The greatest exercise of all-time

Posted on October 27, 2014

(Last Updated On: March 28, 2016)

This is one of those internet things. “If you could only do one exercise, what would it be?” Or, “What’s the best exercise?”

I’ve seen this on the internet more than I can remember. Yet, I’ve never been asked this in person or with a client. So, by one of those “internet things,” perhaps I mean “one of those questions nobody who doesn’t spend all their time in front of computer ever thinks about because it’s so ridiculous as to make you wonder whether the internet is maybe a bad thing.”

Hence, before I started working in the real world, with regular, everyday people, I actually spent some time thinking about this. (This is what happens when you’re in academia and only training yourself everyday.) Between myself and others, some common responses were:

  • “Hmm, gotta be the squat.”
  • “No, no. It’s the deadlift. What more bang for your buck do you want? It hits thoracic extension, works the entire body, it’s functional in that you have to lift a weight off the floor. The list goes on. Definitely the deadlift.”
  • “One of the olympic lifts. The combination of speed and strength is unparalleled.”
  • “How about burpees? You get way more of a cardiovascular effect with them than those heavy lifts.”
  • “Well, maybe it’s sprinting then. It’s what we’re made to do after all. Run away from predators.”

Like I said, this is almost a pointless question. One exercise? All you can do is one exercise? That said, I do have an answer to this. And for the rare person who does come along who basically can only do one thing, or is only willing to do one thing, I always have that one recommendation for them. My “go-to” sort of speak.

This one exercise:

  • Works every muscle in the body at the same time.
  • Can increase strength
  • Can increase speed.
  • Can increase endurance.
  • Can be modified to have a stronger strength effect.
  • Can be modified to have a stronger endurance effect.
  • Helps deliver nutrition to things like our cartilage.
  • Is good for bone density.
  • Increases the ability to think and generate new ideas. (You’re not able to do this with something like a deadlift or heavy squat. All you can think about is not dying.) In fact, many of the greatest human minds were notorious for this exercise.
  • Out of all the older people I’ve worked with, there is one exercise those who are in the best shape are always regularly performing, this is that exercise.
  • Can be used to correct an overwhelming number of muscular imbalances. There is almost nothing it can’t help.
  • Is so far, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, treatment for depression.
  • Is so far, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, preventive measures for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  • Cavemen had to have done this exercise. Therefore, even the Paleo crowd can be happy! In fact, performing a ton of this exercise is one’s best bet of looking like our paleolithic ancestors.
  • Is so basic nearly anyone can do it. Beyond extremely unusual health circumstances, everyone will already have a great deal of experience with it. (This isn’t true for most exercises. Most have a learning curve, some of which are very steep.)
  • Is the opposite of what most people do all day.
  • Can be done anywhere. There is literally nowhere you cannot perform this exercise. Gym? Outside? Airport? Your home? Yes, yes, yes, yes.
  • You can perform it with other people and make it social.
  • You can perform it by yourself to collect your thoughts.
  • You can be doing this exercise and some work at the same time. Emails, phone calls, etc.
  • It’s utilized in cardiac rehab, almost every type of orthopedic rehab, stroke rehab. You name it and it’s a part of the program.
  • It can be performed at a low enough intensity that pretty much anyone can do it, but can also be made hard enough that even the most fit can get a workout.
  • It’s a great method for active recovery between harder workouts.
  • Whether an athlete, office person, elderly, adolescent, it doesn’t matter the demographic, you want to be performing this exercise.
  • You can do it everyday.
  • Depending on how it’s performed, it will burn as many or more calories as any other exercise.

I typed this list in about five minutes; it could probably go on forever.

Whether it’s uphill, downhill, with a friend, by yourself, for 10 minutes, for five hours, outside, inside, fast, slow, holding weights, wearing a bookbag, a break from sitting, a way to get some fresh air, a way to gather your thoughts, a way to talk to a friend, to lose weight, to gain some muscle, to work on not hunching over, nearly whatever you’re looking to accomplish, if you’re some bizarre person who only wants to do one thing; can only do one thing, there is no substitution for putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again.

I’m off to go for a walk.

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Posted in: Miscellaneous