Which exercise is the best for me?

Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Medicine

Any exercise can be the best -- really, it's the exercise that you will commit to doing! That being said, here are some recommendations.

If you have done no exercise for the memorable past, start with walking. Put on a pair of good sneakers, dress for the weather (or head to an indoor mall) and move. If you feel there is simply not a spare half hour in your day to schedule exercise, then get a pedometer, strap it on, and push yourself to increase your step number each day.

I am a big fan of exercise bikes because they are the easiest way to allow cross-training. If you walk, jog, or run a few days per week, and hop on your exercise bike the other days, you will nicely balance the strain on your muscles and avoid injuries.

Join a gym -- if it is very convenient and/or you will commit along with a partner. Gym memberships are wonderful, if you use them, but many of them are simply a way to open your wallet and dump out money each month. 

The best and most effective exercise is the one you will be able to commit to and enjoy doing on a daily basis. Find something fun based on your interests and get a partner to workout with you if you need extra motivation. Aside from that, you choose specific exercises based on your ultimate goals. It is ideal to incorporate strength training along with cardiovascular training in your workouts.  I like circuit training because it incorporates strength training, but also raises your heart rate to give you the cardiovascular benefit as well. Circuit training is ideal for weight loss and can effectively raise your metabolism as well.

Exercise preference is very individual.  What you will find most enjoyable, others may find tedious.  I am a runner and in the winter I tend to go for the treadmill, but by the end of the winter I am just itching to get outside and run with nature.

To find the best workout for you, experiment with a variety of classes or equipment. If you don't have a gym membership, see what nature has to offer you, by going on a walk, hike, run, or bike ride.  If you like team sports, contact your local recreation center and see if they have a soccer, basketball, or softball team, that you could join.

The best part of exercise is, there are options everywhere to get in a few minutes of cardio or resistance training.  If you try something and you don't enjoy it, try something new.  The key is finding those activities you enjoy and can be consistent with.

My one caveat is, if you have any limitations, please keep those in mind and don't push yourself to try something that could injure you more.  Always consult your doctor before performing any strenuous activity or starting a new exercise regiment.

There is no one particular type of exercise which would be consider "best".  The best is something which you enjoy, but also something which helps to get you to your goals and keep you safe. A study which was published in the Sports Medicine Journal in 1994 stated "in the initial 6 weeks of a study that physically trained sedentary adults, there was a 50 to 90% injury rate."  It should be known that this occurred even though the programs were designed to minimize the risk of injury.  The moral of the story is that each exercise much be individually tailored for each person.  They should involve movement in many planes of motion, require the use of many muscle groups, and most importantly they MUST be based off of a movement assessment.  To find out more about a proper movement assessment contact a personal trainer or Elite Trainer.

The best exercise is the one that you enjoy doing.  One crucial point in exercise, however, is the proper technique.  Doing an exercise improperly can cause injury.  If you are new to exercise I would recommend taking a group exercise class.  This way the instructor can assist you on what you are doing incorrectly. 

What are you looking to achieve with your exercise regiment?  There are multiple "best" exercises for different goals.  If you are achieving your specific goal with your exercise regiment and you enjoy doing it, then it is the best exercise.

What exercise is best really depends on your personal circumstance. The exercises you do that fits with your lifestyle is going to be different from person to person.

If you are very sedentary and haven’t done any physical exercise in a while then your best exercise could be walking.  If you are very sedentary then you really need to build up a base of physical activity and progress into more strenuous forms of exercise. You can also start with light weights while focusing on your form.

Conversely, if you are already very active then you can do more aggressive forms of activity. Heavier weights, and instead of walking you can definitely incorporate running into your exercise program.

An allover great exercise is one that uses your whole body; sprints, jogging, squats to overhead press, lunges, jumping up and down, etc. These types of exercises really use your whole body as a functional unit. In our daily lives, whether we are picking up our kids, climbing stairs, lugging groceries we are always using multiple muscles simultaneously. These exercises are easily modified to fit your exact needs and circumstances.

When you use your whole body as a functional unit you will not only be burning more calories but you also will be using your body the way it was intended to be used, as a whole unit.

Robert Wildman, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics
Different kinds of exercise can provide different benefits. So the first part of the answer lies in the results that you expect to achieve because that will in turn be a big factor in what type of exercise(s) you should be doing. For instance, if you are looking to strengthen your heart and improve circulation, then aerobic exercises like brisk walking, running, cycling, elliptical, should be targeted. Meanwhile, if you are looking for more strength, power and muscle size, then exercises performed against resistance such as weight machines, free weights and fitness bands should be targeted. Some types of exercise such as power pump group classes  combine aspects of both. Once you align your desired results with the right exercise type the second part of the answer lies in what will you be comfortable doing and regularly as well as where will you be most successful doing it (e.g. gym or home, running trail, track or treadmill). Let's face it, if you don't enjoy it and it isn't at least somewhat convenient it is going to be hard to stick with it and get the results you want.

There are many forms of exercise and it is difficult to classify which is best. Some exercises may improve strength and power while others may improve flexibility and joint range of motion. However, exercises that improve aerobic fitness may be best for preventing disease. Aerobic fitness is one of five components to health-related physical fitness; the others include muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition. Aerobic fitness is vitally important to health and wellness as well as to the ability to engage in normal activities of daily living (ADLs) without excessive fatigue. Physical activity and exercise training programs should be designed with the intent of improving each of the key components of health-related physical fitness; however, from the standpoint of preventing chronic disease and improving health and quality of life, aerobic fitness training should always be a top priority when allocating time and resources during the design and implementation of any exercise training program because of the number of health-related benefits associated with it.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.