I have a criteria for these. They have to fall under helping you become stronger, faster, and leaner. So while pistol squats may be a tremendous exercise, they are good for balance and muscle memory. However, in my training advice, I don’t find them making you a much faster person.
They, also, have to be safe. If it’s not safe, the exercise is docked huge amounts of kudos from this list. Like wall climbs. Oh how I love to tally these up during workouts, I could probably go without them.
They have to be for combined athletes and average gym goers. If Jane Doe walks into the gym and shouldn’t be performing the exercise, it is docked points.
Other than that, it’s the battle of the exercises. Who will come out on top?
50.) Treadmill Pushes – The best “sled push” without a sled. If you haul ass and max out your speed, it’ll leave your legs and lungs screaming for mercy. Just not quite heavy enough to be higher on the list.
49.) Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl – The best direct hamstring exercise on the planet. They allow you to concentrate on full range of motion and include using the stabilizer muscles that effect balance. You can make these weighted by adding a weighted plate on your lap. For advanced lifters, try the one legged variety.
48.) Star Humpers – Once again, a direct posterior exercise. This one is capable of adding weight too, which makes it higher up on the list. A barbell over the lap is my preferred weight load. The movement sounds exactly like the name (also known as Hip Extensions).
47.) Iron Cross – Holding two dumbbells out by your side for as long as you can forces the entire upper arm and abdominal muscle groups to work. Doing this with your bodyweight on the rings like Vince Vaughn in Old School is even more impressive (minus the cigarette).
46.) Ninja Rolls – A full body conditioning exercise not many people utilize. Hold a plate by and focus on the squat (standing up). This is known as our “burpee’s counter-part”. Use core power to roll from back to feet . . . like a ninja would. The most neglected muscle in the human body is the hip flexors and these will fatigue them perfectly.
45.) Bear Crawls – Shoulder stabilization and holding yourself off the ground for 4 straight minutes, though, makes this in the top 50. Make sure your shoulders don’t separate and your butt is lower than the back of your head. No need to go fast. Just take your time and focus on endurance.
44.) Barbell Curls – This may be the #1 exercise performed in the gym, but because it lacks full body quality and growth hormone release, it slumps to #44. Just not good enough.
43.) Overhead Squats – I’m all about doing exercises if your actually fully capable of them, but in my experience, only 25% of average gym goers are even able to do these properly. Doing these with a light PVC pipe or jump rope can be a great hip and upper body stretch however.
42.) Push Ups – There is a reason why these are a part of most fitness tests. However, they lack strength vitals. Guard your ribs by having your elbows angled on the negative and drop down far enough for your shoulders to crease. Without proper creasing and doing bad push ups for a year, you may want to blame these for your bad shoulders rather than kettlebells. One of the most botched exercises in the gym.
41.) One Legged Dead Lifts – Balance exercises aren’t naturally the best for becoming leaner, stronger, and faster, but I can dig anything when a dead lift is involved.
40.) Leg Press – Ah, the ole’ leg press. About as ancient as that ride at an amusement park when you ride a half cut log down a slippery slope and get splashed a bit. These make it so low due to the fact that it is simply a machine, but ever since tearing my ACL years ago, burn-outs on this machine are pretty damn good for leg endurance. I don’t recommend going heavy, but I DO recommend pressing with your heels. Watch out for “hip winking”, which means having your posterior start to curve upward off the bench. We aren’t squatting here.
39.) Dumbbell Chest Presses on Swiss Ball – Same form as a push-up, but laying on a round object that makes you use your glutes and core to balance yourself. Plus chicks dig a ripe pec section.
38.) Pull Ups – Some strength coaches would find these in their top 5 exercises, but due to the fact that your elbows and shoulder take a beating if you do a bunch of them drops it a bit. Yes, I recommend these often, but only in nuetral-grip. Add some weight to them and keep your reps in the 20-30 range during a workout. These can destroy if over-used.
37.) Burpees – Have you ever tried to do 50 burpees in 3 minutes? Have you succeeded? That is why it makes the list. For some reason these suckers never get easier. However, they can be destructive. Jump in towards the outsides of your hands in squat position and watch lower back hyper extension and you’ll be fine.
36.) Barbell Rows – Most barbell exercises are ranked higher, but barbell rows rank among one of the most messed up exercises in the gym. If you have proper form, they could be outstanding. I always like to tell me clients to pretend you’re puking in the yard. The barbell should be lower than your knees and your chest should be higher than your hips.
35.) Burpee Broad Jumps – Adding a jump to a burpee? Faster; yes. Leaner; hell yes. Stronger; not really. That’s why it’s in the middle of the pack. These are “punishers” and “finishers” often in my training program.
34.) Rope Pulls – Grip strength, core strength, back power, and “wow” factor all rolled into one exercise. Safer than pull ups.
33.) Swiss Ball Pikes – You can be incredibly skinny but have zero strength and not be able to do these. You can be incredibly strong, but obese and not be able to do these. You have to be lean and strong to do these properly. I gave them a nod for that reason alone.
32.) Turkish Get Ups – Hardest exercise to teach; big benefits. Here’s a tip: stare at the bell!
31.) Ring Push Ups – If I were teaching any exercise in the number 50-31, TRX Push Ups are probably the easiest to comprehend, but hardest to do. Anything bodyweight always creeps up the list, and if it weren’t for elbow damage, this may swap spots with pull-ups. I like these because of their functionality, and anyone can do them.
