With that being said, people often ask what the best exercise they can do is. My go-to answer is the deadlift: you can load it heavily, its a lower-body lift that trains your whole body, and high-rep deads can be super metabolic. I usually say that it's my favorite exercise and, if I were forced to do only one exercise it would be the deadlift.
Truth be told, though, it may not be the single best exercise available. There are a few other lifts that can battle the deadlift for supremacy.
Snatch-Grip Deadlift from Deficit: This is a bastard of a lift. I love it and hate it at the very same time.
The gentleman in the video is using a pretty small deficit; you can stand on something as tall as 4-8 inches. The super-wide grip forces a large recruitment from your arms and upper back (big time grip challenge). The extra depth forces you to get into a much lower position, recruiting much more from your quads. Lastly, it's still a deadlift so your posterior chain is working overtime. It's really a total body lift that someone could do for a long time and still see results from it. The one thing I don't like about this exercise is the amount of mobility you need to do it properly. Almost none of my clients would be allowed to do this exercise.
Kettlebell Swing: There are several coaches out there who call this the "perfect exercise". When performed correctly, it could be.
Your whole body has to stay tense in order to perform it the right way, your hips have to explosively flex/extend, which produces a huge amount of power and it is super metabolic. The (generally) low weight of a kettlebell would also allow someone to perform a huge volume of swings. Yes, kettlebells can also get VERY heavy, which allows for a wide range of loading opportunities. Your entire posterior chain gets effectively worked during the swing, as does all of your core musculature. There's a reason why kettlebell people become so dogmatically pro-kettlebell!
Farmers Walks: This could read "loaded carries", but that offers up too many variants. When I say farmers walk I mean this one specifically.
I think that, if forced, this may take the cake as the only exercise I would do. Why?
- It starts off with a deadlift!
- The loading options are astronomical. It's very easy to achieve a supra-maximal deadlift while doing this. My own personal best deadlift is 440 pounds, while my best farmers walk is 500 pounds (250 per hand).
- The grip challenge is out of this world. As is the necessary involvement of your upper back musculature. The worst soreness I've ever had was in my traps after the 500 pound farmers walk.
- Stu McGill calls the farmers walk a "walking plank". It forces you to stabilize every muscle in your body.
- Every step you take becomes a single leg exercise.
- Metabolic doesn't begin to describe how metabolic this exercise is. Do a set of heavy farmers and see if you're not gasping for air.
It could possibly be the most complete exercise available to us. It's also easily done with any equipment available. Farmers handles, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, sandbags, children, buckets of water, Honda's; if you can hold it, you can carry it.
Give some of these exercises a shot! Lift something heavy (and carry it somewhere!)