If you read here often, you may have pieced together the puzzle and stumbled upon a radical point of view on resistance training. I spent a lifetime of in-the-trenches experience and tedious research to reach a simple conclusion. I felt like a mad scientist, scrambling day and night for years on end to brew the right concoction, only to discover that plain water solved the problem.
I overtrained and got injured, paying my dues to discover this the hard way. Three exercises can give complete and safe results from strength training. This means that every major muscle group can improve with just three exercises.
The implications are powerful.
A Powerful Truth
It is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer.
– William of Occam
While some will choose to perceive it as “how can this be enough,” others will realize you can now devote all of your efforts to just a few basic exercises and get rapid progress.
Imagine how strong you would become in the bench, squat, and pull-up if you focus on them alone. If you can bench over 400, squat over 600, and pull with 200 in one hand, all for reps, would you look weak anywhere? If you managed to achieve these incredible figures yet kept your bodyweight low by avoiding overeating, would much fat appear anywhere on your body?
You can train more intensely and perfect form, when concentrating on only a push, pull, and squat. Imagine a great general realizing that he can focus his forces on just three fronts instead of spreading his troops too thin. With the soldiers now concentrated, he can finally punch major holes in the enemy.
A push is any upper body movement with the resistance lifted away from the body. A pull is any upper body movement with the resistance lifted toward the body. A squat involves extending at the hip, knee, and ankle.
For upper body movements, the exercises need to stay as close as possible to the horizontal plane. Vertical movements, such as an overhead press, harm the shoulder. They also involve less muscle. Some may choose to address the core through bracing. This means holding a position and resisting movement. If you choose the correct push, pull, and squat exercises, then the core may receive enough work already. I suggest the barbell bench press, the single-armed dumbbell row, and the barbell back squat as your only strength training exercises.
Most change up exercises to spur progress, when really more rest and food, along with efficient and tough training, make the real changes. Other exercises that otherwise seem good may just be redundant. Generating tension by working hard with heavy weights creates strength and size, not the diversity of exercise itself.
Variety Harms You
Variety will harm you. For the sake of variety, many include bad exercises. The joints do not handle unusual positions well. Trying to improve itself creates variation. While some range of choices for conditioning can make sense, keep it basic for lifting. Variety only seems to work because your body has to learn or relearn skills for new exercises. This creates the illusion of quick progress.
Need more work on your middle delts? Instead, view the middle deltoids as two functional units. The front half works on the push. The back half works in the pull. Avoid the overhead press and lateral raises to keep your shoulders healthy. Want thicker traps? Pull using the proper position for the exercise. Need bigger calves? Squat with your chest up to ensure plantarflexion. Want a strong core? Squatting and pulling involves plenty of stabilization at the core. You need strong forearms and hands? Pull and grip heavy weights. Need more stabilizer work? Brace intensely on the big three, and include some athletic options such as sprinting and jumping. You can do these as intervals designed to elevate your heart rate.
If you fail to feel it in the triceps on the push, use a closer grip. If you fail to feel it in the biceps on the pull, make sure you have an underhand and close enough grip. The arms can actually create more tension on these versus curls and extensions.
Strike a balance between positions, stances, and grips. You should pick the medium options and not choose widely or narrowly. You should feel as if every muscle involved contributes and no single one causes you to end your sets. This will protect your joints and stress all the muscles evenly.
Any deviation from a medium position harms a good compound movement. Compound exercises maximize compression versus shear on your joints. Your bones, tendons, and ligaments prepared to handle heavy weights through multiple joints.
Achieve Efficiency, Safety, and Results
You will save a lot of time practicing three movements.
With this extra time, you can add intervals, walking, training for sport, and otherwise work at your career, relax, and enjoy your life. You optimize recovery which prevents overtraining.
Push, pull, and squat. They work every major muscle group. Focus on what matters and enjoy faster and safe progress.