The Best Exercises



by Christian Thibaudeau T-Nation


Here’s what you need to know…


•  Nothing will build up the yoke like the snatch-grip high pull.


•  While using a Prowler is great for fat loss and building muscle, the farmer’s walk with a trap bar is better.


•  The bench press is not the best exercise to build the pectoral muscles. Rather, it’s the dip.


•  The best exercise to use as a test for power, speed, and explosiveness isn’t the 40-yard dash or the vertical jump, it’s the underhand forward medicine ball throw.


One cautionary note before I jump into my list of favorite exercises. I’m assuming proper form and performance on all of them. A great movement can be turned into something totally worthless if not done properly.



1. Best Exercise to Make You Look “Yoked”

First I want to apologize to Jim Wendler for stealing his “yoke” concept. Honestly though, what he calls the yoke, I normally call the shoulder pad area. I’m specifically referring to the size and thickness of the delts, traps, and mid-back – the muscles that make you look visually intimidating and that scream power!


Nothing will build up those muscles like the snatch-grip high pull from the hang or blocks. I’ve had people contact me saying that it changed the way their body looked in as little as one or two workouts! For the high pull, focus on exploding upwards with the lower body and hips to create upward momentum. Then pull the barbell violently toward your neck – anywhere between the nipple line and neck constitutes a high pull in my book. Keep the bar close and the elbows high.


To gain massive size:

Do sets of 3 to 5 reps.



2. Best Exercise To Get You Ripped

I want to apologize to Jim Wendler for a second time because, while he (rightfully so) loves the Prowler to keep fat at bay, I personally have a preference for the farmer’s walk or Dead-Squat™ Bar carry. I prefer the farmer’s walk for two main reasons:


1. You are less likely to be limited by metabolic factors. The Prowler causes the greatest oxygen debt in the least amount of time. This is in part due to the high demands of the exercise but also because it’s hard to breathe when pushing the bastard! While the farmer’s walk is also metabolically demanding, at least you can breathe properly when you do it. As such, you can carry big weights for longer than you can prowl big weights and you recover faster between sets. That allows for a greater density of work, which is important when trying to get as lean as possible.


2. The farmer’s walk involves a greater number of muscles. The Prowler might hit the legs a little harder, but you don’t get the same traps, arms, and abs involvement as the farmer’s walk. You will also experience growth in those muscles because of the occluded stretch you create, which makes the farmer’s walk a bigger bang-for-your-buck movement.


For fat loss:

Bouts of 2 minutes with 1 minute of rest.


To build muscle and lose fat:

Go heavier for 1 minute with one minute of rest.


To build size/strength while keeping fat gain at bay:

Go very heavy for 20-30 seconds with up to 2 minutes of rest between sets.



3. Best Exercise To Be A Solid Power Athlete

A power athlete is someone competing in sports requiring a high level of speed and explosiveness like football, sprinting, throwing, jumping events, etc. If done properly, the best exercise for these athletes (and one of the best tests of athletic capacities) is the power snatch from the hang. Of all the lifting exercises, it’s the one with the highest power production level. It also requires good overall coordination and full shoulder mobility.


The power clean from the hang would have been a good choice too, since the power produced is also very high, but you get higher acceleration and rate of force development and peak velocity in the power snatch – all elements that are key to ultimate performance in explosive sports. The power snatch is obviously a somewhat complex lift. Remember my cautionary note at the beginning of the article – if a movement isn’t done properly, it loses it status as “best”!


To build maximum power and explosiveness:

Use a load that’s 70-80% of 1RM. We want all reps to be violently explosive, so sets of 2-3 reps are best.



4. Best Exercise To Build A Big Chest

I didn’t really want to include best exercises for individual body parts because more often than not these can vary from one person to the next because of leverages or muscle dominances. I’ll make an exception in the case of the chest, however, because everybody tends to believe that the best way to build the chest is the bench press. Even though I love the bench press, it’s not the best exercise to build the pectoral muscles. The dip is. To this day I haven’t met one person who was very strong on dips (in perfect form) who didn’t have a very good chest, but I have seen my fair share of big bench pressers with very ordinary pecs.


