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What Are The Top 5 Movements?

Article written by Marshall White for
Will Dinwiddie suggested this article topic the other day and I was giving it a thought and decided to give it a test run in conversation. To be honest with you folks I couldn’t believe how much conversation this ignited! Basically it was suggested that I write an article on, if I had to choose ONLY 5 exercises or movements for any athlete to do what would they be and why? The parameters of this are that the 5 exercises chosen must be specific, you can’t just say “squat and all it’s variations”, these have to be applicable to every athlete in every single sport, and finally you can’t say bench press. Ok I was joking about that last one, but the other 2 still apply. I talked with some of the LBEB athletes and my friend Chris Stark (owner of Lift Strong Run Fast) and after much mulling over I came up with my 5. Before I tell and explain my 5 understand that this is just my opinion. You don’t have to agree with me so as Pastor B says “calm your tits”, this is just an opinion piece and I would like or hear your opinions as well. Now then,  since that is out of the way, here are my 5 and my reasons why.

1. High bar/close stance back squat:

  I don’t think I need to go in to a huge explanation as to why I chose a squat but I feel the need to explain why I chose the bar and feet placement. I feel as though a high bar, close stance squat is easier to learn so if I were teaching beginners I would yield results much faster than if I were teaching a low bar or wide stance squat. In addition I believe this type of squat mimics most athletic stances much more so than a wider stance. Think about the foot placement in most sports, usually it is shoulder width, a natural stance, so I feel squatting in this stance will help the strength gained transfer more easily to the athlete’s chosen sport. I also feel this stance is more quad dominant which will transfer to more speed and explosiveness in most sports as well as remove the need for working front squats.

2. Clean shrugs (clean pulls, clean hi pulls, explosive shrugs):
 There are many names for this movement but I’m going to use clean shrugs for my purposes. I had a hard time not including power cleans in this list but ultimately I feel the same way about clean shrugs that I did about the squats. The hardest part of teaching a clean is USUALLY getting the athlete to catch properly. If I were teaching a beginner I could yield the same explosiveness and athleticism as a power clean but in a much shorter time simply by removing the catch. Here’s a little heresy: with a clean shrug you can get an athlete to go very heavy, basically keeping within a “speed deadlift” range, which in my opinion removes the need for deadlift. Eeeeeek! Yeah I said it, I feel for athletes that are not “strength based” athletes a heavy, explosive clean shrug will actually be more applicable to their sport.

 3. Push press:
 I had to debate myself and others over whether a push press or a strict press would be more beneficial and I had to finally settle on the push press. I decided this because I feel the push press has more facets than a strict press. With a push press you are getting the explosive work in addition to the shoulder, tricep, and upper back work, as opposed to a strict which is not typically an explosive movement and focuses more on just the benefits of a press.

4. Pull-ups (not chin ups):
 I honestly feel as though one of the biggest holes in most athletes development is their upper back. Pull ups are a great exercise to fix that hole and most people already know how to do them, for the most part. I do believe there are some other very effective exercises to build upper back strength, but those exercises can be harder to learn as they are more advanced. The funny thing about pull ups is that most people can’t do them (not strict at least) even a lot of athletes, so you have a TON of room for improvement. The equipment needed to do them is minimal and the goal to be reached with them is infinite. Take a look at most high level athletes and I can almost guarantee they can do tons of pull ups.
5. Yoke
This movement is my curveball and I had to defend this one big time in all my conversations. I chose yoke because the other 4 movements are executed on a vertical plane (up and down) whereas yoke is executed on a horizontal plane (back and forth). Think about it, in most sports your movement is not done simply on a vertical plane the vast majority of it is done on a horizontal plane. Why do most people not train their forward movement with heavy loads like they would any other movement? A yoke allows you to load your forward movement and develop serious speed and explosiveness. Understand also that while a yoke is started with a partial squat it is not a squat at all, your big squat doesn’t mean shit when it comes to a yoke, therefore we are not double training a movement. While squatting doesn’t necessarily improve your yoke, yoking heavy will improve your squat. This movement provides a whole body benefit in my opinion.

There you have it, my 5 movements/exercises that I would have any and all athletes do if I had to choose ONLY 5. I know some of you will disagree and I want to hear your thoughts on this. Post your comments on our Facebook page but please remember these kinds of discussions can get heated so try to be respectful and explain all your points intelligently. Also, if you say bench press you better have an AMAZING reason as to why you chose that :). Thanks for reading and make sure you give us your opinions!

10 thoughts on “What Are The Top 5 Movements?

  1. I like and agree with your first four choices… I would have changed out the Yoke for heavy Farmers Carries though. They provide the horizontal plane work that you mentioned as well as a good bit of upper back and shoulder work.

  2. Agreed with the comment above…..your first 4 choices were bang on…..and I agree to a certain extent with the 5th if you had the equipment……but majority of the gyms wouldn’t have…..working heavy farmer’s carry would be achievable in most gyms, just have to ensure the grip would not give out [hence the yoke choice, then eh?]

  3. I totally agree with the training weighted horizontal movements but why not a heavy prowler or sled push? The only reason i say this is because in many sports when moving horizontally one is using a low center of gravity and the sled push mimics that, whereas with the yoke you are upright for the entire movement.

  4. Interesting to say the least. Every sport in my opinion has its specific movements that should be worked. I can only imagine the conversations had. Lol. I do like the farmers over the yoke though. Tough descisions.

  5. Good picks, Marshall. But I would definitely add handstand. Because I like this exercise and find it essential for optimal development for any movement-based sport. I just like calisthenics.

    – Alex

  6. Where in a comercial gym can you do heavy farmers walk. I just did 332 per hand today where in a comercial gym can i do any decent farmers walk and every one can buy a yoke. They r not that expensive. I think instead of stupid crunches and situps the military should have the yoke walk, i am in the marines btw.

  7. My two cents from the other side of fifty. I would’ve never done the classic movements if I had known what I know now. Strength is key and it’s most important when young and most missed when old. I say do your training with single limb movements. Heavy swings seem to be a good thing too.

  8. those trapbar/hex deadlift bars work alright for me as a farmers walk substitute… not perfect but I think the best I can find in an average commercial gym … even those you can’t load crazy usually but it’s something … hope that helps

  9. These are all great movements and I wont attempt to argue as i’m a total novice. What really strikes me is the “curve ball”. As others have noted, training in a traditional, Globo-Gym, there is no Yoke available. Though your point about horizontal movement training makes so much sense. I don’t think I’ve done anything in that regard other than some lunges with a plate overhead. Looks like i’ll need to pick up some heavy dumbbells for farmers walk as an alternative. Cool to see Catalyst Athletics for the demo’s – thats who i watch as i’m learning how to do these lifts.

  10. I’d want the snatch listed. But only cause it’s my favorite! Good list though. And hope our box gets a yoke.

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