Whether you’re 5 or 95, these are the best exercises to keep you fit for life, according to a celebrity fitness trainer

Emily Samuel is a fitness trainer at Dogpound in New York City.

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Emily Samuel is a fitness trainer at Dogpound in New York City.
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Nigel Barker

  • Celebrity fitness trainer Emily Samuel works as a trainer at New York City’s star-studded Dogpound gym.
  • She doesn’t like to put her clients on lots of complicated machines. Instead, she prefers getting their heart rates up with “functional movement.”
  • Whatever your age, these are the moves Samuel recommends to get you fit to live a healthy life.

Celebrity fitness trainer Emily Samuel believes firmly that working out should not be a chore.

“Move your body in ways that you like to do,” she told Business Insider.

Samuel, who trains supermodel clients at the elite Dogpound gym in New York (where stars like Karlie Kloss and Hugh Jackman work out), said she doesn’t like using many fitness machines. Instead, she prefers to teach people fun, “functional movements” – actions that get hearts pumping, but still mirror the physical challenges it takes to get through a day.

Rather than plopping mindlessly onto an elliptical trainer or step mill at the gym, Samuel says, it’s better to practice moves that “apply to real life” wherever and whenever you have the time.

“There’s 24 hours a day to move your body,” she said.

Here are the critical total-body moves that Samuel recommends everyone should do regularly, at any age.


Jump ropes are not just for kids. Samuel said they’re some of the best “portable, affordable equipment to take anywhere.”

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Queenie Howard plays double dutch on Blue Hill Avenue during the Circle the City initiative in Boston on September 29, 2013.
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Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Try jumping rope for just 30 seconds and you’ll notice it’s one of the best ways to get your heart rate soaring in a hurry.

Jumping rope is a low injury-risk activity, and once you’ve mastered a basic hop, you can start speeding up and getting creative with new moves: jumping on one foot, adding high knee kicks, playing double dutch with friends, or criss-crossing the rope.

Regularly using a jump rope has been shown to improve balance and coordination in kids, help obese teens reduce belly fat, and improve heart health in adults.


Squats are a great way to build strength you’ll actually use.

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Once you’ve mastered the basic squat, you can go for a high-intensity jump squat, bending down into an imaginary chair, and then bursting up into the air. Samuel said it’s important to master the proper form for your basic squat before you try out the jumping version.

But once you’re ready, jump squats are a great toning move that can boost your power.

Trainer and exercise physiologist Tony Maloney at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport previously told Business Insider that when doing squats, “you’re also expending the energy that you need to actually lose the body fat that may be surrounding the dormant muscles.”


Learning how to squat well is a practical skill we can use every day. “Functional movements that apply to real life are obviously the most important to do,” Samuel said.

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Maurizio Cattelan’s “America” installation at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
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Kristopher McKay

“When you get up off the toilet and sit down on the toilet, that’s a squat,” she added.


Another move that will get your heart racing is also very practical: the shoulder press.

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Vichien Petchmai/Getty Images

Doing shoulder presses at home or the gym will get you ready to lift weighty objects over your head.


For this, hold a couple of weights by your shoulders, with your palms facing forward and your elbows bent 90 degrees. Then straighten and press the weights overhead.

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Keep your core engaged the entire time, with a neutral spine and your shoulders down and back.


When it comes to strengthening your core — the spine-stabilizing center of the body that keeps you upright — it’s hard to beat the classic plank.

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Supporters of Ruth Bader Ginsburg perform exercise planks in celebration of the Supreme Court associate justice’s 86th birthday, March 15, 2019.
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Joshua Roberts/Reuters

“If our core muscles weren’t there, we’d fall right over,” Maloney said.

Samuel is far from the only fan of the plank: Many trainers prefer the move over crunches and sit-ups.


Once you’re able to hold a plank, add in some push ups.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“Push ups are extremely important,” Samuel said.


“Being able to push something away from you? That’s a self-defense thing,” Samuel added.

Push-ups are also a great way to tone your core, shoulders, and arms, all while strengthening your spine.


Mountain climbers are another dynamic move, and unlike burpees, they’re difficult to mess up.

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To do these, start in a high plank, with your body in a straight line from your head to your toes. Lift one knee up toward your chest using your core strength, then press it back down behind you. Then switch legs. Do these knee lifts as quickly as possible while staying in your plank position, keeping your butt low and in line with the rest of your body, for about 30 seconds. Make sure to keep your shoulders right above your palms while you’re “climbing.”

