The Only 4 Exercises You Need

There is a phrase K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) that I like to use a lot. And when it comes to fitness and working out, a lot of people need to learn to do that. While personally I complicate my workouts, primarily because I have access to a gym, it is a fact that you do not need a complex workout regiment to get in shape. Doing different styles of exercises does help maximize your results, anyone with dedication can get fit with the following four exercises. The key will be doing them in larger amounts than the average person.

Push-ups:

This will work your chest, back, biceps  triceps, shoulders, and core all in one exercise. Additionally, there are multiple variations you can use from standard, to triangle, fingertip, knuckle, clapping, and elevated. Using the weight of your own body in multiple formats can get you the same reaction as a bench press, including decline, and incline responses.

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Pull-ups:

Similar to push-ups  your primary resistance comes from your own body weight. You too get the use of your back, chest, biceps, triceps, shoulder, and core. The most common grips are neutral, standard, and wide, but chin-ups are frequented as well. Depending on your level of advancement you can combine the movement of leg raises with your pull-ups for an extra abdominal push.

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Running:

As simple as it sounds people forget about the concepts of interval and terrain training. Hiking and jogging give two different responses but can technically be classified as the same exercise. Combining those two with sprints will give your legs an overall workout to tone and shred muscles while building mass. I will admit that shoving around heavy weights is easier for muscle-building on your legs, since historically humans just walked a lot and carried supplies. Combine weighted-bag hikes, sprinting for muscle tearing, and jogging and you’ll have yourself a total leg workout while also making sure your cardio stays up to par.

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Crunch/Sit-up:

This is one of the most known about and most debated core exercises out there, but it simply works. Failure with situps and crunches is primarily due to people’s failure to address their diet and fat burning in other areas. A thousand crunches doesn’t do anything if you’re shoving a Big Mac down your throat three times a day. Alternate between situps, crunches, and side crunches for a four-move killer ab workout to help your midsection. Combining the crunch and sit-up with the results of running, push-ups, and pull-ups will give you an overall strong core.

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There you have it—four simple yet effective exercises that will get the average person in shape with a decent physique. Just doing something is usually half the battle, and those four exercises hit most of the essential areas without having to do anything too crazy. The key is to take the basic movements and use them in as many variations as possible.

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While doing standard push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, and going for a mile jog will get you some results, doing three-position pull-ups, three-position push-ups, sprinting 100 yards eight times, four-variation crunches, and then jogging a mile will boost your body like crazy.

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101 thoughts on “The Only 4 Exercises You Need”

    1. Unless you’re specifically training for powerlifting (and perhaps even then), add a chinning movement, or rowing movement. I’ve long advocated power lifting add a weighted chinning movement to the total, both for total strength development, and to give competitors an incentive to not get excessively fat.
      Also do some running. At least enough to not tear yourself apart should you be forced to run down some schlub that picked your pocket.

      1. I still do pullups, dips, abs, and rowing movements…with some running. They aren’t on my “must do or else” list.

    2. I like all 7! I don’t think you should do just weights or just bodyweights. You should do both!

  1. I trained in training camps in Thailand for 2 years, and saw countless fighters with great physiques built with only these exercises combined with their muay thai / boxing training. Low bodyfat is important though and often makes even fairly small muscles look impressive.

  2. Why does this website not utilize some kind of quality control on its fitness posts? They are truly, truly awful.
    You will not build muscle if you do body weight exercises. You will gain stamina, you may become more defined as you lose fat, but you’re not going to gain any kind of muscle mass unless you’re on steroids.

    1. Agreed, though even with steroids, the effects of following this advice would be minimal and the rebound effect would leave you less muscular…

    2. You won’t get really huge but you can certainly build decent muscle with body weight exercises. I don’t see why you would think otherwise. As an end goal you can progress to one armed chins and one armed handstand press-ups. If you don’t think body weight can be sufficiently challenging go do some hand stand press-ups. Going beyond strictly body weight, a weight vest can make one armed pushups and pistol squats very challenging.

      1. Handstand press-ups are more about your own body weight than how strong you are. A skinny guy will have a 10x easier time of doing them than a fat guy. You need some strength to do it, yes, and weight training will gain you that strength much, much more efficiently.
        I’m not saying bodyweight exercises are not useful or good, I’m saying that the idea that they are going to get you looking like anything other than maybe ottermode is laughable.

        1. To my understanding male gymnasts don’t do very much weight training and they’re jacked. I’m not sure why you think iron is magical vice any other sort of resistance.

        2. Proof, please (prefer links!) 🙂
          The few (2) I’ve talked to are Ex, and didn’t lift – but maybe not their priority. I’d like to see / learn more, so – links! Please.

