What would you choose if you were limited, for the rest of your life, to one lifting exercise?

If you say barbell curls, I’m going to reach through the computer and smack you!

By now you know I live and breath The Big 7 as the core of any lifting program.

But which single one is the best?

Today’s article is SURE to cause a lot of debate and disagreement!

“What is the best lifting exercise?” is a really hard question, and of course it’s a silly question too.  Nobody is every confined to a single exercise.  But it’s a fun point of debate, and an instructional one.  Because it forces you to consider what gives you the best results for the time and effort involved.  Right away, that clearly eliminates any isolation-type movement from the list.

For years I’ve avoided taking a stand.  Until now.

I’m sure to get a lot of people disagreeing with me – that’s ok, I can take it.

The single best, most important, most impactful lift is …

The Deadlift

We’ve written before on how to deadlift properly, so I won’t repeat that here.  And to be clear, we’re talking deadlift, not Romanian Deadlift, not Straight-Leg deadlift, not Sumo deads… just good old fashioned regular deadlifts.

Why is it the single best?

  1. hits the most muscles of all The Big 7 lifts – quads, hamstrings, glutes, traps, delts, core, some lats, some arms, some calves; really just missing chest, though some guys swear it hits the chest
  2. high metabolic value; after an intense set of 8, you are wiped
  3. it has, almost, all the good parts of the squat if you’re doing everything right, but none of the downsides
  4. safer than squats (generally)
  5. very natural and functional – lifting something heavy off the ground is common (compared to squats – how often do you have something on your back?  or bench press – do you really ever lie on your back trying to push something heavy off?)
  6. it actually trains you for regular life; you will be better/stronger/safer in your everyday activity
  7. the older you get you can keep dead lifting; squatting heavy properly when you’re 70 years old is tougher than doing proper deadlifts
  8. you can do dead lifts in so many variations: barbell, single leg, dumbbells. And in fact, a lot of times when people start talking about dumbbell squats, they’re really doing dumbbell dead lifts

I include the deadlift in EVERY one of my routines, for beginners or more advanced, for muscle growth or fat loss.

Why Other Lifts Don’t Cut It To Be “The Best”

Squats – a close second I think but fewer muscles recruited; plus, if you deadlift like I recommend you are getting a lot of the same benefit of squats; see above points.

Bench press, Overhead press – nothing for lower body.

Push-ups (we can debate whether this is a subcategory of chest press from the Big 7 or not) – with weights on your back (or a vest), these can be really tough, full-body exercises.  Highly recommended (in fact, I’m pretty sure pushups are in every one of my routines too.)  However, they don’t beat deadlifts.  If I could pick two exercises, then pushups and deads would be the two.  But I said “just one”!

Cleans – excellent lift for sure, but too hard for the average person to do properly and extremely difficult to do with a lot of weight.  This is the same reason I left cleans out of The Big 7, even though half my routines include cleans.

Of Course, No Single Lift Is Enough

To conclude, let me re-state the obvious.  I’m not saying all you need is the deadlift.  I’m just saying that if you had to pick only one, it’d be the best.  The right answer is to use many different lifts.  But if you had just one, do you agree it would be the Deadlift?

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