5 Essential Fitness Exercises

There are five exercises that are essential for functional fitness. Functional exercises are those that allow a person to perform the daily activities of life with optimum ease. Everyone needs to do them, beginners, seniors and the best athletes, in order to perform at our best. They are compound exercises that work all of the major muscles groups in the body and you can do them anywhere.

1. Squats

Squats are a simple exercise, but often performed with poor form. Here's how to do them correctly:

  • Start with your feet hip distance apart.
  • Keeping your knees over your ankles, bend your knees, moving your butt back as if to sit in a chair.
  • Your knees and lower leg should form a 90 degree angle (if you can't get to 90 degrees without compromising your form that's OK).
  • Make sure your knees do not go over your toes.
  • Raise up and start again.
  • Do 10 reps, three sets, two to three times a week.

2. Lunges

  • The working leg should be forward, the back leg hip distance apart, and in a split stance.  The heel of the back leg should be up.
  • Bend your knees, keeping the front knee over the ankles.  The end point is when both the front leg and the back leg make 90-degree angles.
  • Rise up and start again.
  • Do 10 reps, three sets, two to three times a week.

3. Pushups

  • Start in a basic plank, hands slightly wider than your shoulders and your palms on the floor.
  • Keep your back straight, don't let your lower back sag. Keep your head and neck in alignment with your back.
  • Slowly bend your elbows, bringing your chest towards the floor.
  • Push against the floor and straighten your arms, returning to the starting position.
  • Do 10 reps, three sets, two to three times a week.
  • Modifications: you can perform this exercise on your knees or place your hands on a bench.

4. Pull-ups

  • Stand under the bar, palms on the bar, hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Activate your core.
  • Pull yourself up so that your chin reaches the bar. Keep your posture straight.
  • Slowly lower yourself down, so that your arms are straight and your feet do not touch the floor or bench.
  • Start with five reps, two sets, two to three times a week, increase slowly.
  • Modifications:
    • Machine assisted—Most gyms have an assisted pull up machines. This is the one machine where the more weight you use, the easier it gets.
    • Lateral pull up—Most playgrounds have a bar that is close to the ground (monkey bars). The position of your body will be the exact opposite of a pushup. To make it easier you can bend your knees.

5. Rotation

Every human motion and sport requires rotation of same sort.

  • Stand tall with good alignment. Hold a medicine ball or a weight, (that's challenging but not enormously heavy), in front you with arms straight.
  • Rotate the ball from side to side, as much as your range of motion allows. Maintain good posture.
  • Modifications: Exercise BandsWrap the band around a stationary pole. The tension of the cord will try and pull you in. Don't let it. Rotate, maintaining good posture

These exercises form the basis of any good exercise program. They'll keep you fit and healthy for a long time.


NY Endurance Sports Examiner Ann Karine is a personal fitness trainer and a USATF certified running coach.

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