The Only 4 Exercises You Need to Get in Crazy-Good Shape

pushup exercise
Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

You want a perfect workout? Of course you do -- who doesn't? The key to the perfect routine doesn't lie in celebrity trainers or trendy gyms (although there's certainly nothing wrong with them); the key lies in the perfect combination of cardio, strength training, core work, and functional movements.

When you get the combo right, you need nothing more than a handful of exercises, a timer, and a set of dumbbells. Stick with the program and you'll be in crazy-good shape before you know it.

pushup burpee
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Four exercises, four workouts

Using nothing but the four exercises listed below, you can pick and choose between any of the fast-moving, hard-hitting workout routines that follow. Might you get tired of the same exercises all the time? Sure. When you do, just switch them out for the suggested alternatives.

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Push-up burpees

The push-up burpee works pretty much your whole body, starting at your calves and running all the way up the stabilizing muscles of your core to your shoulders. Aside from the fact that this move is great for total-body strengthening, it also raises your heart rate for a burst of equipment-free cardio. The exercise's heart-pumping qualities are elevated if you include a plyometric jump at the end, but if you've got ankle, knee, or back problems, skip the plyos and keep the exercise low impact by simply returning to standing.

  • Stand with feet hip-distance apart, knees slightly bent
  • Squat down and place your hands on the ground just in front of your feet
  • Hop or step your legs behind you to a high-plank position, core tight, shoulders over palms, hips aligned between your shoulders and knees
  • Bend your elbows and do a push-up, lowering your chest toward the floor (you can drop your knees to the ground for a modified push-up, if needed)
  • Press through your palms and return to the high-plank position
  • Hop or step your feet back to their starting position
  • Return to standing, or if desired, jump up into the air, landing with knees and hips slightly bent, before continuing the exercise

Alternative exercises:Mountain climbers or jump rope


Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Squat press

Combining an upper-body and lower-body exercise into one, compound movement is an excellent way to kill two birds with one stone. Grab a pair of dumbbells for the squat press, which targets the major muscle groups of the lower body -- the quads, hamstrings, and glutes -- as well as the shoulders and the stabilizing muscles of the core.

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart, knees slightly bent, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your shoulders
  • Press your hips back and squat down, as if sitting on a chair, bending your knees and lowering your glutes toward the floor. Keep your chest up and core tight.
  • When you've lowered yourself as far as you comfortably can while keeping your weight in your heels, your knees behind your toes, reverse the movement and press back to standing
  • As you rise to standing, press the dumbbells straight up over your head, extending your arms fully
  • Bring the dumbbells back to your shoulders before continuing

Alternative exercises: Lunge curls, bear squats

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Deadlift row

Deadlift rows target your hamstrings, glutes, and core while also hitting the large muscles of your upper back, including your lats, traps, and rhomboids. Grab a set of dumbbells and be sure to check your form -- you should feel this more in your glutes and hamstrings than your low back.

  • Stand with feet hip-distance apart, knees slightly bent, a dumbbell in each hand directly in front of your thighs, palms facing your body
  • Tighten your core and press your hips backward as your torso hinges forward from the hips. Your torso should remain straight throughout the exercise (don't hunch forward or bend at the waist).
  • As your torso leans forward, allow the dumbbells to "shave" the front of your legs as your arms hang naturally from your shoulders
  • When you feel your hamstrings tighten, stop the forward lean -- only go as far as your natural flexibility allows you to go. From this position, row the dumbbells up to your chest by pulling your shoulder blades together and bending your elbows.
  • Reverse the movement and steadily lower the dumbbells
  • To return to the starting position, tighten your hamstrings and glutes and use your lower body to "pull" your torso back to standing. This movement should not originate from your low back or core.
  • Continue the exercise

Alternative exercises:Assisted pull-up, renegade row


around the world plank
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Around-the-world plank

Planks are pretty much the perfect exercise for developing core strength, and the around-the-world plank variation ramps up the intensity by requiring greater core engagement, particularly of the stabilizing muscles of the shoulders and hips. You can do this exercise on your toes or your knees, in a high-plank or low-plank position.

  • Set up in a high- or low-plank position, either by balancing on your forearms and toes or your palms and your toes. Either way, check to make sure your palms or elbows are directly under your shoulders and that your body forms a straight line from heels to head. Don't allow your hips to sag or creep up toward the sky.
  • From your plank, lift one arm from the ground and reach it out as far as you can to the side, tapping the ground before returning it to its starting position
  • Now lift one foot from the ground, reaching it out as far as you can to the side, tapping the ground before returning it to its starting position
  • Repeat the lift-reach-tap-return motion with your other foot and arm, and continue the exercise

Alternative exercises:Plank up-downs, plank jacks

Workout #1: Tabatas

Time: 20 minutes
Perform four four-minute Tabata routines consisting of eight rounds of 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest. Rest for one minute between Tabatas. (Tip: download a Tabata timer to your phone to track the intervals for you.)

  • Tabata #1: Alternate between push-up burpees and squat press (you'll perform each exercise four times)
  • Tabata #2: Alternate between push-up burpees and deadlift row (you'll perform each exercise four times)
  • Tabata #3: Alternate between push-up burpees and around-the-world plank (you'll perform each exercise four times)
  • Tabata #4: Rotate between all four exercises -- push-up burpees, squat press, deadlift row, and around-the-world plank (you'll perform each exercise twice)

Workout #2: Straight Circuit

Time: 25 minutes
Perform each exercise for 60 seconds. After performing each exercise, rest for one minute. Repeat the circuit five times through.

Workout #3: Core Killer

Time: 30 minutes
The key to this workout is an added dose of planking to ramp up your core engagement. You'll hit the floor for an around-the-world plank after performing each of the other exercises, as described. Rest for two minutes after each full circuit, repeating the circuit four times through.

  • 60 seconds push-up burpees
  • 60 seconds around-the-world plank
  • 60 seconds squat press
  • 60 seconds around-the-world plank
  • 60 seconds deadlift row
  • 60 seconds around-the-world plank
  • Two minutes rest

Workout #4: The Round Robin

Time: 23 minutes
This workout's a bit of a doozy. While each circuit is set up the same way, you'll start each circuit with a different exercise, performing the first exercise for the longest period of time, the time diminishing with each subsequent move. Rest for one minute between circuits.

Circuit 1:

  • Two minutes push-up burpees
  • 90 seconds squat press
  • 60 seconds deadlift row
  • 30 seconds around-the-world plank

Circuit 2:

  • Two minutes squat press
  • 90 seconds deadlift row
  • 60 seconds around-the-world plank
  • 30 seconds push-up burpees

Circuit 3:

  • Two minutes deadlift row
  • 90 seconds around-the-world plank
  • 60 seconds push-up burpees
  • 30 seconds squat press

Circuit 4:

  • Two minutes around-the-world plank
  • 90 seconds push-up burpees
  • 60 seconds squat press
  • 30 seconds deadlift row

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer who actually loves burpees. Share your disgust with her on Twitter: @girlsgonesporty.