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If I could only choose 10 strength movements…

As we explore Strength and Conditioning we often dive in to an ocean of exercises, some better then others. The issue becomes more complex as the variety and complexity of movements have seemed to have reached critical mass. What do I mean by critical mass?

Critical mass, in this context, is referring to the fact that fitness is so inundated in exercises that we have gone too far with our creativity / variety. More simply stated, choose to simplify your program and not complicate it by understanding the “why” you are doing a specific exercise for specific reps at specific times. As a younger lad, in this field, I often spent time trying to be overly creative in the various exercises I selected for each workout / program. However, what I realized as time went on is that variation is more about volumes / intensities and less about exercise selection.

The constant changing of exercises limits the athlete’s success to master movement patterns and thus decreases their performance adaptations. With that being said, I wanted to create a simple blog that highlights 10 of the most beneficial strength movements that should remain a stable within your program… for all sports. Before we dive in to the movements it is important to classify how I break down volumes and variables with a very simple yet effective load percentage chart.

The Chart

Velocity = 25-55% of max load (1RM)

Power = 55-75% of max load (1RM)

Explosive Strength = 75-90% (1RM)

Strength = 90%+ of max load (1RM)

*I do not try to overcomplicate the percentages here. Yes, there are cross overs between the verbiage I use (power, velocity, etc…) but the simplification of these percentages keeps my programming direct and to the point

Programming is often mixed but I spend time in one, two- or three-week cycles with movements… meaning that I may repeat the same set, rep and percentage protocols for two weeks straight. I will always build each mini cycle in to a larger 6-8-week cycle, for all programs. Throughout the movements listed in this blog I will breakdown a simple way to program for 3-week cycles. A 3 week cycle fits in to a bigger 6 week cycle.

The Movements

1. Deadlifts

I decided to kick off the list with the greatest total body strength movement. Technique is a tough thing to accomplish with words so I will only provide a few coaching points.

a. I prefer shoes off

b. Butt down at the start… classical deadlift is my preferred method in which I coach athletes to feel engagement in their hamstrings and glutes throughout the pull

Simple Programming Example:

Week 1: 4 sets x 6-8 reps @ 65-75% 1RM

Week 2: 5 sets x 5, 4, 3, 3, 3 reps @ 75-90% 1RM

Week 3: 5 sets x 3, 2, 1, 1, 1 reps @ 85%+ 1RM

2. Back Squat

Two things to note right away:

a. I classify this in the posterior category of workload due to the angles created from the barbell being back loaded

b. I coach and prefer a full ROM squat.

The back squat is a baseline movement that should be taught and tracked throughout any program. The ability to perform power movements, by increasing force capabilities, can be directly linked to how much you back squat when compared to your body weight.

Simple Programming Example

Week 1: 4 sets x 10 reps @ 60-70% 1RM

Week 2: 5 sets x 5 reps @ 75-85% 1RM

Week 3: 5 sets x 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 reps @ 80%+ 1RM

3. Front Squats

Front squats are underrated since it seems more people will lean towards back squats. However, not front squatting can lead to anterior to posterior imbalances when you only select back squats. The angle of the trunk / hip / knee ratio compared to a back squat provides clear directive to include both the front and back squat in all of your programming.

Simple Programming Example

Week 1: 4 sets x 6 reps @ 65-75% 1RM…

*this squat is a bottom squat, pause for 2 seconds at the bottom of the squat

Week 2: 4 sets x 4 reps @ 80-90% 1RM

Week 3: 5 sets x 3, 2, 1, 1, 1 reps @ 80%+ 1RM

4. Split Squats

Unilateral training is super important. What is unilateral? Basically, think about it as splitting the body apart and working on one-side or group at a time. The split squat provides the athlete with a more dynamic option that focuses on symmetry between sides. In addition, the angle and position provide great posterior chain (hamstrings & glutes) work as well, which can often be hard to train in eccentric moving patterns.

Simple Programming Example

Week 1: 3 sets x 15 reps each side

Week 2: 3 sets x 12 reps each side

Week 3: 3-4 sets x 12, 10, 8, 8 reps each side

*You can mix it up regarding the 3-4 sets for week 3 depending on your overall work volume

5. Bench

Everyone’s favorite movement?!?!? I believe bench serves a purpose and has a distinct place in the training world. However, it is not the most sport transferable exercise so I am not a huge bench proponent. With that being said it is a great exercise to push athletes upper body by engaging their back to aid in control and stability while forcing their chest, shoulders and triceps to drive like hell!!

