If you’ve ever taken any sort of bodyweight training class, you know that there are a few simple moves that you just can’t escape: planks, push-ups, burpees, mountain climbers, and squats. Or as we like to call them: the “Big Five.”
These exercises are trainer favorites because they target multiple muscles at a time in both your upper and lower body, which means that all you really need to do get an efficient workout is put them all together. And no matter where you are in your fitness journey—whether you’re a first-timer or an old pro—these types of basic bodyweight moves can help you get stronger. “These moves are the foundation [of fitness], and when you start with bodyweight moves, you’re less likely injure yourself and you’ll get an increased awareness of your body, which is so key to climbing the ladder toward your fitness goals,” trainer Ashley Joi, said during a recent Well+Good panel. “Taking out weights and equipment allows you to become connected to yourself and build up from the basics.”
Scroll through to find out why these moves have become such strength-training staples, and why each and every one of them deserves a spot in your routine.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a bodyweight workout that doesn’t include some sort of plank, and there’s a reason why trainers love the move so much: When it comes to working all 360 degrees of your core, it’s the best you’re going to get. “Core strength is fundamental to your posture and your life—it supports your spine and enables you to lift heavier,” says Joi. “I believe planks are the best core exercise because they encompass your full body, and are also one of the exercises that truly makes you focus and become aware of your body.” In addition to firing up your abs, planks also hit your glutes and shoulders, and are a great way to turn on your muscles at the beginning of any workout.
Push-ups became the unofficial workout move of quarantine, thanks in large part to the fact that they pack a whole lot of bang for your buck. At their core (pardon the nerdy fitness pun), push-ups are really just moving planks, which means they’ll give you the same benefits as the static version of the move while also hitting your upper body harder. As you become more advanced, you can try different push-up variations that will help fire up even more muscles in your arms and shoulders.
While you might think you need to step outside for a run or hop on a spin bike to get your daily dose of cardio, burpees prove otherwise. “Burpees are a full-body exercise that doesn’t require any equipment—meaning they’re your gym on the go,” trainer Kirsty Godso previously told Well+Good. “They’re one of the most-used bodyweight exercises and are great for building both strength and cardiovascular endurance.” The exercise combines planks, push-ups, and jump squats, and by the end of a single set you’ll be dripping in sweat.
4. Mountain climbers
Another core-burning cardio move trainers can’t get enough of? Mountain climbers—aka planks, but make ’em cardio. The exercise involves holding a plank while quickly pulling your knees to your chest, which spikes your heart rate and forces you to engage your abs. You can slow them down for a lower impact burn, or twist them from side to side to fire up your obliques.
Traditional squats hit every muscle from your waist to your toes, and mastering their perfect form requires you to stay focused and brace your core for the entirety of the move. To do them properly, trainer Peter Tucci suggests keeping the mantra “lift, tuck, lower” at the top of your mind, which will help remind you to keep your chest up, tuck your pelvis in, and lower your butt to a 90-degree angle from your knees.
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