Q and A: These Are a Few Of My Favorite Things

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Q:  I know trainers (including myself) hate questions like “Hey bro, so like, if you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life what would it be?”, so I won’t ask you that question.  But how about one that is similar, but possibly not quite as frustrating to answer? 

As a trainer, what are your favorite lifts for each of the following body parts?

^^^ Yes, that’s a picture from The Sound of Music on this blog (that just happened)

A:  Deadlifts, my friend.  Deadlifts are the answer to everything……;o)  If more people deadlifted, the world would be a happier place – and possibly have less type II diabetes.  I have no way to back that statement up, but I’m running with it.

As a coach, I rarely (if ever) think of exercises in the context of what muscles they target.  Rather, I’m more concerned with differentiating and improving movement patterns.  Squat, hip hinge, horizontal press, horizontal row, vertical press, veritcal pull, single leg stance, and you know, bicep curls.

But, to answer your question – see below:

Shoulders – The obvious answer here is overhead pressing.  The thing is, though, for me, people have to earn the right to overhead press.  It’s not that I have anything against overhead pressing, or think it’s inherently dangerous – far from it in fact.  It’s just as a whole, we move like poop.  For most, we spend a vast majority of our days sitting in front of the computer, which compromises stuff like glute function, and more importantly, t-spine moblity.

Do me a favor:  round your back and then try to lift your arms over your head.  Kind of hard, right?  Well, this is something that a lot of people can’t do, and the last thing I want is for them to head to their local globo gym and try to do any overhead pressing.  More often than not, they’re just going to end up hurting themselves.

That being said, assuming one is “cleared” to safely overhead press, I’m reluctant to toss in a lot of additional direct shoulder work because, frankly, the shoulders take enough of a beating with all the pressing (and rowing) people perform throughout the week.  But, in short, things like strict military presses, 1-arm DB push presses, and the like would be great pumpkin builders.

Chest – Seems how I’m an absolute god-awful (read:  really bad) bencher, I’m going to go against popular notion and say loaded push-ups here.  Anyone who says push-ups are too wimpy, clearly has never been to Cressey Performance.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had grown men come in who couldn’t do a proper push-up, let alone for reps.

I just feel you get more for your training buck with push-ups.  Not only can you sexify your pecs, but you’ll also learn to engage your core, and they’re waaaaaay more shoulder friendly to boot.

Back – I’ve stated this in the past, but nothing is more of a clear indicator that someone has put their time in under the iron than when he (or she) walks around with an impressive upper back.  Take personal trainer and manual therapist, Rachel Guy, for example:

Do you think she built that body by doing pilates and lifting pink dumbbells?  Ummmmmm, no.

In terms of upper back development, deadlifts really do reign supreme here.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING makes my upper back more sore than when I do sets of heavy deadlifts.  Some other favs would include chest supported rows, as well as various chin-ups/pull-ups.  But they all play second fiddle to deadlifts.


Quads – Easy, full depth squats.  Of course, this begs the question:  what entails “full depth” squats.  For me, the anterior surface of the thigh must go past parallel in order for it to count.  Although, to be fair, not everyone is suited (or ready) to step into the gym on day #1 and squat to depth.  In that case, I’m perfectly fine with regressing the movement to a range of motion that’s safe for the trainee.  Regardless, if we want to turn into Quadzilla, you need to squat.  And you need to squat deep.

Hamstrings – My first inclination will be to say goodmornings, since speaking from a personal perspective, they are an awesome accessory movement that not only develop impressive hamstrings but also carry over very well to the deadlift.  It’s a fairly advanced movement, however, and I’m reluctant to just haphazardly recommend them to just anyone due to the high “I’ll shit my spleen” factor.

Soooooo, instead, my “safer” choice will be the 1-Legged Romananian Deadlift.

Glutes – Bret Contreras pretty much settled this debate long ago.  You’d be hard pressed to find any exercise that hammers your glutes more than loaded barbell bridges.

Abs – Easy, stepping away from the cookie jar.

Full Disclosure:  I am in no way condoning body part splits here; lets not get too carried away here…..hahahahaha.  Again, I think of things more in the context of movement patterns rather than what muscles are being hit.  But, nevertheless, shooting from the hip, these are what I came up with.  Feel free to chime in and offer your two cents below!

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • Stephane

    Nice selection! The only thing I would disagree with is the abs "exercise". I personally find that the day after having food poisoining I'm absolutely shredded.

    October 6, 2011 at 8:41 am | Reply to this comment

  • Niel

    Nothing beats bicep curls superset with texting.