    3. Building muscle is keenly based on using your muscles and tearing them. you wont build body builder muscle but you will build muscle. Do you even lift?

      1. Yes, that’s kind of how I know this is bullshit. You will gain muscle stamina with body weight exercises, not strength gains. Any strength gains will be maybe 1/10 what you get with actual weight training.

        1. Lots of pros disagree.
          Which type of muscle fiber are you targeting? Type 2A, Type 2B, Type 3? none of us want to look like a stringbean (predmoninantly 3), but I got TOO big via swimming for my skin. And I’m still (almost 40) enjoying benefits that I can’t replicate when I get to the gym.
          Rippentoe is “the bible”, I know – and has good stuff, though there’s debate about High vs. Low bar squats, and a few details people argue here and there. But it’s not the ONLY option, and if you want strong, enduring muscles, Steel isn’t the ONLY OPTION.
          Progressive training is a science, body adapts. To run faster: Sprint farther, Then drop back to your distance pace. Take it from 100 feet to 300 feet to (Whatever), you’ll build the capacity to put on speed, run faster for a longer distance.
          Want to lift more? Decrease the mechanical advantage in your pushups. For example: Can you do a handstand pushup? (I admit I can’t.) But if you start from a regular pushup and increase the incline, maybe over time…?
          And how many sets, how many reps, etc?
          For more fun, go look up Matt Furey – he’s made a career out of bodyweight exercises, and used to do weightlifting. He doesn’t detail if it’s Power Lifting, strength training, or just adding weights in – but sounds like he was doing the heavy weights that have injured a lot of people. (Not everyone heads to Chaos and Pain blogspot for lifting advice, for example.)
          I’d liek to provide actual proof – I was doing 5X5 until August, and a hurt knee (needs surgery on the bone) has knocked me low.
          But I used to swim daily every summer, May – September, for 8+ hours a day. Later I added sand weights (Orbatron from Sears 😛 ) to intentional swimming training (laps, for speed). Kept fooling around in the water, too (until the Safety Nannies took over and made fun illegal.) Never lifted more than about 60#, for about 45 minutes or so. Deadlift, overhead press, gorilla press, curls, hack squats, situps, bench press, rows, toe raises, biceps curls.
          Someone challenged me with steel shortly afterwards, “threatened” to kick my ass. Pushing 100# + bar (47# bar, not the aluminum shite.) He did 10 reps, 3 sets.
          I stopped after cranking out 30 reps, no warmup, no rest, no strain… 😉
          I’d DONE my workout for the day already. But if I could LIVE in the gym, I’d be happy. 🙂 Just need a studio for live steel combat. 😀
          When I went to Gold’s (hit 240, was sloppy, decided to get back in shape), I didn’t go for size (enough stretch marks already), I just worked on what you’d probably term “toning.” That lasted about a year, I got dissatisfied, moved to more of a strength program… Still nothing, couldn’t even get the curls right! Couldn’t do the weight! Steel plates. (Hammer Strength curl machine, with the three posts, I didn’t expect much – used it to target the top and bottom, but I could generate too much force unless there was mid-range resistance… Crazy shite.)
          Then I learned more, had to drop the gym (consulting in IT), picked up time here and there as I could… Shitty deadlifts, everything else was good. (DL ~ 150, OH press ~ 120, Squats ~ 220 inc. bar. Pu**y weights. Beginners. But it was SOMETHING at least. But only resulted in firming the flesh, tightening the muscle. No size gains, no endurance changes. Why? I was “doing it right” according to your point.)
          How many body-weight squats can you do? I’d guess, even if you can squat 600#, you can’t do more than about 10 reps… 😉
          (I confess I’m at about 1-5 until the knee is repaired – but I used to do 30 as part of the warmup, and I found very quickly – I hit full extension in squats, and the weight KEPT GOING. Had to add more weight and adjust the speed of my lift. That resulted in bad form. Bad form made sore back. OTOH, pushing hard and fast enough to get through the lift, @$$-to-grass all the way up – That bar HURTS when it comes back down. 😉
          Point being, Steel and Sand and Body weight all make for results. You want some more fun, look up the Highland Games, or re-watch Rocky (based on an actual boxer, but close enough.) Or watch Shaolin monks training. Can’t deny THEY can manage to put out serious power. And the power:mass ratio! Sweet Jesus, some of them can make you cry… and they aren’t HUGE, just STRONG.
          I think that’s what most people want, is strength. And they should find what WORKS, first, and then ADD some things that complement, like it or not. I hate running – I do (did) it anyway, for an hour, as cardio, following the workout. Made for GREAT active recovery. I think my best mile time was 12 minutes… But I was WAY ahead of the couch potatoes, even if I was never skinny…
          Just saying, from my experience. Temple of Steel is a little over-rated, especially if that’s all you do…

        2. Who the hell made you the expert??? You are clueless and you are ignorant. Body weight exercises are much better in the long run that heavy weight training. You are probably built like the pillsbury dough boy. So I guess gymnasts and athletes like Hershel walker are from another planet and their body weight workouts are a figment of everyone’s imagination Jajajaj you are hilarious and you are an idiot.

