Two weeks ago Steve Belanger started a thread on the StrongFirst forum asking the readers to pick their favorite barbell, bodyweight, and kettlebell exercises. For all the limitations and contentiousness of “top lists,” writing them is a useful exercise. Given your goals, training and injury history, equipment availability, etc., my list may not exactly suit your needs, but hopefully it will make you think and write your own.
Rather than pick an arbitrary number of exercises from each modality, I will select the “best” in each of the following categories: hip hinge, squat, press, and upper body pull. (No, there will be no division into “vertical” and “horizontal” pushes and pulls; life is too short for that.)
I will use the following criteria.
- The exercise has to have a high carryover to a great number of applications. As I explained in Easy Strength, the Russian term “general strength” refers to the strength “to perform any physical work more or less successfully.” (Ozolin)
- The exercise must have an impressive safety record.
- The exercise must have a steep learning curve. If 70% of his fighters do not get it, Steve Baccari discards the exercise, no matter how effective it is.
There will be some additional considerations as well.
The Best Hip Hinge Exercise
The hip hinge goes first. The contenders are:
- Barbell deadlift
- Barbell good morning
- Barbell clean (power, hang, muscle, etc.)
- Barbell snatch (power, hang, muscle, etc.)
- Kettlebell snatch
- Kettlebell swing
The deadlift rules. I have stated that on many occasions and I will not repeat myself.
There is not enough data about an exclusive use of the good morning, apart from Bruce Randall’s experiment. A knee injury prevented this former Mr. Universe from squatting, so he poured his heart into the good morning. He worked up to a 685 single, his back parallel to the ground. When he tested himself in the squat, not surprisingly, he easily squatted as much. Randall then tested his deadlift and stood up with 770—back in the 1950s, with no drugs, and no previous deadlift practice.
Kettlebell snatches, while documented to have a high carryover to a whole lot of unrelated events like the powerlifts and middle-distance running, will not win this fight because they demand rare, in this day and age, shoulder mobility and stability, and because they require considerable skill. Barbell cleans and snatches fall into the same category.
The kettlebell swing is a different story. There is plenty of scientific and empirical evidence that the swing has an extraordinary list of “what the hell?” effects. It transfers to max deadlifts (even at the world class level), jumps, and so on and so forth. In addition, it delivers impressive conditioning. And it is safer and easier to learn than the barbell deadlift. “The kettlebell swing is the true power to the people,” assures Rif.
As much as I am partial to the deadlift, the swing wins the hip hinge class.
Recall that both slow and static strength are needed for complete strength development. Will we be leaving something on the table without a “grind”? Not if we pick the right squat to complement the hinge…