Which 3 foods would you take to a desert island (if this is all you had for the indefinite, very sunny, stupendously stress-free future)? You’ve all played this game, right? (No? C’mon, live a little).
Easy, right? Kale, avocado and chicken (organic, duh). OK, maybe we’d all slip a lifetime supply of Ben & Jerry’s, our favourite Rioja or whatever. But then this leads to the question, do we want to live our totally deserted life (assume you’re on your own or with just one other – there are rules to this game!) feeling great, looking in good shape and altogether #smug, or… feeling indulged and maybe not feeling or looking so great, long-term. Discipline = what we want now versus what we want most. Does taking away the social norms and how people will see us, change our health goals? Is your motivation purely you, or just what people think? Or maybe both (and I think this is of course totally normal). An interesting question for you to ponder but not the subject for today…
Which three exercises would you take to a desert island? Assuming there’s no other choice (come on, play along). In case you need hand-holding through the idea here; it’s to get us to choose, either:
Which exercises would we choose that make us feel good generally
Which exercises give us that bang-for-your-buck (maximum results in minimum time) and should we really be doing if results or #gains are a priority
This again brings us to the food vibes above. The ‘feeling good in the short term’ choices, do they make us feel actually rewarded in the long-term? (Hello, the Rioja choice… Great right now but long term, “do I feel totally happy and stable?!”).
To avoid a phD in philosophy discussion today, we need to take out the former, as ‘the exercises that make us feel good generally’ are down to personal preference. Being that it’s my blog – I’m pulling rank – I’m going to go with which exercises give us that bang-for-your-buck!
The 3 Exercises We Might Not Choose, But Should:
Aka, the exercises maybe won’t be our first choice on the workout team-sheet (as, frankly, it’s hard and we know it). Nothing worth having comes easily. But – and maybe you know it deep (deep) down – they produce maximum bang-for-your-buck. Maximum results in minimum time.
The Bulgarian (Split) Squat
Ahhhhh, the Bulgarian Squat. No, Bulgarian children do not grow up doing only this in their P.E. classes. No, Bulgarian weightlifters did not invent this (although, who knows, really?!). Just thought I’d clear that up.
The Bulgarian Squat is a split squat. Already excellent, as it is a unilateral exercise, thus enabling a lack of leg-over-leg bias which for most people exceeds 30% (for right over left). It however takes it one stage further and raises the rear foot. In an ideal world, the back foot should be raised to only 10-20 cms. to enable the ball of the foot to plant and to encourage maximum stability and emphasis on the front foot (according to Bulgarian coaching legend Angel Spassov). However, as long as tempo control is maintained and appropriate distance (from front to back foot) is coached, whilst maintaining the spine perpendicular to the floor, the regular Bulgarian Squat is awesome! Unilateral strength encouraged. Strength imbalance (and subesequent upstream injury) discouraged.
If hip flexors are tight and no arrangement of foot placement helps, or single leg strength and stability doesn’t allow full range (whilst enabling the ‘tall upper body’ effect all the way to full depth), then a standard weight split squat with pressure emphasised through front heel, is equally effective.
Either way, you should select the best modification to ensure you are maximally hitting the strong seat of civilisation here, the G.L.U.T.E.S.
2. The Renegade Row
I see massively different variations of this. I see strong guys easily pulling 3kg weights to half range. I see intermediate-strength females lifting 10kg cranking (think full body pop) to full range. I’d like some quality control here please (but this is my main bug-bear of the ‘personal training’ and fitness industry) but let’s assume, just for today, you’re doing it right:
a. Glutes fully engaged (duh, lest we forget!) from the bottom of the rep (excuse the pun)
b. Pull the (heaviest weight you can lift for the assigned rep range) dumbbell to maximum range, utilising all back muscles optimally
c. Pull from your abs before all else (OK, maybe secondarily to glutes but a very close second) . This is a torsional plank so engage those stomach muscles like your life depended on it. And don’t forget to breathe
Far too many exercises emphasise pushing over pulling. Anterior muscles over posterior. This is the way of the (fitness) world. If you want to walk around like a monkey, shoulders roared forwards and generally having no muscular definition on your six, then go ahead, push away. Otherwise, set your scapulae by setting down and back, pull away and emphasise glutes and back whenever you damn well can. When you add weight (assuming a-c above are taken care of, golly gosh, now you have a real exercise on your hands).