The first sign of a good/bad dip is body swing. Those who aren’t doing the dip properly tend to have their torso and legs moving during the exercise, whereas those who are very good at dips seem to have their torso and legs fixed on a sliding rail. Another sign is whether the shoulders stay in the pocket or not. Many bad dippers (and those who get shoulder problems from dips) often have their shoulders move forward and up relative to their torso when they go down. If you took a picture of only their shoulders, it would look like they were doing a shrug.


When you dip down you should flare your lats (think of rubbing the inner part of your upper arm against the lats) and “open up” the chest, not unlike during a bench press.


To build a big chest:

Do full-range dips with an additional load of 50% bodyweight for 6-8 reps.



5. Best Exercise To Get Strong

Talk to every competitive strongman and ask him what his most important barbell lift is and 9 times out of 10 you’ll get one answer: the deadlift. No movement transfers better to picking things up from the floor and carrying stuff with your hands, the two most important tasks in strongman competitions. Even back in the 1800s during the golden age of strongmen, the ultimate test of strength was how much weight you could lift off the floor (using two hands, one hand, one finger, etc.). In even older days, the strongest man in the village was the one who could pick up the heaviest stone.


Lifting a big weight off the floor requires greater overall strength than all other simple actions, so it’s not surprising that the deadlift is the king of lifts for strongmen. Now, it’s true that some small men have deadlifted big weights without being strong in other movements. Guys with formidable leverages like Bob Peoples, who has hands that hang almost down to his knees, have an advantage.


Regardless, becoming strong in the deadlift is the best way for 90% of the population to become strong overall. The reason for this – besides the fact that the deadlift involves so many muscles – is the effect that training the deadlift has on strengthening the nervous system. This, in turn, increases your strength potential everywhere else, too.


To build maximum strength:

I like doing a deadlift workout that I saw Canadian strongest man Jean-Francois Caron do. He would max out on rack deadlifts (bar starting just below the knees) and then do 6 sets of 3 reps of floor deadlifts. Caron has deadlifted over 900 pounds for reps, so it’s hard to find fault with this plan!



6. Best Exercise For The Time Constrained

If you only had time to do one session of 10 minutes per week and could only do one lift, what would you do? My answer would be 5 sets of 3-5 reps on the clean and press – specifically a power clean from the hang followed by a push press – with about 60-75 seconds of rest between sets.


The clean & press involves to some degree most, if not all, the muscles in the body. I’m not saying that it will work everything optimally, but you can at least stimulate all of your muscles to some extent. It’s also an exercise that can help get you leaner because it has a high-energy demand since it involves so many muscle groups and involves a high velocity of movement.


To build or maintain muscle size and burn fat:

Do 5 sets of 3-5 reps. More than that and it turns into a metabolic conditioning exercise.



7. Best Exercise To Test Athleticism

When you’re a strength coach working with groups of athletes you often have to test your athletes to know where they are and who has the most potential. Coaches will use tons of tests and the testing of a team will often take 4 hours or more. From my experience, when testing an athlete in a sport like football, hockey, basketball, or baseball, I find that the test that has the highest correlation with athletic potential isn’t the 40-yard dash or vertical jump, but the underhand forward medicine ball throw.


The 40-yard dash is of course a very popular choice, but nowadays it’s more about technique and beating the test than pure athletic capacities. The vertical jump is a little bit less technique dependant, but it doesn’t involve the upper body that much (about 10-15%) so it’s less complete than the underhand throw.


To test an athlete for potential:

Have them swing the ball between their legs and throw it forward as far as they can. The weight of the ball should be 10-12 pounds. A 15-meter throw (16.4 yards) is a decent result, while 19 meters (20.7 yards) would be excellent.



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