Matt: If it is building muscle that is the goal then I would say squats, snatch grip deadlifts and wide grip pull ups. Those three are going to hit every muscle in your body. Wide grip pull ups hit chest effectively as well so that’s part of why I chose that exercise over the bench press. Secondly, pulling yourself up engages almost every muscle in your upper body and very effectively works your core. The same cannot be said for the bench press.
If conditioning is your goal then the clean and press is a must. Starting from the floor and catching it low so you are squatting the weight up and then push pressing the weight overhead not only engages every single muscle in your entire body but it also taxes your metabolism extremely hard. Doing these with one minute rest periods will shed that fat faster than any HIIT/cardio combo.
Next it’s the snatch grip deadlift again. If you haven’t ever done these then you are really missing out. Make sure your grip is wide enough that the bar sits in your hip crease when you are fully upright. For me that means my hands are about 2 inches from the ends of the bar. For purposes of conditioning I also suggest you stand on a platform so only your toes fit under the bar when the bar is resting on the floor. This means you are going to be past parallel in a deep squat and will have to squat the weight up until you can get your hips far enough back to deadlift it the rest of the way. This is my preferred deadlift always, regardless of my goals.
Lastly, good old HIIT sprints, rowing or skipping need to be added in to get that body fat low and keep your explosive power at its peak. I’m serious when I say this: if all you ever did was the above workout three times per week and maintained a clean diet, you could without a doubt be very lean and very muscular year round.
Colin: That’s a pretty tough question to answer, as obviously one’s goals plays a huge role. If someone only cares about building as much muscle as possible and someone else only cares about losing fat and doesn’t care about muscle, they wouldn’t do be doing the same things. At least not necessarily, although lifting is so much better for losing fat than most people realize. I’m going to answer the question as if it were how to build as much muscle as possible while remaining as lean as possible.
It’s really hard to narrow it down to three, but I decided to go with squats, deadlifts and bench press. Squats and deadlifts are going to hit almost every muscle in your body with the exception of chest, shoulders and triceps, which the bench press is going to hit. Obviously this would be ideal for someone trying to build muscle, but if you wanted to make it into a cardiovascular workout, just lift faster.
Dara: Like everyone has said, this is very dependent on goals, but I am going to go with the most common goal of most of my clients. They want to get fitter, get stronger, gain a little muscle and lose a little body fat. For this I would do the deadlift, the wide grip pull up and the squat. It is possible to make these exercises appropriate for all fitness levels and also to progress within each exercise as the client improves. You hit the full body and because these are all compound movements using multiple muscle groups and requiring a high level of muscle recruitment and you can get a good cardiovascular workout as well.
JC: Push ups, Sit-ups, and variable-resistance-topographical steady state cardio.
A 2011 New England study found that a combination of these three types of exercises, performed anywhere from 3-10 minutes at a time, 3 times per week, not only decreased stubborn belly fat by up to 87%, but also increased protein synthesis and the formation of lean muscle by an astounding 112%. The execution of these exercises was found to be increasingly beneficial when performed using an “As Seen on TV” device while in front of the TV. Furthermore, a mind-body connection was discovered in which it was speculated that the ability to store the exercise apparatus in a closet maintained a heightened metabolism that continued to burn fat for 72 hours post workout.
All silliness aside – regardless of the goal you can’t go wrong with Squats, Deads, and Pull-Ups. Nothing new here, just good old-fashioned exercises for good old-fashioned results. In my opinion there is no need to differentiate between fat burning and mass building in terms of exercises. Nobody has accidentally ever become a bodybuilder. You won’t spontaneously build slabs of muscle by accidentally doing too many squats or deadlifts.
Diet is what you should be more concerned about when it comes to building or losing. You need to eat and train to suit your goal. If these two factors don’t complement each other, your goal will fail. The above exercises are perfect for everybody and I highly recommended them for both fat loss and muscle-building. The real differentiation should be made in how the actual lifts are performed. Working out for overall health and fitness typically calls for lower weights are higher reps, whereas a growth plan will involve heavier weights, lower reps, and most likely a variety of other cool and exciting techniques.