When compiling a list of "best exercises" the most vital criteria for selection is choosing movements that a)recruit the greatest amount of muscles involved and b) ones which generate the greatest neural output. Years ago, there was a researcher from Sweden, Per A. Tesch, who studied a large cross section of the most common exercises seen in gyms at the time (1993) under MRI scans to determine which ones used the largest number of muscles. Deadlifts were number one - using some 23 different muscles. Squats were number two, using 17. When it comes to building a large chest, most people would first think of pounding out heavy bench presses. Actually, the truth is that as far as overall pec development, dips are a far better exercise. Overhead press is also a superior test of overall upper body pressing strength than the bench press.
Deadlifts are a must for anyone who works at a desk all day, contrary to a lot of people's beliefs, deadlifts done properly can greatly improve your back. The legendary John Grimek, seen on the cover of Strength and Health magazine in 1941 had the most perfect baseball sized biceps which he got by doing tons of weighted chins (apparently an injury to his elbow made doing curls painful). Power cleans are a must for any athlete, whether its football, hockey or MMA, nothing builds explosive power like hang cleans, not to mention huge traps!
I am convinced that if all one did was to take this list below and split it in half with one lower body exercise in each workout into essentially an "A/B" split, and did this just two days a week they would grow far better than any of the routines we see in the popular magazines today.
The Eight Best Exercises
- Deadlift (Sumo or Conventional)
- Squat (Back or Front)
- Barbell Row (Pendlay or Yates)
- Overhead Press
- Bench Press