You’ve probably heard the hypothetical question, “If you were stuck on a desert island, what 5 pieces of music would you want to have with you?” It’s a great thought experiment to figure out which songs mean the most to you. Today, let’s add a twist to the classic question!
There are thousands of exercise movements out there. This desert island question helps us figure out which are the best of the best, and gives you a great place to start if you want to start shaping up with a minimalist, equipment free plan.
Here are the 5 exercises I would pack!
Bodyweight leg exercises are tricky, because your legs are already well-adapted to carrying the weight of your body all day long. This is why exercises like squats and lunges will quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. You can counteract this by adding a bunch of weight to the movement (like holding a barbell on your shoulders), but in our desert island scenario there’s not likely to be a squat rack washed up on the beach with you!
If you can’t add more weight you can take the opposite approach — remove one of your legs from the equation, forcing the remaining leg to now do twice the work. That’s what this clever exercise does.
By lifting one leg in the air, and then pivoting your pelvis down, tapping the ground, then pivoting up, your quads, hamstrings, and glutes will be dealing with formidable force-loads and will have to start toning up. This move is also great for core strength, balance, flexibility and coordination.
The One Leg Floor Touch gives your lower body a great workout, but how about the upper body? The push-up is what most people think of as the most basic exercise, but if you had to choose, the mighty chest dip gets more done in a single movement.
The chest dip calls on your pectoral muscles, deltoids, and triceps to work together to move your body up and down through 3D space. The body is very responsive to this kind of functional movement (compared to a more static chest exercise like a bench press) and you’ll GET STRONG QUICKLY. We also see that people who do chest dips develop a pleasing, lifted looking chest that projects confidence and power. Both men and women will see great results from having the chest dip in their top 5 exercises.
The triceps are your most important arm muscle, both for athletic and aesthetic purposes. The biceps are a flashy muscle, but in normal life having toned triceps that quietly show glimpses of tone as you move are what really communicate that you’re fit and strong. The triceps dip is a simple, straightforward way to build triceps and shoulder strength, and only requires an edge that you can place your hands on for dipping up and down. Add a second object to elevate your feet to make this exercise even more challenging.
The triceps dip is a deceptive exercise. At first you’ll feel like it’s not doing much, but push into 3 or 4 sets and you’ll quickly feel the triceps getting good stimulation. This exercise also promotes good shoulder and shoulder blade mobility, and activates the stabilizing muscles of the core.
Now that your lower body, upper body, and arms have gotten some exercise, it’s time to choose an exercise that works the “core” muscles that wrap around your lower torso, including the abs, obliques, and lower back muscles (spinae erectors). The V-sit is the single best movement for getting all these parts working together to become stronger.
The V-sit gets done in one exercise what usually requires multiple variations of crunches and flutter kicks to accomplish. It will humble you at first, but gets amazing results if you keep at it.
Your core is the grand central station of your body. If you want to kick a soccer ball, the leg is just one small piece of the movement. The power of the kick comes from your core, loading up power through various twisting and flexing motions so that the leg can drive through its swing with maximum energy. The same is true for throwing a punch, a tennis or swim stroke, or dragging around logs to spell out HELP on your desert island. The core is what gives your movements power and precision.
For as simple as it is, the plank gives you ridiculous strength and stability returns. When your body is in the plank position, your arms and legs can’t do much to help. Your core has to step up and work in a full 360° to maintain a straight body line.
NOBODY LIKES PLANKS. They’re hard. There’s nowhere to go, no movement to do, you just have to grit your teeth and hold the line as various points of your core fatigue and burn. If you ever feel like life is passing you by, do more planks, because they slow down time like nothing else in the world!
There you have it, our five desert island exercises. One Leg Floor Touch, Chest Dip, Triceps Dip, V-sit, and Plank. These exercises hit all the major muscle groups in a functional way that builds useful strength. If you were to do 5 sets of each until you felt a good burn, 3 times a week, you’d see terrific results in your strength and coordination levels. If the sheer number of exercise options confuse you, give the desert island workout a try!
Next time - What are the five most important stretches to do? We have answers!
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder