Heres the deal… Someone comes up to you and says; “You’ve got one year to turn yourself into a physical specimen..But here’s the catch.. you can only do 5 lifts” What are you gonna pick?
After much thought and lots of second guessing myself it became clear to me what I would pick. The decision was not made by which lifts were my favorite or which lifts were gonna make me look better at the beach… The decision came from a practical standpoint. If you are trying to turn yourself into a beast of an athlete you have to attack the body from all angles. The body can do incredible things… When you think of all the most athletic movements in sports its pretty clear that the body works most efficiently and most often in multi joint movements. If you want to avoid imbalances you must keep all quadrants of the body strong. Whenever you are designing a workout program you need to take into account 5 areas: Upper Body, Lower Body, Anterior Chain, Posterior Chain, and of course The Core.
1- Clean and Jerk: Probably the most important lift on here for overall explosiveness and athleticism. (However… Also the most dangerous) You are combining an explosive pull of the ground using the whole posterior chain, extending the hips for maximum explosiveness; and just when you think the exhausting part is over you have to catch some heavy ass weight in a front squat and stand it back up.. ” Oh the lift must be over right?” Hell no you gotta jump and throw that weight as high as you can over your head while trying to support it in a split squat.. and then you stand it up and smile. Keep in mind however that this lift is not for everybody. We live in day and age where desk jobs, tight hips, and internally rotated shoulders dominate the world. So before we try anything too heroic lets do our stretches and mobility. (that’s a topic for another day)
2. Front Squat I chose front squat over back squat for a few reasons. 1) Safer on the back 2) Teaches thoracic and hip mobility and 3) Hits the anterior leg (quad) hard. (Later on down the list we have trap bar deadlift to crush the posterior chain.) I’m not gonna sit here and try to classify the front squat as strictly knee dominant because you are still using the glutes and hamstrings BUT the quads do the majority of the work on a front squat. WHY is it safer than back squat?…… When squatting the bar always has to stay over the center of the foot… with the bar front loaded it becomes much easier to keep your spine vertical… The positioning of the bar on your back during a back squat naturally will cause you to lean forward to maintain balance therefore placing more pressure on your low back. And as for thoracic (mid/upper spine, and lat) mobility …your ability to keep your elbows up during a front squat is the only thing keeping you from attempting a hammer curl with your front squat weight. If you don’t have thoracic mobility you will not be able to keep your elbows up, tension in your core will be lost, and you’ll find yourself supporting heavy ass weight with your fingers and wrists.
3: Bench Press: The Bench Press is gonna be your horizontal push. The biggest mistake on this lift is shoulder positioning . When you bring the bar off the rack you should try to dig your shoulder blades (scaps) into the back of the bench to pull your shoulders out of their internally rotated position and into a powerful pushing position. DRIVE THROUGH YOUR FEET! Benching gets a bad wrap… it is only harmful when your shoulders are not retracted. You can tell if you’re doing them wrong if your traps and shoulders are more sore than your chest the next day.
4: Trap Bar Deadlift: One of the most alpha exercises you can do. This exercise hammers the posterior chain…Glutes, Hamstrings, Back, Traps, Core.. you name it. It may seem as simple as lifting something up off the ground and putting it down but it is also the most important lift to improve your speed as an athlete. The main movers during this lift are also the main accelerators when you sprint. I picked the trap bar deadlift over the barbell deadlift because it is easier to get your spine in a healthy vertical position when your hands are at your sides as opposed to out in front of you. DON’T think “Pull” on a deadlift… Think “Push” through the center of your feet.. your arms are just ropes along for the ride. Keep your core tight, your back flat, and your grip strong. Although I did not technically add a horizontal pull (such as a row) into my top 5, keep in mind that the only way you will be a healthy and successful deadlifter is to pinch your shoulder blades back and keep them from getting pulled forward by the weight… essentially this is a row… you are using the same muscles you row with to stabilize massive amounts of weight from pulling you forward.
5: Pull Up: The pull up is my final destination on my top 5 essential lifts. This vertical pulling movement plays an antagonist role to our vertical push (the jerk). People forget that our lats are part of our core and play an essential role in almost all upper body strength movements in sport. Make sure as you are doing these you make an attempt to retract your shoulders just like every other lift. Healthy joints are going to be the key to your success.. if your mobility is forgotten you will not be able to stay healthy and reap the benefits of these lifts.
DID I FORGET ABOUT CORE???
HELL NO… Each of these lifts relies on your core to stabilize the spine during the movements. Without a strong core these lifts will never improve and will eventually lead to injury. Try practicing these lifts without a weightlifting belt to fully build up your core and get it ready to support heavy weight.
BE SMART, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Thanks for reading guys, I’d love to hear input from you as well on what you think and if you agree or disagree with what I’m saying. Video Below has demos off these lifts in order.