If you could perform only one exercise for the rest of your life, what would you choose? It’s a great question for time-strapped men looking to make the most for their gym-going buck. To answer it, we asked seven of the country’s top fitness professionals, from celebrity trainers to exercise scientists, which single move they’d recommend. The bad news? They all provided different answers. The good news? Each exercise — from back exercises for men to push-ups and squats for men — attacks multiple muscle groups and, when you’re stressed for time and can only hit a few reps, works the muscles that need it most. The better news? Most can be performed anywhere you have enough space to pop a squat.
Recommended by: David Kirsch, a celebrity trainer who works with the likes of Kate Upton, Kerry Washington, and chef Danny Meyer. He’s the founder-owner of the Madison Square Club in NYC.
Why? “I start every day with at least five sets of as many push-ups as I can do, ending each set with a one-minute plank.” Kirsch recommends the quick exercise for guys because it gets the heart going while also engaging the core, arms, back, chest, and arms.
How to do it: Perform a set of push-ups, then return to the “up” position and hold a plank. You should be pushing through your heels so your calves are lengthened and rolling your shoulders down your back so you’re not overengaging your trap muscles. Your navel should also be drawn, and you should be bracing with your abdomen while also squeezing with your butt. Hold for one minute and repeat.
Recommended by: Devan Kline, founder of Burn Boot Camp.
Why? “This is a compound movement so you utilize multiple muscle groups at once — your core, quads, hamstrings, glutes, triceps, and more are all working — as well as getting your heart rate up. You can also do different variations depending on your goals. To gain maximum strength, use heavy weights and do fewer repetitions. For endurance, use less weight and do more repetitions.”
Advice: Be sure not to round your lower back when performing a deadlift. This is a common mistake that overloads the muscle group, increasing the risk of injury.
Burpee With Push-Up
Why? “This exercise incorporates a squat jump and push-up in one exercise, challenging all the major muscle groups either dynamically or as stabilizers, in a functional or integrated whole-body movement. It can help you develop muscular power and strength as well as muscular endurance. It can also challenge the cardiovascular system when performed in multiple repetitions.”
How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down, and kick your legs back until you’re in a push-up position. Perform a push-up. Now, kick your legs forward into the squat position and then explode upward, raising your hands above your head. Land and repeat.
Why? “This strengthens your entire body, with emphasis on the quads. It’s also great for your joints because there is no pounding.”
How to do it: Get on all fours, keeping your elbows slightly bent and your back straight. Raise your knees one inch off the ground, then bounce them one inch up and down for two minutes, aiming for 120 bounces. Variations: Hop your toes up by an inch when your knees come up; come onto your forearms with hands in prayer for entire set.
Squats With Weight
Recommended by: Robert Herbst, powerlifting champion and Strength Sports Hall of Fame inductee.
Why? “Squats work most muscles including your posterior chain as well as the quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, abductors, adductors, spinal erectors, and lats. It works the core and — with a barbell in place on your back — works the shoulders, biceps, forearms, and even a little triceps. And they will make your legs look great in shorts or a bathing suit.”
Advice: When you perform a weighted squat, make sure to breathe correctly. You should inhale before you begin the movement, hold your breath for the duration of the exercise squat, and release your breath only once you’ve returned to standing.
Recommended by: Deena Robertson, co-founder of Modo Yoga LA.
Why? “If done correctly, your arms, core, buttocks, legs, and even neck muscles are being activated and toned. A key part of this pose that is often overlooked is the length you’re trying to create. Extend out through your head and heels and it supercharges the pose and opens up the spine.”
Advice: When holding a plank position (see above), be sure to keep your bellybutton drawn and your butt clenched (imagine you’re trying to hold a lottery ticket between your cheeks). This ensures that your spine remains neutral and that your core is engaged properly throughout.
Recommended by: William G. Oswald, DPT, PT, clinical instructor of rehabilitation medicine at NYU Langone’s Center for Musculoskeletal Care.
Why? “This is the single best exercise to maintain normal mobility for your stiff back and prevent injury and counteract pain that occurs from sitting too much,” says Oswald. “Do them in the morning or evening or before and after a workout. It works to keep the bones, joints, discs of the spine health, preventing injury.”
Advice: When you start in the “up” position, your arms should be shoulder-width apart and your palms in line with your nipples; your shoulder blades should be pulled back toward your heels to ensure that the joints are stabilized.