30.) Rope Slams – Slamming anything over and over again (as long as it’s done with great intensity) forces you to use your entire body over and over again. Imagine spinning the Price is Right wheel 30 times in a row. I guarantee you will become faster, stronger, and leaner way before you hit the $10,000 jackpot. Ropes make slamming easy to do, because they stay in your hands. Involve knee and hip flexion in this one or your back will take a beating.
29.) Hanging Leg Raises – This exercise is so much more beneficial if you take it slow and pull with your arms and not just swing. If you’re in the top 30 of all-time exercises, you know it’s a good one and I like the grip strength this involves, too.
28.) Planks – The hard part about the plank is making sure every angle is at 90 degrees. Elbows, shoulders, AND ankles. Eyes over your knuckles. Posterior level with the back of your head. Neutral spine. Do them every day!
27.) Dumbbell Box Squats – It’s functional. It’s grip strength. It uses all muscle groups. It’s a squat. It must be good. Tap your butt to a box that is level with the back of your knee, rise with your chest, stand tall.
26.) Gladiator Hold – Hold a side bridge with a dumbbell in the free hand. Great for lat strength, balance, awareness, muscle memory, and just overall bad-assery.
25.) Lever Clean and Press – Some call them landmines. I call them levers. I wish I owned a bunch of heavy logs now.
24.) Stair Runs/Stadium Runs – I just threw up in my mouth a little. These are good. Hill sprints are hated more though, which is why they rank higher.
23.) High Box Jumps – In order to jump high you have to have a high ratio of being leaner, faster, AND stronger. Enough said. Watch your shins.
22.) Bruce Lee – Hiyah! Don’t knock them until you try them.
21.) Kettlebell Swings – My personal favorite. Make sure when you swing, once the bell is crossing over your belt line on the way up, you lock your hips and knees. Contract your glutes. Then on the decent of the bell, once it passes you belt line, be loose in the hips and knees. Chest high and grab tight. It’s a hell-of-a-ride.
20.) Dumbbell Snatches – I’ve broken my own back just by watching people do these but with proper technique they can turn you into a beast. Surround your dumbbell with your feet before you even think about lifting this off the ground. Get your chest above your hips. Power through with your hips and follow the bell up with your eyes.
19.) Alligator Walks – Now you know why alligators are so strong. Wear some wrist wraps, avoid back hyper extension, and this is the best core exercise in the swamp.
18.) Pavement Sprints – I know what you are thinking. How can pull ups and snatches be lower on the list than sprints? Sprints can release more testosterone than most weight lifting exercises. Just look at football players.
17.) Dumbbell Step Ups – They are functional and they use every muscle. There’s just no argument.
16.) Hang Cleans and Tire Flips – It’s a tie.These slightly beat out the swings due to the fact that you HAVE to use complete full body power for this move. Otherwise, a hang clean would just be a reverse curl and ranked number 235 all-time.
15.) Burpee Pull Ups – The jumping up to the bar requires the same amount of power as a muscle up. The cardio effect is the same too. The fact that these are 33 x’s safer make them an ultimate exercise.
14.) Fire Hose Drags – If you have done sprints at the beach, you can agree. Unfortunately, they don’t have huge sand paths at gyms nowadays.
13.) Trap Bar Dead Lifts – Another form of the dead lift. Just as epic, but the fact that there is only one way to stand in the bar and grip the bar takes the functionality out of this. I prefer freedom when lifting 400 pounds.
12.) Back Squats – I have really backed off on these since tearing my ACL. People with bad backs should not do these, and over-doing them can cause harm to the immune and central nervous systems. Those risks alone drop them a bit. However, when done properly, and done according to how your body feels, they are top 2.
11.) Rack Walks – Every muscle, every time. Don’t lean back, though. I’ve heard horror stories about how some strongmen competitors have broken their backs. Literally.
10.) Renegade Rows – One of my favorite. When you don’t turn your hips and power the row from the push up, you get one of the best overall bodied exercises on the planet. Plus, the name is bad-ass.
9.) Push Press – Releases tons of positive chemicals in your body for muscle growth. Don’t over-do barbell presses above your head though. Your shoulders will take a beating.
8.) Manmakers – How are these not number 1? They combine all the key exercises! While they do, I’ve tended to see that clients like to rush these which makes them destructive. They are good for certain types of workouts, but I just can’t rely on them all the time.
7.) Squat and Press – I prefer the dumbbell variety, and it’s hard to believe it is better than sex, but this will grow hair on your chest and muscles on your legs.
6.) Front Squats/Goblet Squats/Rack Squats – The safest squats for the knees. The safest squats for your core. The best squats for world domination.
5.) Hill Sprints – I just threw up in my mouth again. Unlike stairs runs, you can use 100% max effort without worrying about busting your ass. You’ll only need 20 minutes or so.
4.) Dead Lifts – Name a muscle not being worked when picking up a heavy bar. Practice proper form and these will make your legs powerful, your metabolism higher, and your core stronger.
3.) Sled Pushes – These are like hill sprints, back squats, and push presses combined. Why wouldn’t they be number 3?
2.) Farmer’s Walks – Surprising, eh? But this exercise will make a little boy turn into a grown man in 90 seconds. Believe it or not, women can gain massive amounts of results from these. The only reason I wouldn’t do these is if you have a separated shoulder. Other than that, it’s safer than Canada.
1.) Clean and Press – The ultimate. It has everything you need. Power. Strength. Endurance. Conditioning. Leg Strength. Arm Strength. Lung Capacity. The list is infinite.
What are your favorite exercise? What would you take away or add in there? Let me know.
This is where your body changes,