Being a college strength coach along with working with adult clients leads to hearing a lot of the same questions. The one question that I seem to get asked a lot, especially by adult clients, revolve around what type of program they should follow. There are many different ways that you can go with the answer, but my general response is to perform a total body lift, especially since most adult clients workout between 2-4 times a week.
As soon as that question is answered the next question always revolves around how to set up a total body strength training program. Enter the wisdom of Dan John. I simply tell people after a quality warm up, perform something explosive, pull something, push something, perform some type of squatting movement, perform some type of lower body posterior chain, and add in some quality core exercises. I try to keep it as simple as possible.
Inevitably, the next question is asking what my favorite exercises for each of these categories are. My answer is different depending on whether we are talking about a healthy college athlete or a healthy adult, but there are some similarities.
Before I get to the list, remember I am picking exercises with a healthy trainee in mind. If someome was to have an injury, my answer may change.
Explosive: Hang Clean (athlete) & Kettlebell Swing (adult)
There is no doubt in my mind that the hang clean is the best explosive movement for athletes. The movement to is not terribly hard to teach and requires triple extension in an explosive manner. It’s a staple for all teams.
On the other hand, the Kettlebell swing is my go-to for adults. The swing is essentially an explosive RDL, resulting in explosive hip and knee extension. Furthermore, it is extremely safe when done correctly and relatively easy to implement with adults.
Quad Dominant: RFE Split Squat (athlete) & Goblet Split Squat (adult)
When it comes to the squat pattern I always tend to lean towards to rear foot elevated split squat. I am by no means a back or front squat hater, it is more that I continue to feel that single leg strength is grossly underdeveloped in most athletic populations. It is important to include all three types of quad dominant movements, bilateral (goblet/back/front squat), single leg supported (split squats, lunges, ect), and single leg unsupported (single leg squat, skater squat), but if I can only choose one I think you get the most bang for your buck with the RFE Split Squat.
As far as the adult population goes, I feel there is no need to load them with a barbell and squat – it just doesn’t make sense. Chances are very few adults have the mobility to perform a squat correctly, resulting in single leg work as the go-to move. RFE split squats may be a little aggressive for adults, especially early in their training. As a result, the Goblet split squat is my go-to movement.
Hip Dominant: Single Leg RDL (athlete & adult)
Just like our squatting movement, I tend to lean towards another single leg movement when it comes to posterior chain for many of the same reasons as the quad dominant reasons. The single leg RDL might provide the best posterior chain training from a functional standpoint, which is a good thing. The single leg RDL improves hip stability, improves hip extensor strength, and improves balance. Additionally, the single leg RDL in a slightly bent-knee position, a position often seen in gait (both walking and running) which again makes it extremely functional. Once trainees get familiar with the exercise, it can be loaded with heavier weights then one would expect with very little spinal loading. If we are truly trying to reduce injuries and increase human/sport performance, the single leg RDL seems like a no-brainer.
Upper Body Pull: TRX Row (athlete & adult)
Since we live in an upper trap dominated world, going with a row would be more appropriate then some type of vertical pull (chin up/pull up). When it comes to rows, the TRX row is king. Many people have postural issues (forward rounded shoulders) due to sitting behind the wheel of a car, at their computer, or even in class – rowing will help to negate these postural issues more then vertical pulling. It is also a body weight exercise, (until you progress to adding loads) which is another advantage at steers me toward to TRX row.
Upper Body Pushing: Bench Press (athlete) & Push Up (adult)
For competitive athletes, it’s hard to argue against the bench press in regards to pushing strength. It’s a tried and true movement that has stood the test of time. However, if you are working with overhead athletes, I would be more apt to go with a push up. I’ll also add that if you ask me this same question a year from now, I may lean towards the push up for all athletes. I have more and more respect for the push up (for various reasons) with every passing day.
With adult clients the push up is the standard move. It will absolutely shock you how many people can not perform a proper push up. You will find that generally women will not have the requisite upper body strength to perform a push up will men don’t seem to have the core strength to perform a proper push up. Regress people wisely and hammer away with adults.
There you have it, what I would consider my favorite and most beneficial movements for both athletic and adult populations. There are many different exercises that could be plugged into their categories, but I have found that these exercises are the most beneficial.