What’s The Best Full Body Exercise?

We get this question a lot from folks who are interested in starting to train with us.

Now, the real correct answer to this one is “it depends.” We all bring different builds, histories, and goals to the table.

That said, there is one exercise we tend to favor over the rest, both for the results it produces and the problems it tends to highlight and help resolve. That exercise is the squat.

When we begin training an athlete, the squat is the first movement we teach in our warmup–usually using a kettlebell to help folks groove into the movement pattern. We want our people to learn how to use their hips, glutes, and hamstrings to move their own bodyweight and later, external load, instead of relying primarily on their knees and quadriceps to get down and up again. That’s job one on day one, but the benefits of squatting only compound from there:

1. The squat builds a strong core and helps with back pain. When we squat under external load, we use the muscles in our midline to stabilize our spine under the weight. This is the primary function of our abdominals and lower back muscles–to maintain spinal integrity while moving about our daily business. Many of our athletes report that squatting consistently helps to resolve longstanding back pain, and this makes sense–stronger abs and spinal erectors make for stronger, safer spines.

2. The squat builds stronger hips and helps with knee pain. When we teach someone to squat well, by sitting back and then down between their knees rather than on top of the joints (it’s easier seen than described), we’re helping the knee joints work through a secure, controlled range of motion. We’re also taking some of the load off those knees and placing it where it belongs–on the posterior chain. If you’re a cyclist with knee pain, for instance, you’ve likely had a physical therapist tell you to do some hamstring work to alleviate those symptoms. This is what the squat does and this is what our folks also report–squatting well makes your knees feel stronger, healthier, and gets them out of recurrent pain.

3. The squat unlocks the door to better lower body movement. This is less empirical than anecdotal, but we see it time and time again. An athlete learns to squat and begins to add weight to the barbell over time, and most everything they seek to do physically becomes a little bit easier on their legs. In and out of cars, up and down stairs, weekend runs, tennis matches, carrying the kids around the house, and so on. We hear this consistently from our members–my legs feel stronger, I can move so much better now, my legs just don’t get as tired during my hills–and the squat seems to be the master key that unlocks this process.

So, we squat. At the beginning of every training session and at the beginning of every training week in the gym.

Does this mean everyone uses the same form, weight, and plan? Definitely NOT! That’s where coaching comes in.

Because if it’s that important to do, it’s that important to get it right.

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