Training can turn into a whole lot of fuzzy reasoning in a hurry when you start to introduce different components. This is a large part of why people gravitate toward one thing - simplicity.


Simplifying is usually good, but not if it is costing you potential benefits. Being able to gain the maximum benefit from different training modalities lies in being able to categorize these movements with broader strokes, independent of the equipment or style of training commonly associated with them.



What Does This Movement Do for Me?

For the sake of this article, and simplifying your life, kettlebell swings are not going to be categorized as a “kettlebell exercise” and deadlifts are not going to be categorized as a “barbell exercise.” These labels are only useful when equipment is limited to those specific objects.


Instead, we want to have a clear understanding of what the exercise does for you. In this instance, both the kettlebell swing and the deadlift would be considered “lower-body pulling exercises.”


Some other categories and examples:


Upper Push:

  • Handstand
  • Overhead Press
  • Push Up
  • Bench Press


Upper Pull:

  • Pull Up
  • Row
  • Front Lever
  • Reverse Fly


Lower Push:

  • Squat
  • Lunge
  • Single Leg Squat
  • Sled Push


Lower Pull:

  • Deadlift
  • Kettlebell Swing
  • Glute Bridge
  • Single Leg Deadlift
  • Leg Curl


Notice the commonalities between the categorized exercises. This gives us the ability as coaches and athletes to all speak a common language with the same basic building blocks, giving us all a better understanding of how to make progress over the long term.


We can further separate it out:


  • Unilateral - Lunge
  • Bilateral - Squat
  • Horizontal - Row
  • Vertical - Pull Up


Using these distinctions, you could easily categorize both a one-arm push up and one-arm bench press as unilateral horizontal upper-body push.


It’s not always helpful to break it down so far, but it can be useful to have this understanding when you are trying to substitute one exercise for another. As a coach, I often get asked, “Can I substitute X for Y?” My answer is going to come from a thought process that stems from the ability to categorize movements. If you learn this system, you can do this for yourself, whether you are a trainer or an athlete.


What Is "Ultimate Athleticism"?

In terms of what gives someone the ultimate athleticism, it is always going to include competence in the categories above along with a few others. This is how my Ultimate Athleticism workout template came about, as a way to check off all the boxes and make sure I’m getting the most benefit for the least amount of time invested.


There is a distinction here between what I consider the “ultimate athlete” and a gold medal-level lifter or gymnast, though. Clearly there is going to be a large disparity between the top gymnast and the top Olympic lifter in terms of general athleticism due to the nature of their specialties.


My goal in terms of programming is to do the most with the least effort and time. If your goal is to be a gold medal-level Olympian, then this template may not be specific enough for you to be successful at a given sport.


The other categories I think are necessary for building well-rounded athleticism are:


  • Power
  • Grip Strength
  • Vision/Coordination/Balance
  • Core Strength
  • Conditioning
  • Mobility


Not only do we want to cover all of our bases with all of the above, we have to do it frequently to get the best results. This has to do with the SAID principle - specific adaptation to imposed demand. This means your body adapts to whatever you do with it all the time. Because your brain is constantly reevaluating what’s important, you need to hit it with the right message as frequently as possible.


Take something like golf, for example. Would you rather practice every day for fifteen minutes or once a week for 105 minutes? You would see significantly better improvement with the daily practice over the weekly practice, though the total time investment is the same. In this way, we can improve our return on investment (ROI) by training more frequently, rather than doing longer durations per session but fewer overall sessions.


Max Shank performs a Turkish get up with a kettlebell


Optimize the Cost-Benefit Ratio

Everything you do has a cost, so you want to do the things with the lowest cost and the highest benefit. Obviously, there are a lot of movements that could fall into the categories I outlined above. It could be inefficient to try to do something from each category every single day, so we have to choose movements that satisfy more than one category.


This is what led me to choose the following for what I call the ultimate training plan:


  • Sprint (power)


  • L-Sit to Handstand (upper push/core)
  • Deadlift (lower pull)


  • Front Lever (upper pull/core)
  • Airborne Lunge (lower push)


Not only do the above movements satisfy almost every single athletic quality, they also inherently address the most common postural, movement, and flexibility issues. On top of that, these exercises have the biggest carryover to other movements, giving you competence in many movements while only practicing a few.


For example, if you can do an L-sit to handstand, no push up, handstand, or military press variation is going to give you any trouble. Similarly, if you can do a front lever, no row, pull up, or anterior core exercise will be anything but a piece of cake.


Read Page 2 for the Training Template