On Monday, we kicked off Part 1 of our 3-part series on the top five foundational movements for health, featuring Dan John, Eric Cressey, Rob MacDonald, Michael Rutherford, James Fitzgerald, and our own Dallas Hartwig. Today, we feature six more strength and conditioning coaches and athletes, and ask them the same question:
If you could only perform five exercise movements for the rest of your life, which five would you do? (Assuming your goals are general health, fitness and longevity, and not a specialized sport).
Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD, has run the website Stumptuous.com since 1997. She is the Lean Eating Program Director for PrecisionNutrition.com, and also serves as the Research Director of the Healthy Food Bank foundation; and as the editor-in-chief of Spezzatino magazine.
Deadlift: Whether it’s moving a dead body or 10-pin bowling like a toddler, the squat-to-pick-stuff-up movement is crucial.
Pull-Up: Because you just never know when you might find yourself hanging off a cliff or window ledge. If you’re living life right, this should be a strong possibility, so be prepared.
Climbing/scrambling/crawling-type movements: These involve the whole body, make you feel like a kid, open up the hips, help improve shoulder girdle strength and stability, and get you in touch with your ancestors. Metaphorically speaking, if you can face both mountains and crawling around the floor, you’re easily able to handle reality.
Carries and drags: One shoulder or two, cradling or hauling, the Inman Mile or waiter’s carry, business in the front or party in the back — however you play it, moving stuff around keeps you strong and balanced while transitioning often-awkward objects through 3-dimensional space.
Rotation/resisted rotation: This can be throwing a projectile, throwing a punch, or throwing a judo opponent. Our bodies were designed to spiral and circle around a central axis, and to move symmetrically in the service of exerting our will on something else — whether that’s an object or a person (or even, sometimes, resisting our OWN rotation).
Clean and Press: Pick something (relatively) heavy up off of the ground, and put it over your head. Wash, rinse, repeat. Use a barbell, dumbbell, your four year old, the axle off of Bubba Joe’s tractor, whatever; but just do it. Turn this into a squat clean and press for even more bang for the buck.
Deadlifts: Yeah, you knew this one was coming. And you might ask, “but I’m already doing cleans, right?” Right. And to live a healthy, full-of-movement life, you’ll need a bulletproof posterior chain. A posterior what? That’s all the stuff you can’t see in the mirror. And a caveat: if I had to choose only one exercise, this would be it. Yeah, it’s that important.
Dips: Any and all variations here. Bodyweight or loaded (another use for that four year old). Forget the bench press — between dips and overhead presses, you’ve got it covered. And you’ll get some great core work done as well.
Chins: Again, any and all varieties, weighted or not. Few people do them because, like dips, they’re incredibly difficult for the novice. Persevere, my friend — they’re well worth it.
Sprints: As in, run fast, for a short distance. Recover, and do it again. It’s the most natural of human movement patterns. And don’t think you have to hit Usain Bolt top-end speeds to derive benefit. Mix up the distance and have some fun. Feel the wind in your hair as your body glides over the ground.
Additionally, if I had to choose a single method by which to perform my exercise bouts, it’d be, hands down, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Smartly programmed HIIT with resistance exercise coupled with a Paleo diet is the closest thing to a fountain of youth that we’ll find in our lifetime.
Jen Sinkler is the editorial director of fitness for Experience Life magazine. She is a certified instructor through USA Weightlifting (senior level), Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC), Kettlebell Athletics, TACFIT, CrossFit (L-1) and L.I.F.T. Ultimate Sandbag. She also played rugby for the U.S. national team for a number of years.
Sprinting: Martin Rooney names sprinting as the single most body-transforming, health-enhancing type of exercise a person can do, and I believe it. The five reasons listed in the Experience Life article “The Need for Speed” best sum up why.
Pull-Ups: This upper-body exercise also involves a whole lotta core, and is arguably the very best exercise for gauging strength-to-body-weight ratio. If you’re not ready for unassisted pull-ups just yet, check out Krista Scott-Dixon’s progression in “Clear the Bar.”
Deadlift: What a fundamentally useful exercise to be able to pick up something heavy off the floor! Important to include single-leg variations — unilateral and asymmetrical training tend to be either a) overlooked by or b) terrifying to people, but yield vast benefits in terms of how the body learns to cooperate and coordinate. Because we so often train bilaterally, the practice can even be rehabilitative. One of my favorite variations is the Jefferson deadlift.
