The only 5 exercises you need in your strength routine

There is an extremely large amount of exercises and variations to choose from out there.

Have you ever wandered into the gym excited to workout, but once you get there you are overwhelmed by the amount of machines and people doing different things?  Maybe you do the same thing week to week, but don't see much of a difference. That can really take the wind out of your sail and cause you to think twice before coming back.

GOOD NEWS: There IS a way to make it simple!

Truth is, you don't really need all the fillers. They're good at times, to mix it up and add some variety. But you'll see that within the 5 categories I show you, there is a good amount of variation for you to have some fun and creativity with it.

I know you still love your bootcamp, yoga and running, but it can be more effective to cut to the chase and get some good solid strength in a couple days a week as a supplement to other activities. PLUS, if you're someone who doesn't have much time and would really like to see some strength/endurance results, you're in the right place.

You're probably asking yourself how, in a world filled with 1 zillion and a half exercises, could I narrow it down to 5?


By simplifying the process and cutting out the stuff you don't really need you can:

  • have a balanced approach to your strength routine

  • save your precious time

  • increase your strength

  • see progression over time

  • decrease injury

Who is this for?

If you've been looking for a way to get stronger, not get injured, and save time spent thinking about the next exercise in the gym... read on. This is a way to do all of the above and simplify your workout routine while still adding in plenty of variety to keep you interested. This plan may not necessarily be for you if you have an injury or limitation you need to focus on.

Why 5 exercises is enough

A completely balanced approach

With only 5 different main movements to choose from, you can do SO many things!

It is essential to have a balanced approach that includes equal amounts of upper body, lower body, push, pull and rotational movement.  By programming these in, you work your body in every plane of motion and target all of your major muscle groups.

If you make sure these 5 types of movement/exercises are somewhere in your routine (and in equal amounts) you can be sure to accomplish this safely and without injury/imbalances.

Increased total body strength

By only focusing on the major muscle groups (like chest, back, legs and core) in most cases you're able to bump up the intensity and lift quite a bit heavier.

Just think: while it's possible to do machine leg extensions at a weight of 75#, you may be able to squat 135#. Not only are you able to lift more weight, you're also able to target more muscles (like the hamstrings, glutes, calves and core) to assist. By recruiting so many more muscles to help with the movement, you increase the metabolic demand on your body... which leads me to the next point!

Less messing around/more down to business

We all want to get the most bang for our buck (right?) and spend less time in the gym. But we also want to ensure our workouts are going to work for us.

By using the compound movements I'm going to show you next (almost there!), you can increase your calorie and fat burn at rest and teach your body to be more efficient.  This allows you to spend less time deciding what to do next in the gym and focus on the movements that are going to make you stronger.

Now, you may be wondering "how will I burn the flab off my arms without doing endless curls and tricep dips?!" No need my friend. As you'll see, within all of these "larger" movements, the smaller muscles come in to help as secondary muscle groups. For example - if you're doing a row, your primary muscle group is your back, while your secondary muscle group is your biceps.

Feel free to finish this workout with a mini burnout for those smaller "vanity" muscles as I like to call them if you want to give them a little extra attention. This workout method was intended for those on a short time budget, but if you have more time to give, go for it!

The Fabulous 5

In order to target ALL of your muscles evenly , you truly only need these 5 I am about to share with you. No ab work? No worries. Almost every single exercise you'll see here incorporates core, even though you may not always feel it.

This is by no means a FULL list as there are hundreds of exercises that could fall within these main 5, so feel free to add in your own too. This list is just to get you started.

Lower Body Push Exercises

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves, Core

  • Bodyweight Squat

  • Goblet Squat

  • DB front squat

  • Front Lunge

  • Barbell Back Squat (not pictured)

Upper Body Push Exercises

Muscles targeted: Chest, Triceps, Shoulders

  • Tricep Bench Dip (3 levels)

  • Pushup (incline, flat, decline)

  • DB Chest Press (Double, Single, 1/1/2)

  • Standing Shoulder Press

Lower Body Pull Exercises

Muscles targeted: Hamstrings, Lower Back, Shoulders, Glutes, Calves, Core

  • Straight leg deadlift

  • DB switch pickups (can also use a kettlebell)

  • Reverse lunge

  • Traditional DB Deadlift (can also be done with barbell for added weight!)

  • Hip lifts (3 levels)

Upper Body Pull Exercises

Muscles targeted: Back, biceps, shoulders, core

  • 2 Arm bent over row

  • Upright Row

  • Renegade Row

  • Reverse Fly

Rotational Exercises

Muscles targeted: Anything and everything, depending on which you choose!

  • Lunge chops

  • Plank taps (knee, foot, toe reach)

  • Russian Twist w/ press (3 levels)

  • Plank Rocker

The Workout

You ready?!

Complete 3-4 rounds of the following exercises with 15-20 sec rest between exercises and 60-90 seconds rest at the end of the circuit.

  1. Goblet Squat x 10-12

  2. Pushup x 10-12

  3. Straight leg deadlift x 10-12

  4. Upright Row x 10-12

  5. Lunge Chops x 8-10 each side

Long-term program

Choose 1 exercise from each category (5 exercises total). Target 8-12 repetitions for each movement.

My suggestion would be to come up with 3 different circuits for you to complete throughout the week (i.e. Monday, Wednesday and Friday).

Keep working on the same routines each week for 4-6 weeks while trying to increase the amount of weight you lift by about 5% each time you do the workout.


Be sure to warm up with a little low-intensity cardio and mobility work, and cool-down with some mobility and stretching.

Always supplement exercise with proper nutrition pre and post workout, and throughout the day. Here are some of my simple nutrition strategies to live by, including some great pre and post workout snacks!

Ending Advice

You truly can get an effective strength workout by only committing 3 days per week for 30-40 minutes TOPS. By moving quickly through the routine, you can train your body to not only get stronger, but to be more efficient.

If you have more time on other days, throw in some running or your favorite yoga class.

Now go create your 3 workouts for the next month and get moving!

Questions on incorporating strength around limitations or injuries? Send me a quick message!


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