      1. I can almost guarantee that those guys are 1. on steroids and 2. don’t just work out in the park and are indeed trying to sell some videos or guides or something.

        1. Different variations of pushups, weighted pull ups (close, wide, hammer) and weighted dips along with a beefy diet can get you bigger.
          sets of 50 wide grip pullups will make you feel wider than deadlifting. Still, I wouldnt just do these 3 exercises

    4. Do you know how much weight training gymnasts perform? For the vast majority, precisely none. Have you seen the size of an olympic gymnasts shoulders? Their strength and size comes from extreme use of bodyweight specific exercises. Nothing more needs to be said…..

  3. Running?!? Don’t bring that shit to the manosphere. Don’t you know being a man is all about getting super ‘roid yoked in the weight room?

    1. I originally had a picture of Bruce Lee, but another workout post got published first which coincidentally used a picture of Bruce Lee. So I swapped Bruce Lee as the featured picture with The Rock and Mark Wahlberg and swapped the picture of Bruce Lee from below with Cam Gigandet who has a similar physique.

        1. Marky Mark was the original Calvin Klein underwear model, back then his physique was molded by some cardio and weights, he is probably juiced nowdays, can’t say I like his physique nowdays. You have to be very careful with running, as it has the possibility of tearing a lot of hard earned muscle, possibly distance of 1-2 miles may not be too bad. Rowing on a Concept 2 Rower is a great option, as are kettlebells.

  4. These are effective exercises and have one great advantage : they don’t cost a penny. A decent pair of running shoes is all you need. Recommend “Convict Conditioning” for inspiration.
    Your workout should be something you enjoy doing. Too much thought on end results indicates the wrong motivations. Any sporting activity will put you in shape. If you enjoy lifting, then lift. Same for running. Good results will follow. Being bulked out is not the babe magnet some guys think it is, but if it’s you, then it will work for you. Be comfortable in your own skin. I’ll bet guys who are into “whisking” are in great shape.

  5. For simplicity sake, yes, these are the basics… And are solid.
    For advanced body weight exercises, “you are your own gym” by mark Lauren and Joshua Clark is a great reference book. Some of the ideas are uniquely challenging …Handstand push-ups, for example.

  6. If the end result is looking like the last guy then ill pass.
    I honestly don’t care about being cut as long as I look big overall. My legs are big and powewerful from squats, back is strong from deads and rows, and shoulders and tris are big from all kinds of presses
    End result=Bigger, stronger and faster than the guy in the pic.

  7. The author is making a valid point, that basic fitness (not building huge muscles) can be accomplished with the above exercises. He’s talking about basic, all-around fitness. That’s all he is saying, so give the guy a break. The USMC physical fitness test has only pullups, situps, and a 3 mile run. If you don’t have access to a gym, I think these are the things that you would do well to focus on.

    1. i’m resurrecting a very old post here, but beachbody’s body beast program is a good home lifting program if you have a few $100s to spend on equipment and don’t like going to the gym.

  8. These are probably the only 4 exercise you’ll need…if you’re taking a PFT for the military, but this list is far, far from complete. Crunches/sit ups have major limitations for most people, especially for those who have/are susceptible to back problems. Going through repeated spinal flexion, especially without any counteracting work for your lower back and the other muscles of your core, is a recipe for problems down the road. It’d be akin to the effect of doing tons of pressing work (bench press, OHP) without corresponding pulling work (pull ups, rows) on the shoulder (covered in a previous ROK article). These aren’t bad movements per se, but to suggest they’re the only 4 you need for complete fitness or a good physique for that matter is just flat out incorrect

  9. These are fine if you have no access to a gym. If you do, then the squat, deadlift, overhead press and bench press are the only four you need. The chin-up/pull-up and the power clean are both also phenomenal, though the typical overweight American is not fit enough to do chins, and the power clean is difficult to learn.

