The average American spends between 14 and 24 minutes exercising per day. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for variation.
Given that exercise isn’t something that many of us budget enough time for, fitness professionals are always looking for new ways to optimize our time in the gym.
That got me thinking: assuming we only had time to perform one single exercise to improve our fitness, what would that exercise be?
My immediate assumption was the deadlift.
Why? Because it’s a hip-dominant movement that recruits diverse muscle groups across the vertical plane of the body, including the hamstrings, glutes, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, and trapezius muscles. But then again, maybe I’m biased. After all, the deadlift has always been my strongest exercise.
Maybe you could argue that the single best exercise is the muscle-up. Although it’s an advanced movement, the muscle-up is an explosive exercise requiring cardiovascular endurance, muscular development in the upper body, and it activates a rare combination of both fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers.
However, it turns out that ChatGPT disagrees. The world’s most powerful large language model—considered the foremost artificial intelligence—thinks another exercise is superior.
While the debate over the so-called “king of exercises” isn’t settled, it’s important to note what ChatGPT’s powerful GPT-4 engine has to say on the matter. As a disembodied intelligence incapable of performing any physical exercise at all, well, you could say that it’s probably the least biased of any of us.
ChatGPT’s “King of Exercises”
Below, I’ve attached the exchange that followed with ChatGPT when I asked it what single daily exercise should be performed to improve one’s overall fitness.
Screenshot of ChatGPT’s original response to my prompt (Image 1)
That’s right—ChatGPT chose the squat as the single most important exercise one can perform to advance one’s strength, endurance, and overall fitness.
To justify its answer, ChatGPT mentioned that the squat recruits a diverse group of muscles during both the concentric and eccentric phases of the exercise, including:
- Gluteus maximus and minimus
- Abdominals and core muscles
ChatGPT also stated that squats have a high degree of transferability. That is, the exercise trains the body to perform well at a wide variety of movements that lend themselves well to sports, athletics, and daily physical life.
For example, running, jumping, climbing, and lifting objects from the ground all become easier with a well-developed squat.
However, I still wasn’t convinced. So, I asked ChatGPT to provide a more detailed rationale for their answer. I also asked it to cite scholarly sources in the exercise science literature to help justify its position that the squat is the world’s best exercise.
Screenshot of my follow-up question and ChatGPT’s response (Image 2)
As seen above, ChatGPT lists numerous benefits of squatting. Specifically, ChatGPT references these key advantages that squatting offers the body:
- Lower body strength for running, lifting, and jumping
- Core stability and proper postural alignment
- Hormonal benefits (aid in the production of testosterone and growth hormone)
- Functional transferability by making lifting objects in one’s daily life easier and safer
Then, ChatGPT provided a list of citations to validate the assertions made above (Image 2). I’ve included ChatGPT’s citations below.
ChatGPT’s reference list used to justify its position (Image 3)
ChatGPT references some of the most respected scientists and scholars in the sports science community, including Brad Schoenfeld and Jeffrey Williardson.
Here’s the full list of ChatGPT’s referenced scientific works used to justify the strength of its argument that the squat is the best exercise for improving one’s fitness:
- Escamilla RF, Francisco AC, Kayes AV, Speer KP, Moorman CT 3rd. An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Feb;34(2):682-8. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200202000-00025. PMID: 11828249.
- Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004 Apr;36(4):674-88. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000121945.36635.61. PMID: 15087692.
- Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Krieger J, Grgic J, Delcastillo K, Belliard R, Alto A. Resistance training volume enhances muscle hypertrophy but not strength in trained men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Mar;51(3):94-103. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001791. PMID: 30335661.
- Smith JC, Fry AC, Weiss LW. Stroment expectations of resistance training: perceived exertion ratings and pain ratings. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1990 Sep;30(3):288-92. PMID: 2262623.
- Willardson JM. A brief review: factors affecting the length of the rest interval between resistance exercise sets. J Strength Cond Res. 2006 Aug;20(3):978-84. doi: 10.1519/00124278-200608000-00041. PMID: 16937966.
Next, I asked ChatGPT why it’s so keen on the squat when many of the benefits it cited in its previous responses are shared by other compound exercises, such as deadlifts. So, I continued our conversation by asking why the squat poses unique advantages of the deadlift.
ChatGPT explaining why it chose squats over deadlifts (Image 4)
In essence, ChatGPT makes the following key points regarding why the squat is superior to the deadlift as a fitness tool:
- The squat is more accessible than the deadlift because it doesn’t require equipment
- The squat is safer than the deadlift because it doesn’t require a hinged posture and is less technically difficult
- The squat puts a greater focus on the holistic lower body, rather than the hamstrings and lower back in isolation
At Gymless, we particularly agree with ChatGPT’s first point: accessibility. What makes the squat such a truly powerful fitness tool is that it can be performed by any able-bodied person, without any equipment, no matter where they are.
All you need is about a single square meter on the floor to safely and comfortably perform bodyweight squats (sometimes called “air squats”) and still get a heavy sweat on.
ChatGPT recommends bodyweight squats to improve fitness (Image 5)
ChatGPT makes a great point that bodyweight squats provide a low-impact and highly accessible exercise option for athletes of all skill levels. In fact, ChatGPT specifically mentions that there is no need for a gym at all when performing squats—instead, you can do them directly from the comfort of your own living room, bedroom, or backyard.
Impressed with the quality of its responses, I asked if ChatGPT wanted to take the next step in its career.
ChatGPT doesn’t want to be my personal trainer (Image 6)
Unfortunately, what ChatGPT has in fitness expertise it lacks in humor. Maybe we’ll have to wait around until its next engine upgrade, GPT-5, before we get there.
ChatGPT Can’t Be Your Personal Trainer, But We Can
While ChatGPT may be a source of invaluable fitness knowledge, a large language model can’t teach you fitness skills, hold you accountable, and develop a personalized fitness regimen. For that, you need to hire a certified fitness professional.
Luckily for you, we have just the solution. Our team of qualified calisthenics professionals can develop a safe, fun, fitness training program without the need for a gym. These at-home workouts are proven to help everyday people lose weight, build strength, and develop the confidence they need to perform better in day-to-day life.
For a free, no-obligation consultation, book an appointment today with Pat Chadwick, our head trainer and a Certified Level 3 Coach by FocusAwards.
Thanks for reading, Gymless Heroes, and we’ll catch you next time.
Amine is a Toronto based entrepreneur who is passionate about Fitness, Diet and Health. He is passionate about teaching other entrepreneurs and “office workers” how to stay fit using simple yet effective bodyweight workouts that can be accomplished anywhere.