So if someone were to ask me “What are the four exercises that you believe everyone should do?” or “What is your Mount Rushmore of exercise?” I think I would know the answer pretty quickly. Now to be clear these questions come from the same place as “What do you think are the four best exercises?” And to be perfectly honest, they all from stem from the worst question ever which is “If you could only do one exercise, what would it be?” Now, I dislike these discussions because they force me to choose between stuff I really love. However, what these questions also do for you is force you to be clear. It really allows you to sort the wheat from the chafe. So with that in mind, here is my Mount Rushmore:
- Clean and Press: Coach Dan John once said if all you did was clean and press that you could be awesome. Or something like that. I am totally paraphrasing here but it drives home the value of this exercise. I also believe that someone once asked Arnold, yes that Arnold, the above worst question ever and his answer was clean and press. Think about this for a second. The clean and press requires you to move a weight, whether it’s a barbell, dumbbell(s) or kettlebell(s) over the greatest range of motion you possibly can. You start with it on the floor and you move the weight over head to your arms fullest extension. You begin with a tight trunk, create a big powerful move of your hips, and pull. Then you get to root down into those hips, keep the core tight and move the weight all the way up. I burned a ton of calories just typing that. Now, not everyone should do this with a barbell and you may not have access to kettlebells. That’s part of what makes it so great. You can do it with a variety of implements, from the barbell, dumbbell(s) and Kettlebell(s) mentioned earlier to a medicine ball or a big rock in your back yard.
- Deadlift: The deadlift may be one of the most “functional” exercises there is. Now the word “functional” has been misused and abused by fitness industry over the last 15 years. For many it brings to mind juggling pink dumbbells while standing on one foot on a stability ball while blinking one eye and singing the national anthem. All that in the name of the vestibular system… because science. Now to be clear, I am using the word “functional” here in terms of “does an exercise help you become a better moving human and have a large carryover to life outside of the gym”. Sorry, side rant over. Back to the deadlift. It’s a basic expression of your ability to move and interact with your environment. It’s as simple as bending over and picking stuff up. Keep the trunk braced, sit back into your butt and slightly bend the knees (hip hinge). Grab stuff. Stand up with stuff. That’s it. Need to pick up your child or grandchild? You’re going to hip hinge. Need to move a box out to the garage? There’s your deadlift again. Need to help your friend move a couch? Hello there deadlift. Get my point.
- Farmers Walk: Really, this could and probably should be any form of loaded carry, be it a farmers walk, waiters walk, rack carry or shoulder carry. Pavel Tsatsouline once said that (paraphrasing) the hack to getting stronger was to get stronger in your grip, abdominal wall and glutes. Well, let’s go through this here:
- A) Grip- Check. Not so sure? Go grab half your bodyweight in dumbbells or kettlebells and go for a walk then get back to me.
- B) Abdominal Wall- Check. Loaded carries fire up the abdominal wall in the same way as your plank type exercises.
- C) Glutes- Check. Anytime you walk, your glutes have something to say about it.
Now with the carries, you also get the additional benefit of a ton of upper back work. With all of those benefits in tow, the Farmer’s walk was a no-brainer for the Mount Rushmore of Exercise.
- The TGU or Bear Crawl: Now, before you say it, no I didn’t cop out here. I didn’t choose between the two because they are pretty much interchangeable. Here is a list of the benefits of these two exercises:
- Lights up both hemispheres of the brain
- Stabilizes the hips and shoulders
- Strengthens the core/trunk
- Strengthens the hips and shoulders
- Ties the left shoulder to the right hip and vice versa
- Ties the right arm to the left leg, and left arm to the right leg
- Improves balance and special awareness
Do you see why I couldn’t really separate the two? Their benefits are pretty much identical. Personally the only reason I switch from one to the other is that I get bored with one and want something else.
Now there are a couple of honorable mentions here, namely the squat and the pull up. Honestly, the only reason they didn’t make the list is because I tied in the whole Mount Rushmore thing and there’s only four spaces there. So in the name of efficiency, they had to go. That said, I notice my ability to squat and pull are both affected positively by pieces of this list so there you go. Have a great day.