A wise person once said, “The internet is both the best and the worst thing that has happened to the fitness industry.” When it comes to training, you now have too many options. While all these countless options might keep your workouts fun and entertaining, they can often pull you away from the very things that you need to get the best and fastest possible results. While it is nice to enjoy the training journey, let us not forget the purpose of the journey is to get you to where you want to go. Here is a simple exercise that will help you increase your training focus and help you get way better results.
To do this, you want to think hypothetical. Personally, I have always been the type of person to roll my eyes when people start asking hypothetical questions. If someone asked me something like, “if you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, which one would you pick?” my initial response has always been, “who cares, I’m not going to just do one exercise anyways.” However I know now see tremendous value in this for anyone who writes training programs for themselves or for trainers who write programs for others. Therefore, I encourage you join me for a short hypothetical journey and discover how to focus your training programs for better results.
When it comes to training, one of the single most important things you can do is to pick amazing exercises. All the periodization and fancy training methods in the world cannot make up for inferior exercise selection. In selecting exercises, you want to pick big, hard multi-joint movements that fit the following criteria:
- Effective for your training goal
- Suited to your structure
- Do not beat up your joints
- Allow you to progressively add weight (note: one of things I have found with training over the years is that there are some exercises that are very easy for me to progressively add weight to and other exercises that (despite being generally accepted as great exercises) are very difficult for me to add weight to – pay attention to this with your own training).
Now, you are ready to begin. To help get you thinking, I will do this exercise for you as we go along. Please note that my answers are based on what is best for me. I am not in any way trying to convince you to pick the same exercises I do. If you hired me to train you, I would look to find the best ones for you. Stay with the above criteria and pick the best ones for you!
If you could only do one exercise, what would you pick?
Personally, I would pick the deadlift. See my post on Why I Love Deadlifts for my reasons why I would pick deadlifts. I am also much more structurally suited for the deadlift than a squat. If I was truly only able to do one exercise, I would likely choose a trap bar deadlift as this variation is more of a blend between a squat and a deadlift.
If you could only do two exercises, what two would you pick?
I would add ring dips to the program. Ring dips work very well for me at hitting my chest, shoulders and triceps. They do not beat on my joints and are easy for me to progressively add weight to. Note: dips are not for everyone and they can bother some people’s shoulders. For more on dips, check out my post on Dips: Superstar or Shoulder Wrecker?
If you could only do three exercises, what would you pick?
I would now add chin-ups. Chin-ups are one of the most effective upper body exercises and since I have naturally very skinny arms, they are very helpful for me.
If you could only do four exercises, what would you pick?
I would now add a squatting movement. The reason I have waited until now is that you get a lot of the same muscles with deadlifts. However, at this point, with some fantastic upper body exercises, it is time to give the lower body some more attention. Personally I would pick front squats or Bulgarian split squats with front foot elevated because these are more favourable variations for someone who does not have a squatting structure. Also, if I had decided to go trap bar deadlifts for the one-and-only exercise in the first hypothetical situation, I would now switch to conventional straight-bar deadlifts to emphasize glutes and hamstrings more and thus compliment the quad-dominant squatting movement.
If you could only do five exercises, which five would you pick?
I would now add a rowing movement to the mix. While the upper back will get hit pretty hard with deadlifts, we are all prone to poor posture (especially in today’s iphone generation though I still don’t have one) and want to make sure we have good pulling strength to balance off the upper body pushing muscles. I would likely pick prone dumbbell rows, 1-arm dumbbell rows or possibly ring inverted rows here (as they can be done with the same ring set-up as the dips).
If you could only do six exercises, what would you pick?
Now, I would add a standing barbell press or a 1-arm dumbbell press to work pushing strength in a different direction to the dips.
If you could only do seven exercises what would you pick?
I would add farmer’s walks. This is an amazing exercise that truly makes you stronger everywhere. This past year I have made tremendous progress on farmers walks by simply adding 2.5-5lbs to each handle on a weekly basis. For more info, check out my post on The Magic of Loaded Carries.
You can continue this hypothetical exercise if you want, but when you are done, let’s get back to the real world and look at how to apply this to your program design.
Real world applications to this hypothetical exercise
- Always let what is appropriate for your body and your goals dictate which exercises you select. A great exercise is not great for you if it does not meet the above criteria.
- In the real world, we all have a limited amount of time and energy that we can devote to. You can’t have it all. Success in training as with every other area of life requires you to say “no” to many good things so you can say “yes” to the best and most important things. After completing this exercise, you now know your exercise priorities.
- Start building your training programs in order of your newly created list and ensure that those high-priority exercises are truly given high priority in your training program. For example, this past year I did deadlifts as my first exercise in my first training session of the week.
- If you want to add a new, cool exercise you found on the internet, honestly ask yourself the following questions: 1) do I have the time and recovery ability to add this to my current training program without detracting from my most important exercises? 2) If I do not have the time/energy to add this, which exercise from my list would I give up add this new exercise and is the trade-off worth it?
- When life gets busy, you may be forced to cut down your training time. You may have days when you only have 15-30 minutes to train. When this happens, reduce your training exercises in the reverse order of your priority list (i.e. remove # 7, then if necessary remove #6 and so on as needed).
- Apply this activity to the rest of your life. Think through what is most important in your life. Is that truly given top priority in your life? Would a record of your time and money reveal this? As Steven Covey says, “keep first things first!”
After you have completed this hypothetical exercise, I invite you to share your top 7 list in the comment section below.