I recently went to a website that prides itself on having one of the biggest exercise databases in the world. Apparently, they boast over 1600 different exercises from which you can choose.
To put that into perspective, get this: the human body consists of 206 bones and 640 different skeletal muscles. So at some point you have to ask yourself, “do I really need more exercise variety in order to get the results I want?”
Of course not!
Arnold himself didn’t need hundreds of different exercises in order achieve a body that is still considered to be the golden standard.
Nor did women such as Jamie Eason or Jillian Michaels (for all the ladies in the house!)
Every year, I look at the data from my online clients in order to get an idea of where I can improve as a coach, and what tweaks I can make to help them achieve faster results.
And time and time again, the top two factors in those that achieved success at a rapid pace was consistency in their diet and progression on five key exercises.
This was without exception from a pool of hundreds of people.
Whenever clients got stronger in the five exercises I’m about to show you, they built more muscle, burned more fat and hit their bodyweight goal in the time we had discussed.
So what are these five key exercises? Well, let’s get into them.
1. The Deadlift
The deadlift is, hands-down the king of all lifts and exercises. Some people say it’s the squat, but they’re wrong. That’s because while the squat does challenge you, it’s too lower body dominant. You’re not going to build a great set of arms and back with just squats. However, I dare you to show me someone who can deadlift 500 lbs that doesn’t have strong legs, a well-developed back, and a great set of arms.
And ladies don’t worry, you don’t need to fear looking “manly” when you deadlift heavy. Check out the video below of one of my clients who is an absolute BEAST on the deadlift, yet walks around and looks amazing at 135 lbs. Are you telling me you wouldn’t want a booty like hers? Puh-lease.
2. The Squat
After talking about the king of all exercises, it’s only customary to speak about the queen next. In fact, many say that without a strong queen, the king is useless.
I tend to agree. There are many ways to squat, and you’re free to choose your own; goblet, barbell, bodyweight, dumbbell, etc. However, when it comes to this context (fast results) I’m referring to the barbell squat since it allows you to lift the biggest loads possible. Whether you choose the front squat or back squat variation is up to you but do keep a few general things in mind when it comes to the queen of all lifts:
- Squat as deep as possible; ideally till calves touch your hamstrings. Even after well-documented research that full range of motion squats are safer for your knees, there’s still a myth floating around that you should only squat to 90 degrees. Trust me, it’s complete horse-shit. Chuck your ego out the door, put a lighter load on the bar and focus on going ass to grass. You’ll thank me later.
- Unless you’re a powerlifter, don’t do low bar squats. The reason is that for most newbies or intermediate lifters, a low bar squat will lead you to do more of a goodmorning, putting lots of strain on your lower back. Squat more like real Olympic lifters (i.e. not CrossFit)
- Work on improving your ankle mobility/flexibility. The more range of motion you have in your ankles, the better your squat will look. Period.
Check out this video where I walk a few of my clients and athletes through the front squat
3. Standing Overhead Press
Here’s some sad news: The strict press used to be one of the staple lifts that you had to compete in classic powerlifting back in the day. The reason it was removed and replaced with the bench press is probably due to popularity, but I think it’s a damn shame. There is almost nothing that challenges your upper body (from your core to your arms) like the standing overhead press. If you want your legs to get involved, you can even use a push-press variation where you “squat” the bar up, but I don’t recommend that initially. Check out the video below of how an overhead press is done.
4. The Push-Up
An absolute classic! If I have to dive into details on what this exercise is, then you haven’t spent enough time in high school gym class. Either way, push-ups are ridiculously effective, cheap, and can be done anywhere. Oh, and there are so many variations to choose from that it’s almost impossible to get bored of it. With that said, here are three honorable substitutions to the push-up that you can use:
- Barbell Bench Press
- Dumbbell Bench Press
But again, you need equipment for those, and since I usually prefer taking the minimalist approach when possible, I default to the push up. Below is one of my personal favorite variation of the push up that I use with athletes (from gymnasts to powerlifters) because it forces full range of motion.
Pretty much every online client that I train has a goal of wanting to do a bodyweight pull-up for a certain amount of reps… or even just a single quality rep!
Who can blame them? Pulling your bodyweight up has been a classic standard of strength for as long as I can remember. In fact, I think it’s primal; I bet cavemen looked down on their fellow tribe members if they couldn’t pull themselves from a tree branch.
Either way you slice it, when you get good at pulling yourself up repeatedly, strong arms and a well-defined back are pretty much guaranteed. If you can’t pull yourself up currently, see the video below for a great variation that you can use.
Here are 3 other substitutions you can use:
- Lat Pulldowns
- Band-Assisted Pullup
- Inverted Rows
Putting It All Together (Download The FREE Workout)
Now obviously, just knowing about the five exercises isn’t enough – you need to be able to put it all together into an intelligent plan that’s proven to work. Please don’t take the CrossFit approach, which essentially involves throwing all five exercises into a hat, tossing it up in the air, then dictating your workout based on the order they fall in.
You don’t want to end up doing high rep, heavy deadlifts followed by AMRAP squats for time at 80% 1RM (if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry. It’s basically a one-way ticket to snap-city)
On the other hand if you happen to actually give a shit about your lumbar spine (along with every other part of your physiology) then download my BIG 5 workout below. I have been tweaking and testing it for the past year with clients, and it’s proven to deliver serious gains without putting you on the table of an orthopedic surgeon**
Access Granted! Download The Big 5 Workout Below…
Please right-click and press “Save as” on THIS LINK to download the PDF. I’ve also sent the download link to your inbox in case you want to grab it later. Put the work out to good use, and please let me know how you liked it – I thrive on feedback and success stories!
I’ve also sent the download link to your inbox in case you want to grab it later. Put the work out to good use, and please let me know how you liked it – I thrive on feedback and success stories!
Big thanks to Lesley Unger for the edits.
** Obviously, no exercise program is 100% safe, and results are never typical. While every effort has been made to make sure the advice on this site is accurate, it is still your responsibility to check with your doctor before starting a workout and diet program. The information on this site is to be taken as entertainment advice only. All images are copyright of their respective owners and are placed here on a fair-use basis.