Because Thanksgiving week is a great time to pretend to work, and no distraction is complete without someone’s “Top 5.”... Without further ado, here are my top 5 favorite exercises (in no particular order)...accompanied with a short snippet on why I not only enjoy them but suggest them to all my clients, athletes and friends (who are clients and athletes).
1. Barbell Front Squat
Normally i wouldn’t delineate, but Kb’s are very prominent nowadays and while I wrestled back and forth with which I liked better, I always come back to the classic front squat. It’s a go to for strength coaches and enlightened personal trainers alike. I, as well as many others like me find this squatting variation invaluable due to the reflexive firing of the anterior core musculature stemming from the barbell being loaded on the front side of the body.
Nothing (well, maybe the goblet squat) will put your client or athlete in a better squatting position than the front squat. I find it has great carryover to athletic positions along with being less dependent on someone’s shoulder mobility to be able to be performed safely.
All in all the front squat is a great lower pushing exercise that can help develop your ability to produce force across all sporting endeavors or just produce a pair of sexy legs-Oh and you get some sneaky core work as well. Elbows up!
Chin-ups are the exercise that everyone loves to hate. Reason? Very few people can do them….correctly. I find that anything (exercise wise and within reason) that most people cannot do at all and very few can perform correctly must be good for you. It’s a vertical pulling exercise, but try a set of strict chin ups and you’ll quickly discover they’d be more accurately described as a total body exercise.
Always secretly wanted wings? Chin-up (and Pull-ups) are the surest way to fulfill that childhood fantasy. I know little else that will develop your lats (latissimus dorsi aka wings) as effectively as the chin up. If you’re a dude that wants to fill out a t-shirt better-incorporate chin ups STAT.
Aside from building a back that would make a brick wall jealous, the chin up is the secret weapon all you fellas out there have to looking for to sculpt those 20” pythons (shout out to Hulk Hogan). The biceps are intimately involved in performing a chin-up. And trust me, pulling up your entire body over the entire length of your arms (and then some) and against gravity….well, those biceps yours have no choice but to grow.
3. Weighted Pushup
Maybe you expected to see Bench Press? Possibly even Db bench press? Because of course if we have a pull we definitely need a push, not always. For similar reasons as the chin up I enjoy weighted pushups and feel they have tremendous upside for those competing in sports or those who just want to a bigger chest.
Shoulder mobility an issue? Ever been told that your scapula “wing?” This is the pressing exercise for you. It’ll teach you, without you even having to learn (we like that these days) to control your scaps (industry term). So, while being potentially safer than other pressing exercises, pushups also serve as a tremendous compliment to the aforementioned chin up for all you V-neck wearing aficionados out there. Caution: The pushup is performed correctly about as frequently as the chin up…..which is not much. Find someone, have them teach you.
When performed correctly the pushup can and will build your chest, arms, core strength, even your back (what?) as well as any single exercise. Want to aid your pressing strength in other lifts? Do pushups. Want to look like a cologne model? The answer is push ups, lots of them. Want an exercise that crosses over into most sports….wait for it….It’s pushups.
4. TGU aka Turkish Get Up
That’s right, the age old TGU. But you’re thinking, age old, I thought the get up was fairly new in the pantheon of popular go to exercises. Not true - The turkish get up has been around in various forms for hundreds of years - along with it’s mate the kettlebell. I get asked all the time, “what’s a good core exercise?” The right answer is always the turkish get up.
Want core strength in 3 planes? Want shoulder mobility? How about shoulder stability/rotator cuff integrity? Better yet, how about a contralateral exercise that requires co-contraction across the midline of the body all while keeping an iron cannon ball firmly position right above your dome while you carefully go from the fetal position all the way to a standing tall position and back down again??? In case you hadn’t guess - the get up is your exercise. It’s the exercise expression of our built in neurodevelopmental programming.
Umm, the better question may be what doesn’t the TGU support…..You’ll get a healthy dose of tri-planar core stability, mix in a rolling pattern for neurological development, you cross the midline of the body, mobility and stability in the shoulders, spatial awareness, oh and there’s also a lunge pattern just in case you weren’t satisfied.
5. Hang or Power Clean
Too complicated? Nah, there are multiple iterations of this hip hinging rate of force developer. When it comes to power enhancement, this is the go to exercise. Yes, while there are other means by which to get the job done, some ways are just better than others.
Because being able to explosive move weight through triple, heck even quadruple extension (ankles, knees, hips, torso) is as impressive as it is awesome and effective. Fancy yourself an athlete? If you have a coach that can teach them, you better be practicing. Being able to rapidly generate force from your hips down through your feet and into the ground has carry over into many a sport.
Want to jump higher? Cleans. Want to accelerate faster? Cleans. Want more of that elusive first step quickness? Cleans. Basically, a lot of qualities tied to successful athletic performance can be traced back to the clean and its variations.
Pissed because I didn't have a single leg variation or a horizontal row? Hey, it was TOP 5. I had to go with what I thought was best bang for your time buck. It’s not like I am saying leave them out. And for all of you that take everything at face value here are the honorable mention
RFESS (rear foot elevated split squat)
Aka Bulgarian split squat - no matter what you call it, this single leg exercise is fabulous at eliminating unilateral strength deficiencies.
SA Row - Use a KB or Db - this exercise is not only important but absolutely necessary in maintaining some semblance of balance to all the pushing we like to do.
KB Swing - Personally, it’s one of my favorite exercises and I’ll do swings up to 3x a week. It’s benefits are substantial - you can count on sore glutes and hamstrings as well as increased grip strength. It’s basically a full body exercise in one not so little cannonball with horns.
So there you have it, my top five go to exercises plus 3 that probably should have made it. Put any of those 8 into a training program and you’ve got yourself something solid. Until next time, move with purpose! Performance IQ. Boost yours.