Way back in June of last year, I published an article that I titled "My Top 5: Worst Exercises." If you're too lazy to click on that link, I can give you a basic summary: sit-ups, "crossfit" kipping pullups, and bosu balls tend to make my eyes bleed. So, don't do them....ever.
Fast forward to today, and I'm finally posting the ying to that article's yang. The list below is the top five exercises that I prefer from both a strength and "fat loss" perspective. Whether your goal is to look good in the gym, or look good nekkid....these five exercises need to be in your toolbox and used regularly.
5. Turkish Get Up
Quick: name one exercise that can improve your shoulder stability, t-spine mobility, core stability, hip mobility AND stability, single leg strength and overall balance. Can't? Well, those Turks can!
If you've never performed a get up, you might wonder why it would be so great for fat loss....to that, the answer is that you just need to do it properly. There's a "what the hell" effect associated with get ups (as well as another exercise below) that will make you stand up after your last rep, gasp for air and simply say....what the hell did I just do?
Wondering how to perform a get up? You can watch a video from Gray Cook and Brett Jones right here. When you can perform a TGU with 32 kilograms (70.5 pounds), or 20 kilograms (44 pounds) for women, I truly believe you are STRONG.
(And for the record, don't just assume any person of Turkish descent will be able to do one....because, that can get quite awkward.)
Just for giggles, here's myself performing a TGU with 44 kilograms (that's 96 pounds):
The push up is one of the most underrated exercises. Why? Because almost everyone does them incorrectly, and proper push ups kick my butt every time I do them. Many of us tend to get carried away in the "more is better" philosophy - if 20 push ups is good....then 50 is better right? Summer is right around the corner, right guys? SUNS OUT, GUNS OUT!
Well, not really. What we want in every exercise is the pursuit of quality, not quantity. A proper push up is a total body exercise, where we're squeezing our core, glutes, and trying to spread the floor in order to get as tight in our lats and upper back as we possibly can. The fact that I can only do 17 push-ups in a row shouldn't be lost here....if you can do more than that without stopping, you're not doing them correctly.
3. Kettlebell Swing
I haven't talked much about Kettlebell Swings on this blog, but they are truly one of the best fat burners and power/strength moves in the arsenal. A properly executed Kettlebell Swing works everything, and like the TGU's, gives you the same "what the hell" effect.
There are a ton of great resources for those that would like to learn how to swing, like here. On the other side of the coin, there are also a bunch of terrible kettlebell swings. Suffice to say, Jillian Michaels needs to NEVER TOUCH A KETTLEBELL AGAIN because this is possibly the worst thing ever.
2. Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats
If you're in the fitness industry, you may credit this selection to my "Mike Boyle" background. Why? He's replaced all of his traditional squats with this variation and has had a ton of success, much to the chagrin of traditional weight lifters. But, I have to say, after working with a ton of different people and athletes, most of our current population has lost their squatting pattern, or can't squat properly without back pain.
The solution? Let's take it to a single leg! Also called Bulgarian Split Squats (damn you, Eastern Bloc!), by switching to a single leg, we ultimately get the best of both worlds: we can get super strong, and we bypass the spine which is often the cause of back pain. Here's a not-so-great video of myself performing them many moons ago..
1. The Deadlift
Wait....did I say, deadlift?
Truly, the king of all exercises, the deadlift is what separates the strong from the posers. Whenever I meet someone strong, I want to know how much they deadlift, and that alone tells me if their program is effective, or if they're all show and no go. There's a reason why the old powerlifting motto is as follows: "The meet doesn't start until the bar hits the floor."
Besides getting stronger, I love deadlifts especially for fat loss. Why? Because a properly coached deadlift is actually one exercise many overweight people can perform with relative ease. Squatting and other movements may be challenging, but there's something about picking up heavy stuff off the floor that simply gets your heart pumping.
That's not to say that all deadlifts are created equal. I've seen some ugly, ugly deadlifts whenever I venture out of my bubble and into a commercial gym, and they tend to give deadlifting a bad rap. Deadlifting should never hurt your lower back....it's whatever your calling a "deadlift" that is hurting your lower back. If you're struggling with deadlifting, it's in your best interest to get some guidance from an experienced lifter or professional.
So, is your goal to get stronger? You need to deadlift. Want to lose weight? You need to deadlift. Want to be even better looking than you currently are? Well, the deadlift may not help you there, but at least you'll be able to intimidate any haters.
So, there you have it. My top 5 exercises regardless of your goals. If you've found any of these five outside of your program, it's time to incorporate them. If you do, let me know what you think!