Ask me what my favorite movement is on any given day, and you might get a different answer. After all, I competed in an Olympic lifting meet last year, but I've also devoted my share of time to gymnastics, kettlebells, martial arts, and plenty of solid dumbbell and barbell work.
But after years spent lifting weights and training clients, I've definitely come to recognize that certain moves pay huge dividends if you put in the time to master them. They're the "if you're only going to do one thing with that barbell, pull-up bar, or piece of floor, do this" moves.
These are my three favorite strength moves right now. Master them, and you'll see serious benefits that carry over to just about anything you want to do in the gym or out of it. And no, it's not a coincidence that you can string all three moves together and make a great full-body workout.
1. Strict Chest-to-Bar Pull-Up
Don't confuse this with the CrossFit version of the chest-to-bar, which is a totally different movement. This is slow, controlled, and focused on strength, not reps for time.
I love this because it hits the lats and the vertical pulling muscles and allows me to pull my scaps back at the top of the move, like I'm doing a rowing motion. You end up hitting the entire back side.
We're going to add a little row motion. Start with a pull-up, push that chest out, get it as close to the bar as you can, pause, and return.
2. Weighted Push-Up
Now let's get down on the floor. I love push-ups, but I also like to challenge myself on push-ups in more ways than just doing reps. One of my favorite ways to do this is to add a little weight on the back. You can use a plate, a sandbag, or any other heavy object that's handy. You don't need to add a whole lot of weight to make these really challenging to both your upper body and your core, which is why it's in my fellow Performix athlete Mike Vazquez's "Abs Without Crunches" routine.
The hardest part about these for many people is putting the weight into position. If you're uncomfortable doing it, have a friend put the weight on your back once you're in the push-up position. Keep nice, tight abs so your back isn't sagging, chest all the way down to the floor. Finish your set, and remove the weight smoothly.
3. Barbell Power Clean
This is an old-school classic, and you can't go wrong with it in my book. And while things can get really technical once you start adding other components like the jerk, the power clean itself doesn't have to be complicated.
Just get a nice, strong spinal position on the floor, pull the barbell up to your knees, then explode upward, catching the bar in the rack in a quarter-squat. Your heels, and possibly your entire foot, should leave the ground, generating power not only from the back and shoulders, but the ankles and knees. Extend to standing, then lower the weight under control.
Yes, there's a lot of coordination involved in this movement, so approach it with a "practice" mentality. Don't be afraid to go light. You'll see benefits from this movement at pretty much any weight, but not if you go too heavy too soon.