Clean and Jerk: Maybe I’m cheating by including a combo, but I’m not sorry: I wanted a deep, heavy squat and some sort of overhead press variation, and this does the trick, with tons of fast-twitch muscle fiber development included. I think squat cleaning is skill very nearly everyone should learn — it pays off not only in terms of power, but in mobility and strength through full range of motion.
Overhead Squat: This is the ultimate exercise for developing mobility in joints that probably need more of it, from your ankles to your hips to your thoracic spine. Yet more tick marks for its pros column: it also improves your balance and your core strength, and it’s a squat (and is thus inherently good). Learn to overhead squat well and your whole body will work better.
Clif Harski is a movement, strength and conditioning coach with a BS in Kinesiology from San Diego State University. He is a MovNat Master Instructor, and is RKC, CK-FMS and ACE PT-certified.
Turkish Getup: The TGU encompasses so many important aspects of human movement: single leg stance, rolling, standing up, stepping down, and additionally has the amazing benefit of being an overhead carry (which is fantastic for the stabilizers of the shoulder and body).
Pull-up: Between excessive sitting and lack of day to day requirements for lifting, the general population has become incredibly weak in the posteriors of their bodies, as such training the posterior aspects is mandatory.
Front Squat: When we lift things in life, it’s generally in front of us, and not on our back. This squat derivative additionally challenges our core to a greater extent than back squats.
Crawling: Developmental, shoulder girdle building, contra-lateral movement patterning, good for brain intercommunication, self limiting and non threatening: crawling derivatives are incredibly undervalued.
Power Clean & Jerk: Develop power. Power = good. ’Nuff Said!
Eva Twardokens (“Eva T.”)
Eva Twardokens is a two-time U.S. Olympian and six-time National Champion in alpine skiing. A 12-year veteran of the U.S. Ski Team, she was recently inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Her passion is surfing, her profession is athletics, and she loves both coaching and performing.
Squat: From air squat to weighted squat, this movement can be therapeutic to the knees and helps maintain ambulance as we age. Weighted is a good hormone stimulator. Gaining strength in the squat has contributed to more improvement in outside activities and sports than any other exercise.
Swim: Swimming is easy on the joints, potentially therapeutic and facilitates recovery. It is also a great way for folks with injuries to keep active.
Sprinting: A few short efforts goes a long way! Intensity is required.
Walk: Passive, safe, not done in the gym, social. Choose from many intensities, weighted vest walking is a nice twist to maintain bone density.
Push-Up/Plank: Easy to scale for all levels, plank is safe and effective for spine stabilization. Push-ups, when done correctly, strengthen and stabilize the whole upper body.
Greg Everett is a USA Weightlifting Senior Coach, NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, RKC Kettlebell Instructor, Level III CrossFit Trainer, and CSUH Certified Personal Trainer. Everett is a co-founder of the athletic performance journal The Performance Menu, and author of Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches. Greg serves as the director of training at Catalyst Athletics.
Squat: I’m going to cheat a bit and make the squat include all variations of the movement such as the back squat and front squat. Maybe the overhead squat if I can get away with it.
Press: To be done standing with complete range of motion, in particular meaning a fully open shoulder and complete scapular retraction overhead.
Pull-Up: Strict and through the complete range of motion. This means a fully opened shoulder at the bottom and an arched upper back and complete scapular retraction at the top.
Bent Row: Horizontal pulling for the upper body is very important, and I’m fine with twice as many pulling exercises as pushing exercises for the upper body. This movement includes barbell and dumbbell variations and all manner of elbow orientations and torso angles. Full range of motion with forceful scapular retraction at the top.
Lunge: If I had six, I might include the deadlift, but with only one spot left, I’m going to go with the lunge. This is the staple of unilateral leg training and very effective for hip stabilization.
Conveniently enough, all of these exercises can be used effectively and safely as both strength exercises and conditioning exercises. With a foundation built on excellent execution of these movements, an individual would be capable of performing nearly any other movement imaginable with little instruction or practice.
Stay tuned for our analysis on Part 1 and Part 2 of the Whole9 Five Movement Series on Friday.
Header image credit: Joe Petrusky