Mountain climbers, like burpees, are a near total-body workout, challenging your arms, sculpting your core, and toning your legs, all while getting your heart racing. Samuel likes them because they’re more foolproof than burpees.

“Burpees I wouldn’t recommend for everyone,” Samuel said. “If you’re not very used to burpees, maybe stick to mountain climbers for now.”


Like squats, lunges are a great way to get your heart pumping, and they also strengthen your legs for every step of the day.

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Trainer Tom Cochrane looks on as, from left, Joseph Gianni, 10, Tim McNamara, 11, Noah Riedel, 12, and Michael Crowley, 12, do lunges at Team Fitness Franklin in Franklin, Massachusetts.
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Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Once you’ve mastered the lunge, you can try a jump lunge, alternating sides by switching your legs back and forth in mid-air. This kind of plyometric, explosive movement is great for burning fat and developing quickness.

Samuel recommends incorporating lunges into a short, two-minute, four-move circuit with:

  • 30 seconds of jump rope
  • 30 seconds of as many lunges as you can fit in, alternating legs
  • 30 seconds of mountain climbers
  • and a 30-second plank

“Repeat that three to four times,” Samuel said. “That’s great to do at home.”


“When you’re walking, that’s a version of a lunge,” Samuel said.

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REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

“You’re just taking much smaller steps,” she added.


Pull ups aren’t just a quick way to get a near full-body workout — the strength you build can come in handy in real life too, Samuel said.

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A guy crushes a pull up.
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Wikipedia

If you’re still working on building up strength, try holding a single pull-up. With your palms facing toward you, pull your chin up above the bar, and hold the position for as long as you can.


“You know, in case you’re on a ledge and you need to get yourself off,” she said.

Pull ups are a staple exercise for US Marines, and Major Misty Posey says anyone can learn to do them well.

“When it comes to pull ups, most people know that the key to improving is to simply do pull-ups,” Posey writes in a Marine pull-ups training guide. “Therein lays the conundrum. How does a person practice pull ups when one cannot do pull-ups? A solution is to perform vertical raising and lowering exercises on a pull up bar using gravity and one’s own body weight.”

She said this start-where-you-are technique is how she built up to doing pull ups herself: “To my surprise, after five days of training on the pull up bar, I did my first pull up,” Posey said.


If pull ups are a challenge, you can also try other pulling moves like lat pull-downs (as shown below).

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Dumbbell rows are another option.


Finally, try a hollow hold. Lie on your back with your arms overhead, hands and toes pointed away from each other. Pull your core toward the floor, keep your lower back on the ground, and raise your shoulder blades and legs a few inches off the ground.

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Shutterstock

Now you’ve got a handle on the five most important basic functional movements, according to Samuel: “Pushing movements, pulling movements, lunging, squatting, and core.”


Whatever kind of exercise you do, the most important thing is to make it fun, Samuel said: “Do not make working out a chore.”

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Iranian boxer Sadaf Khadem.
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Reuters

“Make it something you look forward to during the day,” she suggests.

That means finding ways to move your body that you actually enjoy – that could be a spin class, weight training, or just “walking up a hill.”

Samuel’s personal favorite cardio activity is boxing.

“I get to be in the moment,” she said. “I’m not really thinking that I’m doing cardio, but I actually am.”


Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California who studies habit formation, agrees with Samuel’s advice.

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Robert Benson / Stringer / Getty Images

“You can try to make yourself do something that you really don’t like, but if you hate going to the gym, you’re not going to go,” Wood told Business Insider.

She recommends making your workouts feel like a reward. When Wood uses the elliptical machine, for example, she lets herself watch competitive cooking shows that are strictly off-limits the rest of the day.

“If you are making yourself do exercises that you find not rewarding, not fun, not enjoyable, you’re just not going to do them,” Wood said.


One final piece of advice from Samuel: Just get moving, wherever you are. “All you need is your body,” she said.

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People watch a TV show at the Beijing West train station in Beijing, China, January 15, 2018.
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Thomas Peter/Reuters

“Instead of scrolling through Instagram, I’m telling you, you can make time to figure out a way to move your body,” she said.

Samuel even sees airport layovers as an opportunity to bust a move: She can do arm dips using airport benches or squeeze in some “push ups off the side.” Samuel recently showed off one of her portable vacation workouts on Instagram – the circuit includes lunges, jumping jacks, squats, and mountain climbers.

“Just find a way to just keep moving your body somehow,” she said.