About a year ago I posted an article called “The 7 Worst Exercises”. It shocked a few people because the list contained a few beloved exercises like the “Thigh Master 2000” and elliptical trainers, exercises a lot of people thought were great exercises (read the post here and learn which others made the list and why). After posting the article I had numerous people ask me, “Mat, what are the 7 best exercises?” I just figured I had written and spoke enough about all the good exercises that I didn’t need to make such a list.
So let me reiterate my criteria for a “good exercise”. A “good” exercise incorporates multiple muscles and multiple joints. It also incorporates multiple planes of motion, requiring balance, mobility and stability. These criteria rule out almost every exercise found in a big box gym. Machine exercises are out and so are single joint movements like bicep curls and tricep extensions (2 favorites in a typical gym). If you attend EXL Fitness Boot Camp or train at EXL then you are familiar with literally hundreds of such exercises. But, the list is for the TOP 7. These exercises, I feel, give you the most bang for your buck. Meaning rep for rep you will train more muscles, and accelerate your metabolism and get real world strength more than any other. So put away your pink dumbbells and as much as I love Richard Simmons, I’ll have to ask you to put away the “Sweatin to the Oldies” workout video. These exercises really crank.
- Turkish Get Up: Ideally done with a kettlebell, but can be done with a dumbbell or barbell or even small-ish people.
- Snatch: I don’t care if you do the snatch with a dumbbell, kettlebell or barbell it rocks and it’s challenging! It requires full body explosive power, hip and shoulder mobility and it taxes the core big time. My personal favorite is the kettlebell snatch. It’s referred to as the czar of kettlebell exercises.
- Pull-ups are king for a strong back. But, I’m going to take it step further…rope climbing. Not only do you get a strong back and improved posture, but you get the added advantage of working grip strength. There is a direct correlation with grip strength and shoulder strength. The stronger your grip the stronger your shoulders and vice versa. Have you every shook hands with a guy that has perfect posture and great shoulders? He could probably bring you to your knees with his grip. And the other situation is true…if you can’t open a jar of pickles then you most likely don’t have good posture or nice looking shoulders.
- Deadlift: No this isn’t some stunt Edward does in the new Twilight movie (ya, I live with some Twilight-addicts), but rather an awesome full body exercise focusing on lower body and upper back. I actually prefer deadlift to squats for many reasons. One, it does not load the spine like a squat. Two, it’s extremely functional. Meaning, it’s your go-to motor pattern (or should be) to lift anything heavy from the ground. Three, it works on grip strength (see pull-ups and the reference to manhood above). Four, it’s unique in that it targets two of the most common weaknesses…upper back and glute stength. Ninety percent of all people walking through my door for the first time suffer from poor posture (upper back strength) and gluteal amnesia (inability to fire glutes). Don’t know what a deadlift is? Well, it’s basically a squat in which you’re pulling a weight (barbell, kettlebells, medicine ball, dumbbell) off the floor. At first glance one may think deadlifting is bad on your back, it’s actually the contrary. It’ll build a strong back and an awesome “nut cracker”…glutes.
- Push-ups: You can’t get simpler or more functional than a push-up. It can practically be performed anywhere. They are great for improving shoulder health. Not only do push-ups work the upper body, but if done with perfect posture, the core is activated as well. No equipment is needed and there are a million variations to challenge even the strongest of push-up aces. In the video below I demonstrate spiderman push-ups which really engage the core. Here’s a link to a post I wrote on push-ups=> Push-Up Boot Camp.
- Rear Foot Elevated (RFE) Split Squat: I wrote an entire blog article on this exercise (The World’s Best Lower Body Exercise). Couple this with an upper body exercise like a dumbbell curl and press and you’re talking serious full body carnage.
- Heavy Sled Pushes: Ask anyone that trains at EXL about sleds and they will probably blurt out some form of an expletive and then smile and tell you how you need to try it. Not only does it work the lower body in an extremely functional fashion, but the whole upper body and core work together as well, not to mention the metabolism blast you receive.
Of course, these are my choices. What are yours? Make comments below, I’d love to get feedback.
Mat “the trainer”
Mat Gover BS, CSCS and Pam Gover CPT are Orem fitness boot camp instructors, personal trainers, and real world fat loss experts. They also own EXL Fitness & Performance, a personal and group training studio. To book Mat to speak at your Utah Valley company, club, or organization please contact him by email at email@example.com or by phone at (801) 836.7185. For a free two-week trial to boot camp and experience the best personal training in Utah Valley please call Mat or drop by the gym (1623 N State St, Orem right next to Costa Vida).