3. The Full Squat Clean
This is what movement experts call a Category 3 movement. It demands superior technique, taught and learned over a series of smaller sub-category (1 & 2) movements, such as the squat and the deadlift. So no, I wouldn’t have a newbie hit this exercise toute-de-suite but I would aim towards it. As, when you get this right, 5 reps and… see ya later. Heart rate is soaring. Growth hormone and testosterone are peaking. Maximal muscles are hit.
This is the definition of bang-for-your-buck. The definition of compound movement. Depending which expert you speak to, there are between 600-800 muscles in the human body. For brevity’s sake (as in, I won’t name them), this exercise hits more muscles than any other lift. But (and huge disclaimer here) you must get it right, assuming injury-free life on your desert island is important to you.
A fast flick after the drive and into the catch phase is deadly important to comfortable technical and weight progression, so if wrist flexibility is a hinderance to you, choose the dumbbell clean (with added unilateral advantage) – p. This is an exercise I love to include on my bootcamp sessions (to shortcut wrist issues) and encourage heavy weight and full range as soon as possible for maximum results.
What do the above exercises have in common?
- Compound movements. Defined as a movement that uses two or more joints, this is the ultimate of maximal results in minimal time exercises (yes, you got it, bang-for-your-buck). Boosting growth hormone and testosterone optimally, these exercises have the advantage of (no, not encouraging chin-hair growth, this is steroidal use and it’s different) encouraging the perfect platform for fat burning and muscle growth (girls fear not, the latter only happens when you eat appropriate macros, calories and train at least 4 times a week, specifically for this – it’s a full-time job, believe me). Growth hormone and testosterone are your friends for body composition goals of any kind, put it that way.
- Massive core demand. Sort of knocking on from the compound vibes, but not quite (you can have a compound exercise which doesn’t have a massive core demand – can you name one?!). These exercises demand superior engagement in your core muscles (see my blog on Abdominal Engagement and Superior Exercises for this). At the end of the day, it’s not called core for a reason… think about it. When you add (appropriately and progressively) big weight, your core will experience more stress, growth and recovery than any core-only crunch-based exercise you’ll ever know.
Conclusion: Wants versus Needs
I’m going to take you to my original philosophical discussion today.
Is what you want to take to your desert island what you want to do on a daily basis because you love it, or are you going to do it because you want results? There is always a time for results (like during my BOOTCAMP2.0 Challenge Periods) and there is a time for ‘maintenance’. Although my view of a ‘maintenance mindset’, if we’re not attentive, is a fastback to backtrack. Challenge is important, as is periodising your training programme. That’s why ups-and-downs, in terms or volume and intensity, are essential to your training. As is balance, aka doing what you want versus what you need.
The best programme is the one that’s done, so you need to want to do it 😉
Team PW Played the Game!
As I love a game and I know you want to know, here is my answer (alongside Emma, Danny and Nico’s answer) for the original question ‘Which three exercises would you take to a desert island?’.
|Me (Paddy)||Bench Press (me man)||Deadlift (do you even lift? why yes, I do)||Chin-up (thinking palm tree options)|
|Emma||Burpee Box Jump (I know, teacher’s pet!)||Full Squat Clean (again, TP award goes to…)||Sprinter Crunch (those abs do need some work)|
|Danny||Pull-up (extra forearm work, interesting)||Push-up (true desert island styley)||Walking Lunges on the sand (embracing the instability and the island’s challenge, all at once – commendable)|
|Nico||Back Squat (bang-for-your-buck chuck)||Bench Press (me man, aussi)||Reverse Curls (beach weights for the eternal beach stay… why not?)|
Disclaimer: yes, we are trainers and there is a close merger of the two concepts of ‘needs’ versus ‘wants’ here for us through knowledge and experience, but hopefully this proves a little point? Balance, favouring needs. So, if you like that long run once a week, as it clears your head but you know that lifting weights and running sprints is more applicable to fast results for a lean, strong body, then include it, but prioritise the rest.
So wherever you intend to be deserted; French Polynesia; the Caribbean; Fiji; I expect a good balance of bang-for-your-buck versus I-want-to-wake-up-for-you type exercises in your ‘three-exercise-programme’ (I didn’t make the rules).
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