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You might hate to do these exercises, but you’ll love the results!

Posted by Matt Hunter, Personal Trainer and DEKA Instructor at the JCC South Hills on March 25, 2024

Exercising isn’t always easy, but that’s the point of it. Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do – for brain health, to help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and all this can improve your ability to do every day activities.

Matt Hunter, Personal Trainer and DEKA Instructor at the JCC South Hills, talks about seven of the most basic AND essential exercises that anyone can do with or without additional weights or special equipment. “The movements themselves are essential to people of every age, stature, body structure and condition,” says Hunter, a certified personal trainer who has been exercising and weightlifting since he was 17, and whose four years in the Army included two tours in Iraq and physical education training of troops.

With all his focus on getting into and maintaining top physical fitness, Hunter is very knowledgeable about the basics of fitness. “These exercises are made for everyone,” he says.


PLANKS strengthen the core (all abdominal muscles), improve posture, enhance stability and balance (reducing injuries), alleviate stress on joints, and improve overall fitness levels.

How to do planks

  • If you’re just beginning, start with your knees, toes and forearms touching the floor, keeping your back straight.  As you progress, go to toes and forearms touching the floor, and then you can try in a pushup position with hands and toes touching the floor.
  • Keep your body straight from head to heels.
  • Engage your core and hold the position.
  • Aim for 30 seconds to a minute.
  • Breathe steadily.
  • Relax and repeat for several sets.

JUMPING (may require equipment for some exercises.) Plyometrics involves explosive movements that combine force and speed which will help in developing strength, speed and coordination. These exercises can include but are not limited to skaters and box jumps, and burpees.

How to do Skaters

  • Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Jump sideways to the right, landing on your right foot.
  • Swing your left leg behind your right leg and reach your left hand towards the right foot.
  • Immediately jump to the left, landing on your left foot and reaching your right hand towards the left foot.
  • Continue jumping side to side, moving fluidly.
  • Keep your chest up and core engaged for balance.
  • Repeat for several sets, focusing on speed and control.

How to do Box Jumps

  • Stand facing a sturdy box or platform.
  • Bend your knees and swing your arms back.
  • Explode upward, swinging your arms forward.
  • Land softly on the box with both feet.
  • Stand up straight, then step or jump back down.
  • Repeat for several sets, focusing on explosive power and control.

How to do Burpees

Burpees are a classic exercise that utilizes your body weight for resistance, making them an excellent choice for building both strength and endurance. The burpee engages the muscles in legs, hips, glutes, core, arms, chest and shoulders thus is an effective exercise engaging the entire body.

If this is a new exercise for you follow the directions below but eliminate the jumps by stepping (i.e start standing, kneel to get to the floor, step your feet back to the pushup position, and step back up to standing then do a small jump or heel raise.

  • Start standing.
  • Drop into a squat position, hands on the floor.
  • Kick your feet back to a push-up position.
  • Do one push-up.
  • Jump your feet back to the squat position.
  • Explode up into a jump, reaching your arms overhead.
  • Land softly and repeat for several reps, focusing on speed and control.

SQUATS (with or without equipment) are one of the most effective compound movements for developing lower body strength and power, engaging multiple muscle groups including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and lower back hence making it a cornerstone exercise in many strength training routines.

How to do Squats

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lower your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips back.
  • Keep your chest up and back straight.
  • Lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  • Push through your heels to return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for several sets, focusing on proper form and control.

DEADLIFTS (requires some equipment such as a weight bar or dumbbells) are an excellent exercise for building strength in the legs, glutes and lower back. This exercise primarily uses your lower body, however it also engages muscles including core, upper back and arms to stabilize the weight and perform the movement effectively.

How to do Deadlifts

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, barbell in front of you.
  • Bend at the hips and knees, keeping back flat, to grip the bar.
  • Lift the bar by straightening your hips and knees, keeping back straight.
  • Stand tall, then lower the bar back down by bending at the hips and knees.
  • Keep the bar close to your body throughout the movement.
  • Repeat for several sets, focusing on proper form and control.

PULL-UPS (require minimal equipment) are a closed kinetic chain challenging bodyweight exercise that can significantly improve upper body strength and fitness levels. The pull-up targets muscles in the arms, shoulders and back while also engaging the lats, biceps, triceps, deltoids and core.

It takes time, and you may need a trainer to help, but with the proper progression, anybody can learn to do a pull-up.

How to do Pull-Ups

  • Grab the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Hang with your arms fully extended.
  • Pull yourself up by bending your elbows and bringing your chest toward the bar.
  • Keep your core engaged and avoid swinging.
  • Lower yourself back down with control until your arms are fully extended.
  • Repeat for several reps, focusing on proper form and control.

PUSH-UPS can be easily modified depending on fitness level; they build upper body strength and strengthen the core. They can reduce the risk of a cardiac event and can aid in the improvement of body composition. The push-up is a compound exercise which targets the muscles in the chest (Pecs major and minor), triceps, deltoids and core.

How to do Push-Ups

  • Start in a plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the ground.
  • Keep your core engaged and back flat.
  • Push through your palms to straighten your arms.
  • Repeat for several reps, focusing on proper form and control.

Not ready for a full push-up? Try one of these variations:

Knee Push-ups: Instead of keeping your legs straight, bend your knees so your lower body is supported by your knees rather than your toes. This reduces the amount of body weight you’re lifting and makes the exercise easier.

Wall Push-ups: Stand facing a wall and place your hands on the wall at shoulder height. Lean forward and push yourself away from the wall, mimicking the motion of a push-up. This variation is ideal for beginners or those with limited upper body strength.

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