Thursday, November 17, 2011

These are a few of my favorite things...

As the Christmas season approaches, the inevitable wish lists begin forming for parents and jolly bearded fat men in red suits around the globe. This year, however, I thought I'd simply list a few of my favorite exercises, and give you some reasons why they are awesome!

A Trainer's Top 5:

5) Pullups. Most Apes are brachiators. People evolved from Apes. By extension, people should be able to brachiate. Thus, being able to pull yourself up from an extended arm hang to the top of the pullup bar should be mandatory for most humans. Aside from that, pullups are just plain good for you. They strengthen the upper and mid back muscles that are often neglected or underworked, while also building grip strength and working the biceps. And everyone likes a nice set of biceps, admit it! Enough articles have been written extolling the virtue and wonder of the pullup that I probably don't need to elaborate too terribly much, but i will say that they are one of the most effective and fun ways of training the back, and the carryover to other movements like presses and deadlifts in undeniable. Plus, if you can do enough, there's always a chance to win a free t-shirt at the marine recruiting station at the county fair, which is a nice bonus.

4) Renegade Rows. Renegades are simply cool. They are a fantastic way to strengthen the core and increase coordination, and variations like Pushup Renegades or MANMAKERS (a crowd favorite for sure!) are excellent strength and conditioning tools when performed correctly. That, and they look really impressive when done correctly with the big kid weights!

3) DB or KB Thrusters. Thrusters are intensity in a bottle, and activate literally every muscle i can think of right now. The metabolic effect of using pretty much every muscle in the body as either a prime mover or a stabilizer is just awesome. The movement can be done heavy to build full-body explosive strength, or lighter for high reps to build conditioning. If you want to breathe hard and sweat bullets in minimal time, try a 4 minute set of thrusters. Seriously. Tabata Method Thrusters are probably the most brutal test of conditioning and mental toughness on the planet, and I include the Aggro Crag and the American Gladiators "Gauntlet" event in that statement! (bonus points if anyone knows what the Aggro Crag is besides Jack...)

2) Squats. The traditional barbell Squat is one of, if not THE most important movements in weight training. Heavy squats are key to shaping an aesthetically pleasing set of Legs and Glutes, but are much more than cosmetic in their range of benefits. A well-executed squat builds explosive strength in the entire body. Squatting makes people run faster, jump higher, and perform better in just about every possible competitive sport. (with the possible exception of chess, as a sore set of Glutes would not lend itself well to sitting in a hard chair for a few hours...) Athletes of every kind use the squat to increase performance, but the squat can also be used as a conditioning tool, and a test of intestinal fortitude. Think 20 minutes cruising on an elliptical will build your conditioning? How about putting a few hundred pounds on your back and squatting until you can't stand up straight? The mental focus of doing 20+ rep barbell squats builds some serious character, and the oxygen debt leads to a serious afterburn effect by boosting metabolism to recover!

1) Deadlifts. The crowned king of all exercises in my opinion. The Deadlift is awesome for a myriad of reasons. First, it is probably the most pure test of both physical and mental strength that exists in the exercise world. There is simply no way of getting around the fact that putting a few hundred pounds on a barbell and picking it up will be difficult. It teaches you what you're truly made of - if one can get around the mental block of fear that surrounds the Deadlift, they still have to hoist a mess of weight from a dead stop with nothing to help them. Second, the Deadlift is beautiful in it's simplicity: you pick up heavy s**t and put it back down. Simple. Brutal. Effective. Which leads to reason #3: the Deadlift improves whole-body strength by activating nearly every muscle in the body. Every part of the body helps to lift and/or stabilize the bar when lifting from the ground. While the movement is primarily thought of as a Hip, core and Posterior Chain strengthener, one must also realize that other muscles like the Lats, Teres Major, Rhomboids, and Posterior Deltoids help to maintain stability throughout the upper back while supporting the weight, and the biceps and forearms must work to physically hold onto the bar. Not to mention the Quadriceps activation to start the movement - the Hamstrings and Glutes are not acting alone! Activating that much muscle with a large amount of weight can't help but make you stronger and more awesome!

There you have it, my personal listing of the 5 best exercises on the planet. I would be remiss in not mentioning the fact that lunges and pushups could easily crack the top 5 list, but I've made my bed and I'll lie in it. (Pushups are awesome because you strengthen all of your pressing muscles [pecs, delts, triceps] in one shot, while also engaging the core to build stability in the trunk musculature. Lunges are awesome because they are probably the most legitimately functional movement that exists as the lunge is a primary movement pattern in our lives. Think about it. Going up and down stairs, kneeling to tie your shoe, climbing Mount Everest...they're all pretty much lunging. That, and they make your butt look fantastic in a nice pair of jeans!)

Though I wouldn't necessarily advise doing so, one could pretty much do nothing but the movements on the above list and build a hell of a strong, aesthetically-pleasing body.

Steve Decker - Making people more Awesome since 1985

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