Saturday, June 13, 2015

My List is Better: The 5 Best Exercises Ever

I think that a fair share of my readers will agree that T-Nation over the years has degenerated into the strength website most like your refrigerator.  Sure, you'll glance at it (regardless if you'll admit to it or not) to see if there is anything interesting but you know there isn't; just the same shit as the last time you glanced in.  Still, every once in a while, someone puts something interesting in there.  You know, like a friend brought over some good beer and threw it in there much like Nick McKinless posted there what seems like too long ago.  If, you know, you had friends that nice...which you probably don't.

Okay, T-Nation pretty much sucks. 

Still,  I did read Dean Somerset's article, "The Five Best Exercises Ever."  It was a  reasonably well written piece.  I even agree with a good chunk of the movements listed as well as enjoying the historical perspectives.I also like that the movements were less specific to a particular execution with a specific implement.  Still, like any other internet fitness God, I think I have a better list and you're about to get bombarded with my rendition of the five best movements in history.  

Actually, I wouldn't change too many on the list.  I'm just going to give better reasoning as to why I think they're so good.  I'll even do it without wearing a polo shirt. 

Seriously, why do so many trainers and PT's wear polo shirts? 
 
Removing the Antiquity Requirement:  Squatting
From what my modest research over the years into physical culture history, the squat seems to be relatively new to hoisting for strength.  It seems to show up in Germany around the time that barbells started to catch on.  Somerset mandated in his inferior article that exercises had to be around for thousands of years.  Generally I'd agree but the squat has too consistently shown to build strong, massive legs, even entire bodies in general, for the past century and a half.

Just because the Romans weren't quite genius enough to use it can't take away from the fact that this was probably the best, single movement to become popularized in the past 150 years of lifting.  In fact, if you look at who were considered the real leaps forward in strength athletes in this period of time, most of them were also prodigious (for their times) squatters.  Hackenshmidt, Steinborn, Grimek, Anderson... Name an all-time great strength guy and you'll likely also name a great squatter.

Squatting alone may be the most convincing evidence that the modern strength athletes are better than their counterparts, if you chose to pick that fight. 

Rope Climbing
This is one I'll agree on for sure.  We all know that rope climbing is regarded as more advanced BW movement.  Someone usually has to be very proficient with pull-ups before even trying this.  Advanced bodyweight demands a high strength to bodyweight ratio.  That favors a person who is muscular and lean. 
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Hey, Whiffet, challenge!  Top this, Mr Six Pack...

All lifting sports have their contingent who loves to be fat and strong, arguing that it gives them some sort of edge.  My chosen sport of strongman loves to hold up Zydruanas as the latest piece of evidence, disregarding the fact that prior to him the most of the WSM winners were all lean.  In fact,  at least 3/4 of the strongmen who won that title were all lean guys.  Historically, the strongest guys were usually the leanest guys.  

Did the they climb ropes?  Fuck if I know.  Still, I've never seen a fat ass get up a rope.  It's a lean, strong person's proposition all the way.  That's probably why rope climbing so consistently shows up throughout history as an exercise.   It builds lots of strength and promotes high strength-to-bodyweight ratio like few other movements do.

PCP...
Who says drugs in training aren't useful?  Well, only people that like being wrong, I suppose.  Still, I'm not talking about  using the drug that the LAPD (circa 1990's) favorite drug to hate.  I'm simply consolidating all forms of weight training-bipedalism into one  acronym: Pushing, Pulling and Carrying. 

People love to talk about lifting weights all the time and even though strongman has nearly half of their events involving PCP, I still don't think this shit is given nearly enough attention.   PCP's are all pretty easy to learn, idiot resistant with execution and can serve dual roles of strength and conditioning.  If the strength gods would bless me, I'd do some sort of PCP every single day.

I've alternated between more upper body-dominant stuff like frame carries, overhead sandbag walking, famers handles, and weighted sled pulling.  Then, I've pushed trucks, dragged sleds, and used prowlers on days where I want to hit my legs.  Repeat process.  For weeks.  That's how valuable I think they should be to the strength world.  
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Combining them makes good stuff even better.  I've done sled/prowler combos.  I've dragged sleds while carrying a sandbag on my shoulder.  I've seen beardo-extroardinaie Adam Wayne Caposella do a yoke with a sled.  Friend Chip Conrad did a sandbag shouldered-farmer carry.  There's as much versatility with weight-walking as there is good work for the body. 

Getting Shit off the Ground and Overhead
Another one that I agree that Dean got right.  There's a reason that this combination of movements essentially is the backbone of both modern strongman sport and early physical culture alike.  There really is a lot of limitations on your strength if you can't do this well.  Recall my broscience theory years ago:   if you have strong hips, back and grip, then you're good to go.  Ground-to-overhead lifting pretty usually hits all of this pretty hard, demanding that you have all three.  

A funny thing happened years ago in strength gyms. People got really, really focused on putting up insane lbs of weight.  While there's nothing wrong with that inherently.  What was wrong was that weights started getting less awkward.  They were pre-positioned in places to make them easier to lift more.  Putting them over the head was marginalized since, you know, its hard to do a lot of  iron over your head in a very short timeline. 

So, if you wanted to combat that asshole that said modern lifters are stronger because they squat,  you could retort that old time lifters took things off the ground and put them overhead with far more regularity.  While the modern gym-goers are starting to rediscover the utility of ground-to-overhead (giving birth to quaint phrases like "functional training"), the ancients knew it all along. 

Push-ups...
Going back to what dead people you forgot all about after your tests in school, you'll see a common thread in Dean's and my list:  Asid from being rooted in manual labor, the implements needed to execute these strength movements are pretty rudimentary.  Chances are good that most of them you could do right now if you'd just stop fucking around on the internet, pushed away from the screen, and got moving.  In that regard, there are few strength movements that are more minimalistic than the push-up.  All you need is your body and the ground. 
...Or a stupid-popular, crazy old motherfucka for extra weight

Just because the rest of the strength world outside bodyweight training doesn't look at push-ups as strength moves doesn't mean they can't and don't build strength.  I've been pretty vocal about this lately.  They can throw weight onto every other strength movement.  Just throw some weight on push-ups too.  It's like they forgot that there is no rule book that says push-ups can't have weigtht. 
Chains, vests, sandbags, other humans...they've all been used in the past. They all work.  They've worked for years too, regardless if shaved apes of today forgot about that. 

This list also happens to summarize my training lately since I got home from Florida.   In this period of time, I've gotten bigger (10 lbs) and did my first no-zero strongman competition.  While I won't say that this qualifies me as an expert yet, I will call it definitive progress using stuff that's worked for millennia.