  10. This is wrong. No one will get big or strong doing push-ups, pullups, running and crunching. If you want to get strong and you want to get any size at all you need squat, deadlift, bench. And for good measure, add military press and bent over rows. With barbells – not machines, not dumbbells. Reps in the 5-8 range and 4-6 sets of each not including warm up sets. You don’t have to believe me, listen to the expert: Mark Rippetoe http://www.startingstrength.com

    1. Pretty sure I couldn’t do a single pull up when I started working out. Now I can rep out sets of 20 no problem. How is that not gaining strength? People saying pushups and pullups don’t help you gain muscle are naive. It might not be Arnold muscle, but it’s muscle and everyone I’ve encountered who’s in good shape does a crap ton of both. Do you even lift bro?

      1. Don’t listen to me bro, listen to Rippetoe. He is the master. You wanna get muscle, you wanna get big, you wanna get strong – you powerlift. You wanna be a pansy model type like the guy in the photo above do pushups and run. I’m not a bro, bro and even I know how its done.

        1. shut up, please. Pushups, Pullups and Sprints build muscle and athletic physique. There are many variations and progression, including band pushups, weighted dips or pullups. so you “get big” enough with these exercises.

        2. These exercises are good for practical application such as, moving at a decent pace for a long distance with a loaded pack and upon reaching your destination doing work. these four basic workouts will do more for a human than just teaching them how to pick things up and set them down. these workouts go deeper than aesthetic value

    2. Maybe you should check out Navy SEALs, Marine Force Recon, Air Force SOF, Army Special Forces, before you discount the value of bodyweight exercise.

      1. I am not discounting them as beneficial, if you want that kind of a body that’s fine. Between a powerlifter/bodybuilder type physique and the bodyweight training type physique one is stronger and more powerful than the other, empirically.

        1. Body building and power lifting give the practitioner muscles for bodybuilding and powerlifting. The SEALs, Marines, Special Forces have muscles that are trained to function in any environment and under extremely stressful conditions. I know because both myself and my son are former SEALs

        2. There’s the difference, right? Body types that are suited for their areas of specialities. That doesn’t make my statement untrue, just offensive because you perceive that I am actively disrespecting your body type (i.e. you are taking it personally and disregarding the actual message.) To each his own – if that’s the body type you like and ~need~ for your lifestyle, great. Not everyone wants a sleek swimmer type body. Some people like big, voluminous, strong muscles and here’s my point: If they do they need to lift really heavy things for low reps. Bodyweight exercises and aerobics aren’t going to get them there. You’ll notice there are many other folks here saying the very same thing.

        3. I am not really sure why you find it so important to get my approval of the Navy Seal physique. Solipsism, maybe? In any case my opinion of the different types of physiques is immaterial to a discussion as to what type of training will (in general) produce which results. So unless you have something more interesting up your sleeve than continuing to mine for a personal opinion I think we’re done here.

    3. Depends on what you need/want to be. Your lifestyle. For me, pull and push ups are enough. But you can add weight too and easily get over 100 kilo (with bodyweight) on both.

  11. Lots of people here regurgitating shit they overheard at a gym once. No one gets stronger doing push-ups? No one gets stronger doing pull-ups? You can spend your whole day doing nothing but pull-ups, and you won’t be any stronger than the dude who spent his day at a Vegas buffet devouring all-you-can eat crab legs? Is that seriously what you’re telling me?
    Now, if you want to say “You’ll grow faster and stronger using weights.” or “Squats are important too, and they’re better for you than sit-ups,” those are legitimate things we can discuss. But if you seriously think that bodyweight exercises do nothing for you except “build endurance” then you’ve seriously got to rethink your fitness strategy.

  12. These are good places to start, and they do cover all the basic areas. If you don’t work out at all yet this is a good way to go at the beginning.
    If you want to really build some muscle, though, you will eventually hit a plateau that you can’t get past using only your own body weight. You will have to go to the gym & lift significantly more than your own body weight if you want to build a muscular (as opposed to simply a toned) body.
    My bench press, for example, is more than 100 pounds over my body weight. When doing a pushup I can’t even get my whole body weight onto my chest because my legs will be holding part of my weight, so there’s no way I could have developed this strength using only pushups.

    1. I use up to 110 lbs of resistance bands stretched across my back when doing push ups. I weigh 190 so I naturally lift about 115 as a push up is 65% of bodyweight plus the bands. It’s much like pressing 225 per push up. Have them anchored on my deck. Works fantastic and I don’t need a spotter so i can crank them out to failure. Then I often drop to my knees and push out another 2 or 3 for an awesome pump.

  13. This may sound weird, but it’s a dead serious question: has anyone else almost…..came when doing pull ups? I have been right on the brink several times when doing them, but that’s the only exercise that has the effect.