    October 6, 2011 at 9:52 am | Reply to this comment

  • Barath

    Quit lyin' Tony! You didn't build those abs by merely stepping away from the cookie jar. You do crunches when no one's looking, dontcha?

    October 6, 2011 at 10:07 am | Reply to this comment

  • Mike A

    my favorite Abs exercise is a barbell complex supersetted with rolling around on the floor, gasping for air.

    October 6, 2011 at 10:19 am | Reply to this comment

  • Glenn

    Favorite Glute and Hamstring exercise- Glute Ham raise. Love these!!

    October 6, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Chris

    Tony, what are your thoughts on dips? Are they used at CP?

    October 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Glenn

    Tony - are you still in love with deadlifts if they are trap bar deadlifts? I like these a lot

    October 6, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Marshall Roy

    Love your abs comment. Recently a very, uh, ROTUND gentleman came over to me at the gym and asked where our crunch machine was. I gestured in the appropriate direction, but my internal monologue was more like this: "You don't need an ab machine, buddy, you need a machine that knocks the fork out of your hand." And for what it's work, loaded carries SMOKE the core... and everything along with it. Been really pushing my clients with these, especially asymmetrical carries: e.g., one moderately heavy kettlebell in the racked position, one very heavy KB in the other hand in a suitcase carry. Maintain perfect posture as you walk and feel your obliques go apeshit.

    October 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Brett

    Great post Tony, I'm in my early 20's and haven't benched for a few years now, loaded push ups are just on another level.

    October 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Stephane: oh boy! I just had flashbacks at the time a few months ago when I had a bad case of food poisoning and passed out a few times while blowing chunks. Not fun! @ Niel: Can't forget the recovery periods of "tv jaw" while watching highlights on SportCenter in between sets.

    October 6, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Barath: We've been rocking a lot of REVERSE crunches as of late! @ Glenn: Very good call on the GHR! Of course that would be high on my list as well, but since most people don't have access to one, I just elected for the barbell RDLs

    October 6, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Chris: honestly, I don't go out of my way to program dips for that many people. I just feel there are better options of hitting the tris than doing dips (which tend to place the shoulder at a very vulnerable position). I prefer 3-4 board presses for triceps.

    October 6, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Glenn: I love any variation of deadlifts. I included a video of a set of them in today's blog! See awesomeness above ^^^^^^ @ Marshall: Funny you should mention loaded carries. Adam Bornstein asked me to contribute to an "as yet to be released book," and I included loaded carries in the core routine I wrote.

    October 6, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Josh T

    Hey Tony, When you write out your programming, do you always include something for each movement pattern you spoke of? Or, depending on the client, will you minimize or completely drop one movement pattern if they're in greater need of another (i.e. minimizing pressing if they have craptastically bad, kyphotic posture, etc.)?

    October 7, 2011 at 4:56 am | Reply to this comment

  • Brandon Richey

    Ha, Tony my friend you and think a lot alike. I love deadlifts. The world would be a happier place if everyone did them! Deadlifts even make it cool to put a picture of the Sound of Music on a strength blog! LOL, another great piece my friend. Have a great weekend.

    October 7, 2011 at 7:48 am | Reply to this comment

  • Marshall Roy

    Gentilcore : Bornstein :: Chocolate : Peanut Butter

    October 7, 2011 at 8:54 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kellie Davis

    Great list, though I am learning that the power snatch kicks my ass all around these days. Of course, it's also voted most likely to remove limbs from sockets if performed incorrectly... so let's leave that off the list for now.

    October 10, 2011 at 11:37 am | Reply to this comment

  • Alex K

    How do you rate rack pulls/partial deadlifts for general posterior chain work for those unable to pull from the floor for flexibility issues/unable to hold a neutral spine from start to finish?

    October 10, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Tony Gentilcore Author

      Alex: I think rack/partial pulls are FANTASTIC for general posterior chain work. I use them quite often for those with mobility restrictions. And, as you noted, it allows me to drill "neutral" spine throughout. Basically you get all the benefits of a deadlift, in a ROM that's "safe" for the client.

      October 19, 2011 at 7:30 am | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      Alex: I think rack/partial pulls are FANTASTIC for general posterior chain work. I use them quite often for those with mobility restrictions. And, as you noted, it allows me to drill “neutral” spine throughout. Basically you get all the benefits of a deadlift, in a ROM that’s “safe” for the client.

      October 19, 2011 at 7:32 am | Reply to this comment

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  • Good Reads | Bret Contreras

    […] I love reading other coaches’ lists in terms of favorite movements/exercises. Tony’s list is here. […]

    January 9, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Reply to this comment

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