I was midway through writing a new program for a client and noticed something...
There were a few common exercises which are in most (almost all) of the programs I write.
Why is that?
Thinking about it, I decided on a few reasons:
They were all bang-for-your-buck exercises
They used many muscles at once
They all require core stability
They can be thought of as primal movements (pushing stuff, pulling stuff, squatting and lifting stuff)
"Cool, I thought, I wonder if other fitness professionals think similarly."
I reached out to five of my fitness mates and asked them a simple question.
"What is your favourite exercise?"
The answers surprised me.
Mitch Calvert (mitchcalvert.com)
"I call them Marriage Rows, because you can't cheat on them. I doubt it catches on."
You simply get setup on an incline bench (in a smith machine in this case, but any incline bench setup will do) and keep your torso fixed to the bench with each rep, driving up with your elbows tucked at your sides. You can substitute a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells for the barbell here.
Will Davis (willdavistraining.com)
"It's gotta be the Log Press, simply because:
It hits a lot of muscle (when you take it from the ground to overhead).
It's big and awkward and incredibly satisfying to put a bodyweight log over your head.
It's also very technical, which helps to keep things interesting - you can't 'switch off' just go through the motions.
And that can also help to keep the adrenaline high."
Patrick Murphy (murphyfitness.com)
"For me, Paused Front Squats have always been a go-to and a good test of where I am in terms of overall strength.
Front squats specifically because of the tension on the upper back and shoulders, especially with the pause at the bottom, and the work my core has to do to keep myself upright. Obviously its a great hit on the quads with a little less glute involvement than traditional back squats which is fine for me as that has always been a strong point in my lower body after years of hockey."
Tom Robertson (trainingforwarriors.com)
"My answer is going to be Incline Dumbbell Bench Press.
It gives me so much more variety and options than I can get with flat Bench. I can go heavy and get stronger. I can go medium rep range for hypertrophy and lower weight for burn out / pump sets. I can change the bench angle and hand position depending on how my shoulders are feeling. I can start on a higher incline and use mechanical advantage to gradually drop the incline angle and increase load."
Aidan D'Arcy (darcyonlinecoaching.com)
"Pull-ups for sure.
There's no better exercise for pure mastery of bodyweight. You can go for reps or go heavier with added weight. When you can do controlled reps of the pull-up, you know you have a great base level of strength.
Pull-ups are also a very functional exercise. Being able to pull your bodyweight up over something may be necessary in everyday life.
It's a nice bonus that they make your back as wide as a bus.
Pull-ups give you wings."
So, the pros gave us five awesome exercises!
What's so surprising here?
You’ll notice two things:
They are all compound exercises. If you are healthy and looking for gains, you should ALWAYS base your program off multi-joint compound movements.
They are all different. There is no one ‘best-mega-ultimate’ exercise. For their own individual reasons, each dude chose the one that feels the best and gives them the best results.
Now, if you could centre your training program off the one goal of improving your strength on these 5 exercises, I can promise you would get some pretty nifty results.
But some of these may not suit you. Maybe you have an injury to work around. Maybe some just don’t feel right. No worries.
As long as the basic principles of compound exercises is followed you’ll be just fine.
Push heavy stuff and pull heavier stuff.
Step 1: Find a program which is based on compound exercises which ‘feel’ right for your body.
Step 2: Get brutally strong at those exercises.
Step 3: ???
Step 4: Results
* I didn’t let them choose squat, bench or dead. They are boring answers and your program probably already contains them.
P.S. I’ll throw a Romanian Deadlift into the equation as my favourite. In case you were wondering...