10 Essential Exercises for Optimal Fitness

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Imagine your body is made of clay, with each type and frequency of movement shaping the physical outcome. Take your imaginary body-ball-of-clay through your personal movement timeline, considering your early development, favourite activities, accidents or sports injuries, footwear habits, the desks at school, your favourite couch, and driving posture. Create the ‘resultant’ shape in your mind. Now go look in the mirror. The moulded clay in your mind should look like you, right now in the mirror. What you have done to date has resulted in your ‘shape’….We know that the literal shape you are in affects not only the function of your body’s tissue, but also your cellular health. In short, it affects everything…. Your body is NEVER ‘out of shape’; it is always IN a shape created by how you have moved up to this very moment. It is constantly responding and shifting to a continuous stream of input provided by your external and internal environments, even if that input consists only of sitting still, for hours on end.

Katy Bowman, Move your DNA

As a busy individual who wants to feel strong, healthy, injury-free, stress-free and feel great in your own skin, you want to invest your precious time in the movements that deliver the biggest bang for your buck.So, here are 10 golden exercises that comprise 99% of ALL my training as well as of all the training I recommend all other fitness minimalists who want to live life to the fullest but not live it at the gym.

    1. Loaded Carries. At first, I didn’t add these to the top 10 because I consider them so elementary as to be self-evident. However, it has been pointed out to me that they aren’t self-evident to many people. Let’s just say that loaded carries are the simplest and most efficient way to strengthen your entire body. If you could do just ONE thing for yourself, do 1-10 minutes of loaded carries every day of your life. Simply pick up something heavy and carry it for a distance. That’s it. Accumulate 1 minute of loaded carries on easy days, 5 minutes on moderate days and 10 minutes on heavy days. Then watch your body and you mind grow stronger and more resilient.
  1. Rucking – urban walking with a heavy backpack. 30-60 min per day. Much more effective and time-efficient than simple walking, rucking develops stamina, endurance, strength, improves heart health and cardiovascular fitness. On rainy days, I recommend Rucking up and down stairs or Jump Rope for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Kettlebell Swings – one arm, two-hand, double. A non-negotiable posterior chain builder. Do them all your life and you will live long, strong and healthy.
  3. Rope / Rock / Tree Climbing – climbing is the ultimate upper body pulling and core strength exercise. It engages the back muscles and improves grip strength – something that modern population desperately needs. (Pull-Ups, Rows and Hanging Leg Raise progressions replace actual climbing, if unable to climb or if the rope / rock / tree is not available)
  4. Squats – bilateral, unilateral, racked, overhead, single KB, double KB, jumping.
  5. Turkish GetUp – mobility, stability, strength and motor control in one beautiful package. Want to get from Zero to perfect TGU in your own time? Check out my online course HERE
  6. Clean & Jerk – one arm and doubles. The most powerful and power-producing all-body movement you can do with a kettlebell. Especially useful for martial artists (single KB). IMG_0109 (2)
  7. Snatch – Cardio without the ‘dishonour’ of aerobics. The equivalent of sprinting. Before you ask, no, snatches do not replace walking or rucking. They use different energy systems. You need both.
  8. Rows – one arm, TRX, double KB, any way shape or form – in our seated hunched-over-an-iPhone culture, this exercise has a category of its own (otherwise, as a hunter-gatherer, you would be fine just rock climbing, see item 3) because it helps mitigate the slumped forward posture and the insidious multitude of problems that flow out of it.
  9. Burpee variations – in particular, a STRICT burpee (hinge at the hips and place hands on the ground, jump your feet into a push-up position, perform a strict push-up from toes, jump your feet back in and jump up in the air). This movement is superior to a regular push up or a regular burpee because it trains your ability to get from prone to standing. It can be replaced by burpee and push up progressions until the full movement is mastered.
  10. (Bonus!) Hatha Yoga. In all my years of training and coaching clients, I have not found a better, more time-efficient way to stay both flexible, injury-free and stress-free. I have studied to be a Hatha yoga instructor in my past life. Hatha yoga is where you hold the asanas (postures) from 15 seconds to 2 minutes each. Hatha is different from another popular style, Vinyasa yoga, where you move through the postures rapidly. Why Hatha and not Vinyasa? Personal choice. I have a ‘Yang’ type (as in Yin/Yang) personality, aka I prefer powerful and dynamic types of movement – Swing, Snatch, Clean & Jerk – and use the slow and relaxing Hatha Yoga to balance it out, improve flexibility and decompress. Some people prefer to use yoga as the main workout, which is why Vinyasa and Power Yoga gained popularity. Any yoga practice is a Yin practice. People who prefer it like calm, smooth, slow, lower intensity movements. However, Yoga as a discipline does not provide enough stimulus to engage all the various muscle fibres and energy systems of the body. That’s why for people who prefer yoga (Yin people), it is still a good idea to perform strength and power exercises (swing, snatch, clean, jerk) at least once or twice per week, to maintain Type II muscle fibres, boost metabolism and balance hormones. My 10 favourite Hatha asanas are: warrior 3, crescent, locust, downward-facing dog, upward-facing dog, king pigeon, seated twist, straddle, side plank and cow’s face. They truly leave no stone unturned.

IMG_0077Which among the above exercises are on your Top 10 list too? What other movements would you put on your list?

Published by Kat's Kettlebell Dojo

Kettlebell Dojo is a philosophy that is about making your training time-efficient and maximally effective by consistently performing high-quality functional movements. In addition to being a bookworm, Kat is a certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor, Strong First SFG Level II Instructor, Girevoy coach, Nutrition coach, Jump Rope, and Crossfit Gymnastics coach.

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