    1. Are you a chick? Women do come when doing high reps of certain exercises, like toes to bar and hanging leg raise… similar to pullups.
      It would look weird for a a guy to be working out with a raging boner though… and then squirting cum all in his pants..

  14. Military press, front squat, deadlift, chin up.
    Push ups dont work back or biceps, nor do pull ups work chest or triceps.

  15. Lose the crunches, add squats. Squats have so many benefits it’s hard to list them. Work out the entire lower body, give you a testosterone boost, and cause so many other wonderful changes. You can readily see it in the gym: the guys who squat are big. The guys who don’t, aren’t.
    Crunches don’t really *do* anything except maybe give you bigger abs. But the key to having a six-pack is having low body fat, not huge abs. Skinny girls who can barely lift 5 kg and couldn’t crunch if their life depended on it have been seen touting nice pairs of six-packs. It’s really not that hard – you just need a strict diet and some patience.
    Crunches are dangerous as well. They can cause back injury.
    The only problem with squats is that it’s hard to do them at home.

    1. Agreed. Squats are like Bodyweights 101, you absolutely have to do those even before push-ups or pull-ups. Crunches seem counter-intuitive, since we tend to straighten our core instead of curling up. The combination of good diet and exercise should get you the flat stomach, but if you had to pick one ab exercise, you can’t beat planks IMO.

  16. There is not just “one true method” to training. A good start is to find exercises that target multiple muscle groups ie. pull ups, squats, push ups, deadlifts, etc. build a routine around them, add some assistance exercises if need be, when you see progress find ways to make the exercises more challenging (more weight, unilateral movements, etc.). Find exercises that you like and stay consistent with it. Peace.

  17. Right on! You know why so few people state this simple truth? Because it´s too simple … if getting in shape is this simple people don´t need to buy magazine subscriptions, hire personal trainers, buy videos, etc. It’s all an angle to make money. Do you realize that mags like Men´s Health have new “secrets” to lose weight, every month … always? Give me a break.

  18. those exercises a the foundation of physical training. if you do that consistently and weighted them you can be really fit. It’s sure that you’re not gonna be like arnold but almost nobody want to look like him. A plus would be to add some deadlift, squat, overhead press and farmer’s walk. And for sure some real core training. But one workout in the gym with those four exercises, and the rest at home is pretty sure enough to be in real good shape.

  19. What about lower back? What about pushing stuff above your head? This routine is missing a lot of stuff, and a simple workout is never going to solve all your problems. These exercises in the very least are necessary:
    Pushup
    Pullup
    Squat (for legs)
    Romanian deadlift (to balance squats)
    Standing military press (for pushing stuff above your head)
    Rear Delt Fly (for balancing military press)
    Crunch (for abs and balancing deadlift)
    Any cardio would work.

  20. I’ve seen a bunch of muscle-head roid users get schooled by a bunch of these guys you call pansies. I work with a guy who does nothing but push ups, chin-ups, sit-ups, and runs and I’m more than willing to bet a paycheck he could break any meat-head at the gym’s arm off. Endurance is STRENGTH!!!

  21. Where’s the squat? Squat is the bread and butter of bodyweight exercises, legs are the biggest muscle of our bodies and so building them first would assist in fat burning for beginners.

  22. The most important thing posted on here was sprints. If you aren’t doing them, it’s really really really tough to get ripped. You’d have to watch every single calorie that goes in and out of your body without them.

  23. The only 4 exercises you need are all bodyweight exercises and they are:
    1) Pushups (all variations, leading to 1-arm handstand pushup)
    2) Pullups (all variations, leading to 1-arm muscle-up)
    3) Parallel Bar Dips (all variations, leading to 1-arm dip)
    4) Squat (bodyweight squat, leading to Pistol Squat)
    I guarantee that if you can master all these, you don’t need any weights or any other exercises. And you will be very strong and fit.

  24. Very useful tips that r shown . But ..does it effect height .i had developed chest and now i want to develop 6 packs .what to do?

  25. I do three of these , pushups , running , crunches , am pretty good shape , 31 years old , 5’11” . 71KG

  26. If you are heavy, over 220 lbs, then body weight exercises will pay off in the muscle department. You have enough weight resistance to affect growth.

  27. “He focuses most of his attention towards physical fitness.” This should be: He focuses most of his attention on physical fitness.

  28. limiting your workout to only 4 movements seems crazy, even at a glance, I’ve seen that none of your exercises involve any external rotation of the shoulder, this can cause tendon impingement and can lead to long term injuries.
    you can’t go around spouting rubbish like this, some kid could read this and screw themselves up man.

  29. If you’re only going to do 4, do these 4:
    -Burpees
    -Pull ups /variations & weight
    -Plank /variations
    -Jump rope

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