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One Exercise For The Rest of Your Life

A while back I did a post about what I thought were the five foundational exercises for health.

I said, “Deadlift, Squat, Push Up, Pull Up and Sprints.”


An oldie but goodie photo…Ah deadlift….I love you…

I started thinking about this list after the wealth of new information I’ve learned over the last year since writing that post.

What would I change about that list now that I’ve experienced so much more and learned so many new exercises?

The crazy part is….


Those to me still hit everything.

Although the Turkish Get Up was a tempting one. Super functional. A great way to get total body strength. A great way to help older adults strengthen their core and create a stronger mind-body connection. A GREAT move. Probably the closest one to making the list. But would it make the list…No…It would be #6.

Same goes for the hip thruster or glute bridges. While the hip thruster is arguably the BEST glute exercise out there and glute bridges are great for glute activation, which is essential, they just wouldn’t make the list. They just aren’t as complete to me as the five moves I chose.

Honestly, deadlift, pull up, push up, squat and sprints hit EVERYTHING. Almost all the moves work the entire body. And they are functional. They are also movement patterns that I think everyone should be able to do.

I guess the only thing that made me hesitate about committing to the list above is the fact that all of them are sagittal plane movements and I really do believe it is important to move in every direction. I guess for that reason the only thing I might at some point do is switch out squats for lunges…but at this place and time, that just isn’t happening.

So if you every wanted to know what I think the five best foundational moves are:

Pull Ups
Push Ups

Every workout progression should include some variation of these moves, if not these moves in their purest form.

Now the only other comment I would make about this list, is that BEGINNERS may have VARIATIONS of these moves to start. BUT the intent and purpose of those moves would be to get them to these five.


Last night while we were doing a glute workout, I got asked, “If you could only do one move for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I didn’t even have to think…Actually it was easier than picking five moves…


I liked this picture and thought it really hit the basics of form.

Why do I think the deadlift is the queen/king of exercise moves?

Because it hits everything down the entire back side of your body, which honestly is generally highly underactive in a society that sits all day hunched over a computer.

It works a ton of big muscle groups. It strengthens areas that are weak on post people, their back, their core, their glutes…

And it is functional. Think about how many times a day you have to freaking pick things up off the ground.

People tell you, “You need to squat down to pick stuff up!”

But actually you DON’T need to squat down!

You need to DEADLIFT!

The deadlift is not a squat. Your chest does not stay back. You HINGE forward. And when you pick something up, you generally ned to lean forward to get it.

And on top of all that, DEADLIFTS ARE EMPOWERING.

I’m sorry, but there is nothing like picking something super heavy off the ground to make you feel strong and confident.

For me conquering any other task, even the 300ft on the Versa Climber which made me want to throw up 12 hours later and made me want to cry for my mommy, didn’t feel near as empowering. It didn’t make me feel near as strong. (Actually it just made me feel sick and like I never wanted to step on the Versa Climber again….)

To me deadlift is queen…or king….end of story. I could list a bazillion more reasons, but those should give you the gist of why I think that.

So my question to you is, “What do you think are the five foundational exercises?” And if you could only pick one, “What do you consider to be the best of the best?”

There are no right or wrong answers. Every list has great points and every list has flaws. I even showed you what I thought were a couple of the flaws in mine. (The great part/bad part about fitness is that there really are no right and wrong answers…Ok…maybe there are a few wrong answers…But those are generally when people do stupid things with bad form….)

Anyway, looking forward to reading some other lists! Hope you share yours!

Top 5 Essential Exercises

So after seeing the post on Whole9 about the top five foundational movements for health, I decided to ask some of the staff at my gym what their top 5 would be. It is interesting to see the similarities, but also the differences between the lists.
These variations in what people consider the top 5 come occur for numerous reasons. To name a couple: personal biases (ahem…Candy with pull ups because she really doesn’t like them) and fitness goals.
Trainers also come from different fitness backgrounds. For example, I want to be able to lift a ton of weight and do any physical activity asked of me. So in my opinion, there is no need to do planks since almost every other move works your core. I want to only do moves that will increase my strength and my ability to take on any activity!
Nick on the other hand doesn’t care how much weight he can lift. He would rather look good and be a world champion in Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. Can’t really blame him! He is an awesome fighter! Nick has a background in self-defense and is very focused on injury prevention so he focuses on strengthening the core, which is why he has planks in his top 5.
The thing that is similar between all of the lists, is that all the moves selected really work the entire body. They may have a “focus,” but they do work almost every other muscle group. Even planks work more than just your core (abs and low back). They also work your shoulders and quads to just name a few other muscles!
Take a look over our lists and the ones on Whole9! What would you add to yours?
My Top 5:
  1. Deadlift – My favorite exercise! Great way to develop overall strength!
  2. Push up – Great upper body and core move! Plus it is super functional. Everyone should be able to press themselves up from the ground!
  3. Pull up – One of the hardest exercises in my opinion, which also makes it one of the best. Increase your upper body strength and strengthen your core! Plus, if you ever want to go rock climbing or even just fall over a cliff, you can pull yourself up! 😉
  4. Squats – Ok I’m cheating a bit here because I think that back squat, front squat and overhead squat are all really good. If I had to pick just one though, I would pick front squat. It honestly is the best to develop upper back strength, core strength and leg strength. Plus with deadlift on the list, it isn’t bad to have a squat that is more quad focused.
  5. Sprints – A super intense, efficient way to get in cardio! It also helps you develop your type II muscle fibers and a strong cardiovascular system. The only cardio I love to do.
And if I were to make mine a Top 10, I would also add: Burpees, Cleans to Press, Back Rows, Dips and pistol squats (or 1 leg squats). Those are all awesome moves that really work the whole body!

Brian’s Top 5

  1. Push up
  2. Pull up
  3. Clean to Jerk
  4. Lunge – A great way to work the lower body but not let one leg dominate and become stronger.
  5. Sprints

Nick’s Top 5

  1. Planks – A great exercise especially if you are in a sport that requires great core strength. It is also an essential move for all beginner exercisers!!
  2. Push ups
  3. Squats
  4. Pull ups
  5. Clean to Press

Candy’s Top 5

  1. Push ups
  2. Deadlift
  3. Clean to Press – A great power move that is similar to the deadlift but does more to strengthen your type II muscle fibers. The press is also a great upper body move that really strengthens the core!
  4. Sprints
  5. Front squats
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