I recently listened to an episode of the RDella Training podcast (What’s the Most Valuable Exercise, Episode #222) about the most “valuable” exercise. It is a short episode and worth listening if you get the chance (the podcast as a whole is great, so check it out). The purpose of the episode was to discuss what exercise or exercises are the most “valuable” to us as humans. Scott, the show’s host, ended the episode with an opportunity for listeners to reply and answer the question for themselves. This is my response.
To me, the most “valuable” exercises are ones that give us the “biggest bang for our buck” or the most “juice from the squeeze”. I often get similar questions from patients, usually in the form of “what’s the best exercise I can do?”. So, for this blog, I am spinning the question some and thinking through this from the “if I was stranded on a desert island…” mindset. Basically, if I could only do one (or two) exercises for the rest of my life, what would they be?
When I think about this, it’s important to pick an exercise that hits multiple aspects of general physical fitness: cardiovascular health, strength, mobility, balance, coordination, etc. Therefore, it should be a weighted multi-joint compound movement. Here is my answer (I’m cheating and picking two).
Exercise 1: Turkish Getup
This is the exercise selected by Scott on the podcast episode, and I completely agree. When done correctly with focus and not for time, it is a full body exercise that hits multiple fitness components. Few exercises can strengthen and mobilize the body as well as the Turkish Getup.
The shoulder stability needed to complete this movement is key. Oftentimes, patients and athletes neglect upper extremity proprioception (balance/coordination). Fortunately, the Turkish Getup requires it which leads to overall improved strength and reduced injury risk, especially with overhead movements. What makes the Getup even more unique than, say, single arm overhead pressing is the stabilization required while going through a full-body movement and manipulating multiple joints in multiple planes. Additionally, I like how the stability starts with the shoulder at 90 degrees and ends fully overhead (180 degrees).
As a fairly “stiff” guy, I appreciate (and respect) the hip and shoulder mobility the Turkish Getup demands. And unlike some other exercises where decreased mobility increases injury risk, I believe the Getup safely improves mobility when performed correctly, slowly, and with an appropriate load.
There are two other key benefits of the Turkish Getup that make this exercise one of my go-to favorites: 1) addressing asymmetries, and 2) cardiovascular benefits. Due to the complexity and the total-body design of this movement, it easily exposes side-to-side differences. This can be seen through differences in moveable weight or through quality of movement. For me, for example, I definitely have a “cleaner” Getup holding the kettlebell in my left versus my right. By continuing to work with this exercise, I know the asymmetries will clear up, leading to overall better movement patterns with other lifts. And though Turkish Getups are not as cardiovascular-demanding as, say, sprints and double unders, slowly performing this movement under moderate to heavy loads for several repetitions will certainly increase your heart rate and breathing comparable to moderate aerobic training.
Oh yeah, I can’t forget about the overall strength gains that can be made with heavily loaded Getups, especially when performed slowly increasing the overall time under tension!
Instead of pretending I am an expert coach and post a video of myself teaching the Getup, I know my expertise is in the realm of physical rehabilitation and will leave it to a true expert to show you a good looking Turkish Getup. Check out the video below.
Exercise 2: Overhead Squat
I like the barbell Overhead Squat for many of the same reasons as the Turkish Getup, so I won’t dive into too much detail here. The Overhead Squat is another exercise that demands mobility in multiple joints like the hips and shoulders (like the Getup) but also requires good ankle and thoracic spine mobility. Because this movement is performed with a barbell and not unilaterally like the Getup, it still allows us to make substantial strength gains as we can get a significant loading stimulus.
Again, I am not an expert trainer or coach, so here is another video of someone else showing the Overhead Squat.
I also appreciate how the Overhead Squat can be modified to emphasize shoulder or hip stability. For example, shoulder stability demands are significantly increased by hanging weights from bands on both ends of the barbell (see video below). The further out the straps, the bigger the challenge for the shoulders to stabilize the bar and weight. By doing so, it keeps the focus on maintaining the bar’s center of mass directly overhead. Increased hip stability training can be achieved with the Overhead Squat simply by putting a resistance band either right above or below the knees then fighting to keep the “knees out” over the feet while squatting. These modifications are great for deloading periods in training or during active recovery days.
To wrap this up, a quick note on my recommendations implementing the Turkish Getup and Overhead Squat. I also agree with Scott on implementing the Getup daily during a warm-up as it is a great total body primer for any activity. If doing so, I recommend using a light to moderate weight and perform 3-5 reps bilaterally. The Getup can/should be done intermittently as the primary workout with emphasis on moderate to heavy loads. As for the Overhead Squat, the above modifications are great during active recover days or during deloading periods in training. Unlike the Getup where I do not recommend it being part of a circuit or CrossFit workout, the barbell Overhead Squat can and should be implemented with regularly planned workouts using a variety of weight and repetition schemes.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I would love to know if you agree or disagree with my thoughts!
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.