select few that will do the job.
These eight exercises fit that bill, and while they aren’t the only ones on the map that can accomplish this aim, they are pretty darn awesome. Master these moves and then simply “plug ‘n’ play” them into these eight sample workouts that target just about any fitness goal. Whether you adopt this as your standard training plan or just dip into this list occasionally, you’ll find you can accomplish a lot with the bare minimum. Your life-addled brain will thank you.
Barbell Front Squat
The barbell squat may be the so-called king of exercises, but shifting the barbell from the back to the front comes with several unheralded benefits. “Front squats improve your core strength, increase flexibility and build beautiful, strong quads,” says Canada-based health and fitness coach Jess Callegaro, creator of The Progress Project coaching program.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell across your front delts and clavicle in a racked position — hands outside your shoulders, elbows flipped underneath. Kick your hips back and bend your knees as you drop your glutes straight down toward the floor, keeping your chest up, back neutral and abs tight. Drive through your heels and extend your legs and hips quickly to return to the start.
Quick Tip: Keep your elbows lifted and your arms parallel to the floor throughout so the bar stays in place and does not roll forward.
Make It Harder: “Adding a one-to three-second hold or pulse at the bottom of each rep creates more overall time under tension,” Callegaro says.
Sumo Barbell Deadlift
The conventional deadlift is the secret weapon for shapely glutes, but taking a wider sumo stance helps accentuate the outer glute area, according Heather Farmer, a national Olympic-weightlifting competitor and fitness coach based in New York City. “It’s also a good exercise for those who may lack the flexibility to achieve a flat back in a conventional deadlift with their feet together,” she adds.