In this article I am going to lay down my top five exercises that will make you better at everything you do. These are exercises that build strength that carries over to just about anything you are doing and can be worked into any training program regardless of goals. They help powerlifters, strongmen, CrossFitters, people who are interested in getting more fit and jacked, and athletes of all types.
This is a list of stuff you should be doing no matter what your goal. I am intentionally omitting the obvious ones like squats and deadlifts.
In no particular order, here they are.
1. Farmer’s Walks
The Farmer’s Walk is an exercise that improves just about everything depending on how you load/train it. They build strength in the:
- Upper Back
- Mental Toughness
- GPP/Cardio/Conditioning if programmed.
Add them in.
2. Atlas Stones
These are in the same class as the Farmer’s. They are very versatile and should be used by most.
One thing the stones do that farmers don’t is improve explosive power. They are not as good as cleans and snatches but they do help.
They require a triple extension of the ankle/knee/hip violently fast, and work well.
Pullups improve lat/back strength which carries over to lots of other exercises such as the bench and the press. They improve grip strength, too. I’ve mentioned grip a few times. I think grip strength is overlooked and underrated by many.
Most sports require a great deal of grip strength. Think about that. Any sport that requires a stick, bat, or racket needs grip strength; all combat sports require grip strength, including football. Where does a strong grip not help you?
They are also pretty important in case of a Zombie apocalypse. You never know when you might have to pull yourself up to avoid being lunch.
4. Prowler Pushing
The Prowler® is probably the greatest innovation in the strength and conditioning field I have seen since the adjustable barbell. Prowler pushing improves everything you want, depending on what you do with it. Programming the Prowler is limitless. It can be used for:
- General Strength
- Single Leg Strength
- Limit Strength
- Anaerobic/Alactic training
Get a Prowler® and do a whole bunch of different stuff with it. Sprint, load it really heavy and do short pushes, load it light and go for time, stride with it, and more. It’s really one of the best tools ever. I remember when I got my first one. Wendler called me and said “I just billed your credit card for a Prowler.”
I said “What the ***k is a Prowler?”
He replied “You want one,” and hung up.
He was right.
5. Ab Wheel
Narrowing this list down was tough. I knew I need a torso exercise and there are so many good ones, but the ab wheel is probably my personal favorite. Sure, I do a bunch of different exercises like weighted sit-ups, dragon flags, hanging leg raises, planks, and a huge variety on the TRX, but the ab wheel is a go-to.
It is (as the yuppies say) scaleable or (as we coaches say) versatile. That means it is easy to regress or progress and anyone can use it. When done right it is a killer. Where is there a time when your abs and torso are too strong?
We all know the value of sprinting and we all know how much it sucks. What makes it suck is what makes them work. Your body is forced to work all out for a short duration and gets placed in oxygen debt.
When programmed correctly, sprinting increases your “wind” to use a very scientific term and increases your bodies capacity to process oxygen and they build MUSCLE.
Take a look at world class sprinters, they are all JACKED and sometimes tan, too. I don’t care too much for tans on myself, but you may. Jacked, on the other hand, is something I am still chasing.
Being able to sprint FAST and not pass out could come in handy in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse (something my 10-year old is concerned with) or a whole host of other athletic situations.
If you are not sprinting, I suggest you start.
Push-ups work virtually every muscle in the body when done properly. I don’t mean arched back sloppy prison yard push-ups; I mean tight, fast, and explosive ones. When doing a proper push-up, you are doing what I refer to as an active plank. Holding a good plank position is a great exercise, but once you get good at them I feel they lose some effectiveness. Adding in movement challenges you more.
Watch the video below to see how to do a push up the correct way and then add them and and see what I mean.
8. Heavy Sandbag Clean and Press
The value of odd object lifting can’t really be debated too much. Unstable objects added into your training force you to utilize muscles not ordinarily recruited in barbell lifting. When you use your stabilizers more, you get stronger all over.
Load up a sandbag and clean and press it for reps or time at the end of a training session for a few weeks and see if your other lifts go up. Keep all the other variable the same so you know if it is working.
A good starting point is as follows:
- If you can press (overhead press) 95 pounds with good form, try a 75-pound bag.
- If you can press (overhead press) 135 pounds with good form, try a 100-pound bag.
- If you can press (overhead press) 185 pounds with good form, try a 125-pound bag.
These are just guidelines. Bang out as many reps as you can in 60 seconds and then rest for 60. Do it again three or four times.
9. Turkish Get Ups
I’ve written about the value of the TGU many times and I still feel they are one of the best you can do for overall strength. They are not specific to any one sport or activity and have tons of value. You are lying down and holding a weight overhead then you have to get up to a standing position. During the lift you will be actively stretching and stabilizing at many points using muscles you didn’t know you had. Your flexibility will improve, your mobility will improve and you will get stronger.
I like doing singles on the TGU. They have a lot of time under tension and are very tiring when done as shown in the video below.
If I have to explain the benefits of jumps and bounds you may be on the wrong site. I’ll do it anyway.
Jumping and bounding teaches your body to quickly deliver force and then quickly absorb it. You’ll get faster, more explosive, and more agile. Jumps and bounds are not for beginners.
When introducing jumping into your program, I strongly advise that you learn the most important part first: the landing. There are many good resources here on this site to show you how. Add these and and you'll be well on your way to being more like Harry Selkow.