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5 Exercises You Should Incorporate Into Your Workout

No exercise is the best for everyone, but there are a few that are a cut above the rest when it comes to improving strength, conditioning and aesthetics

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    Asking a strength coach for “the best exercise” you should do is a little like asking a financial adviser for “the best stock” you should buy – there is just no good way to answer that question. That said, there are a handful of exercises that are a cut above the rest when it comes to improving strength, conditioning and aesthetics. 

    1. Neutral grip dead lifts — The dead lift is a cornerstone lift and should be included in most strength training programs. There are a number of variations to this exercise, but the neutral grip dead lift using either a hex bar or dumbbells is the easiest to perform for beginners and can still challenge more experienced lifters.

    2. Barbell back squats — Often referred to as the king of lifts, squats are a full body exercise that can significantly impact strength, conditioning and aesthetics. There is a nasty misconception that you should not let your femur (or upper leg) drop below parallel or it will cause damage to the knee. That is simply not true. In fact, the point at which the knee joint is must unstable and under strain is when the femur is parallel to the floor. Long story short, it is perfectly safe and even advantageous to do a full depth squat (placing your hamstrings on your calves).

    3. Split squats — Split squats or single leg squats are another great squat variation that are easier to perform than barbell back squats as they minimize the recruitment of the lower back and require less flexibility to perform properly. Split squats are, however, just as effective at improving strength and aesthetic as a back squat and should be included in most training programs.

    4. Overhead press — This exercise has a significant impact on our daily lives as our ability to control a load over our head carries over to any daily action preformed with our hands up. It also significantly improves our bench pressing ability and can have a significant impact on shape of our shoulders, which can completely change the appearance of our physique.

    5. Chin-ups — Not only are chin-ups or “chins” a great exercise by which to monitor strength progress, but they are also a fantastic way to improve strength and aesthetics. Chin-ups recruit more muscle groups than any other upper body lift and thus should be included in your program. If you can’t perform a full “chin” yet, that’s okay. Focus on “eccentric" chins or slowly lowering yourself as slowly as possible from the top position to the bottom position. This will improve your strength and aid in your quest to improve the number of chins you can perform.

    Dusten Suggests:

    Try this program twice per week and see how it affects your strength and physique.

    A1 Barbell back squat 3 sets 10-12 repetitions 30 second rest

    *slowly lower yourself from the starting position taking 3 seconds to reach the bottom, pause for one second then return to the starting position.

    A2 Chin-up 3 sets 10-12 repetitions 90 seconds rest

    *slowly lower yourself from the starting position taking 3 seconds to reach the bottom, pause for one second then return to the starting position. If you can not perform 10-12 chin ups, work on lowering yourself from top to bottom over a 10-20 second period instead.

    B1 Split squat 3 sets 10-12 repetitions 30 second rest

    *slowly lower yourself from the starting position taking 3 seconds to reach the bottom, pause for one second then return to the starting position.

    B2 Overhead dumbbell press 3 sets 10-12 repetitions 90 second rest

    *slowly lower yourself from the starting position taking 3 seconds to reach the bottom, pause for one second then return to the starting position.

    C Dumbbell deadlift 3 sets 15 to 20 repetitions 60 second rest

    *slowly lower yourself from the starting position taking 3 seconds to reach the bottom, pause for one second then return to the starting position. 

    Photo credit: Dusten Nelson

    Dusten Nelson is a Chicago-based strength coach, nutritional expert and practitioner of Chinese medicine. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and check out his website. You can email Nelson at info@DustenNelson.com.

    Nelson is currently training Chicago filmmaker Kenneth Yoder to compete in a 100-day bodybuilding challenge. See the original story here.

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