If you’re just getting started strength training, you might be wondering what the best exercise really is. But like lots of things in the fitness world, there’s not one, clear-cut answer. The best exercise depends on a lot of things, and one huge one is simple: enjoyment. Does this exercise make you feel good when you do it? Is it one you look forward to doing, and one you actually like?
You may have heard that the best type of exercise is the one you actually want to do, and the same holds true when talking about specific moves, too. Not surprisingly, research published in Movement Science and Sport Psychology shows that enjoyment and exercise motivation—as well as continuing on with exercise—are deeply connected. And one major determining factor in how likely you are to enjoy your session? A feeling of competence or mastery over what’s involved there.
One way to develop that mastery is through practice. By doing an exercise over and over again, you fine-tune your form, get more comfortable with the move, and ultimately get better at it. And that’s key to workout effectiveness, especially if your goal is to get stronger.
“Not changing everything up every single time allows you to have a sense of progression and to refine your form,” California-based personal trainer Rocky Snyder, CSCS, tells SELF. “It’s difficult to know if you’re getting better with a specific exercise like deadlifts, for example, if you never do it twice.”
So if you find an exercise you like, don’t be afraid to slot it into your routine on the regular (allowing for proper recovery time, of course—you want to wait at least 48 hours before working the same muscle group again). Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to focus on “muscle confusion”—or constantly mixing up your workout with different kinds of exercises—to get in quality workouts, as SELF reported. That’s because focusing on the same exercise allows you to practice progressive overload, a strength-training tenet that helps you get stronger by gradually challenging your muscles more and more each time, such as by adding more weight. And there’s an immense satisfaction that comes from feeling that you’re progressing and improving, says Synder.
That’s part of the reason that when trainers are asked about the one exercise they’ll never stop doing or putting into client workouts, they tend to choose options like the ones below: classic, compound exercises that are easy to improve upon.
“These kinds of exercises provide a foundation that you can build on over time,” Snyder says. “That’s why trainers rely on them, both for their own workouts and for clients.”
We asked 10 top trainers to share their absolute favorite exercise that they’d never want to give up. Take a look through this list—you just might find your new favorite go-to, as well as a few you’ll want to try to really get in a great, balanced workout!