  1. I prefer dumbbells for the higher volume days and for throwing sports

  2. Barbell is great for absolute strength and power development when intensity increases

Simple Programming Example

Week 1: 4-5 sets x 10-15 reps @ 55-70% 1RM… I choose dumbbells

*I love this high volume set & rep combination for dumbbell bench… it pays off in the long run

Week 2: 5 sets x 5 reps @ 75-90% 1RM…

*You can throw a wrinkle in it by making the bench bottom, pause for two when the bar is at your chest

Week 3: 5 sets x 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 reps @ 80%+ 1RM

6. Incline Bench

Incline vs flat… I have heard the argument for both from many people and all I can say is do both! Incline has a lot of transferability to a sport like American Football, much more then flat bench in my opinion. However, I find that both the incline and flat bench should be incorporated in to programming on a regular basis. Analytics on both pushing motions should be tracked as well.

  1. I prefer dumbbells for the higher volume days

  2. I typically program slighter higher on the volume scale (60-80% 1RM) for this movement… I have found that the volume compliments flat bench extremely well

Simple Programming Example

Week 1: 3-4 sets x 12, 10, 8, 8reps

Week 2: 4 sets x 10, 8, 6, 6 reps

Week 3: 4 sets x 8, 6, 4, 4 reps

7. Pull Ups

The ultimate bodyweight exercise… of all time!!! Pull ups should be performed 3-4 times per week. In my experience the posterior chain is the key to performance and injury prevention, for both upper and lower body.

  1. It is highly encouraged to pause at the top of each pull up… if you are doing them with assistance then it becomes mandatory to pause at the top of each rep

  2. I coach shoulder width grip for normal pull ups… palms face away from you

Simple Programming Example

Week 1: 3-4 sets x 8-15 reps until failure… add weight if you can rep more then 15

Week 2: 5 sets x 5 reps with a pause at the top for 2 seconds

Week 3: 5 sets x 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 reps

8. One Arm Rows

With back it is important that you pull and row… meaning pull down vertically and row horizontally. One arm row provides a great low trap and lat strength exercise. I prefer one arm rows rather than cable rows because it requires the athlete to perform one side at a time while using anti-rotation / core muscles to create a stability.

  1. I like to super-set this exercise with bench when bench is not programmed in the 90% 1RM

  2. Do not be afraid to go heavy… as long as you are not bouncing around to build momentum

Simple Programming Example

Week 1: 3 sets x 12 reps each side

Week 2: 4 sets x 10 reps each side

Week 3: 5 sets x 8 reps each side

9. Military / Strict Press

The reason behind putting military / strict press is because most people know what military press is, but not strict press. In short, a strict press is a standing military press with a barbell. Military Press is typically seated. Both of these exercises are a great exercise to work all three heads of the deltoids while engaging the lats for stability and strength aid.

  1. I prefer dumbbells for the higher volume loads

  2. Strict press, make sure you are creating tension out on the bar, meaning think about separating the barbell while in hand

  3. Strict press should involve the lats too so focus on feeling your lats throughout

Simple Programming Example

Week 1: 3-4 sets x 10-15 reps @ 55-70% 1RM

*you can do it seated or standing… but I’d choose dumbbells either way

Week 2: 5 sets x 5-8 reps @ 70-85% 1RM…

*Strict press with barbell is my selection for athletes

Week 3: 5 sets x 5, 4, 3, 3, 3 rep @ 80%+ 1RM

10. Lateral Raise?!?!

Yes I know, this is not a strength exercise but it belongs as a program stable. Why?!?! Because the best way to build up your deltoids is by doing front or lateral raises. This exercise is to compliment all the other press and push work you are doing on a daily basis.

  1. High volume raises are most often more effective

  2. Controlled reps are the way to go

Simple Programming Example

Week 1: 3 sets x 18 reps

Week 2: 3 sets x 15 reps

Week 3: 4 sets x 12 reps

These 10 movements should be incorporated in to your programming with consistency, for all sports. There are other exercises that I left out but remember, the more you put in then you run the risk of less adaptations for the athletes. Sometimes it is better to think in terms of “less is more.”


Here is an example of how to pair / split these exercises in to a day

Day A:

  1. Back Squat

  2. Split Squat

  3. Bench

  4. One Arm Row

  5. Lateral Raise

Day B

  1. Front Squat

  2. Deadlift

  3. Incline Bench

  4. Pull Ups

  5. Strict Press

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