Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Top 8

I recently conducted a poll of fitness experts (read: I asked my trainer friends on Facebook) to determine the 8 best exercises. I phrased the question in this way: If you could do only 8 exercises, what would they be?

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Polling is now complete, and the results are in. The composite list goes like this...
1. Pull-up
2. Squat
3. Deadlift
4. Push-up
5. Hip extension [kettlebell swing, (reverse) hyperextension, and hip thrust]
6. Row
7. Overhead press

8. Bench press

No, that's not a typo: bicep curls did NOT make the Top 8. Also, for those of you worried about the apparent lack of "ab" exercises, you'll be heartened to know that EMG studies have shown that pull-ups, squats, and deadlifts are actually the best exercises in terms of core muscle activation. Furthermore, push-ups are really just a dynamic plank.

Now I don't like to brag, but... my original list included 7 of the Top 8. In general, there was much consent among all responses, which makes sense when you think in terms of hitting all the major movements -- knee, hip, push/pull (vertical and horizontal). In fact, every response included pull-ups, squats, and deadlifts!

Surely, if you did each of these exercises once per week and nothing else, you'd look great and be fit all over. But might there be more to the story? Several responses opened my eyes to a few ways in which the list might be improved.

First off, there are a number of exercises out there that actually combine several movements into one. Take the squat clean, for instance. If you go heavy, isn't the squat clean a deadlift and deep squat all rolled up into one? Granted, you're not going to clean the same weight as you might deadlift. But because the clean is faster than the deadlift, that ought to make up for the weight discrepancy.

Likewise, the muscle up explosively combines a pull-up and dip (#9 from the poll), and the Turkish get-up covers hip extension and adds a unilateral knee dominant exercise to the fold.

What all this amounts to is an open slot in the revised Top 8 for a brand spankin' new exercise. Next in line from the poll was the single leg stiff leg deadlift, an excellent companion to the get-up for single leg training.

I leave you with a revised top 8, which improves upon the previous list in terms of variety, functionality, and power production -- hopefully without sacrificing too much in terms of strength development:

1. Squat clean
2. Muscle-up
3. Push-up
4. Turkish get-up
5. Row
6. Overhead press
7. Bench press
8. Single leg stiff leg deadlift

Again, if you did each of these exercises once per week and nothing else, you'd look great and be (extremely) fit all over.

Think you can do better? Leave a comment with your Top 8.

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