I get asked all the time about programming and workouts, what to work in, what to leave out, etc. Obstacle Course Racers, triathletes, and other cardio-based athletes are notorious for neglecting the strength components of training programs, the same way that weightlifters and power lifters don’t always do their cardio or accessory muscle work. The truth is that you need all of these things and flexibility, and balance in order to get better in any sport, avoid injury, and just look better, regardless of which sport it is you choose to focus on.
I’m a huge fan of compound or functional moves that require you to use multiple muscle groups at the same time meaning more bang for your buck in terms of your time investment, but if I had to choose just one exercise as a go-to, I’d pick the deadlift every time.
There are three main lifts when it comes to weightlifting; Squats, Bench press, and Deadlifts.
Squats are great; you need your core, legs, and glutes to work together. The bigger the muscle group the higher the calorie burn, so these are great for torching some of those, especially if you’re able to get your butt engaged, as it’s the biggest muscle you have in your body. This lift is a close second on the list in terms of benefits, but the problem with the squat is that it tends to put a lot of extra pressure on your spine and isn’t always suitable for people with knee issues. Our glutes, hips, hamstrings, and backs are all effectively “shut off” when we sit as a rule. Our quadriceps (or the front of the thighs) tend to take a lot of the load with squats, again leaving the muscles most in need out of the movement.
Bench press is good if you’re a guy looking for beach muscles, but outside of that I’m not a huge fan. Many of us sit. A lot. We sit to drive, we sit to work, we hunch over the sink, the stove, the computer. This encourages us to be bent forward very often, which creates and exacerbates a rounding of the spine. The fibers in our chest shrink and get tight. Where chest press only perpetuates these postural issues by tightening these fibers even more, I prefer the overhead press and moves that work opposite range of motion altogether (like rows of any kind) as they work to correct them. Consider also that this is a very small muscle group compared to the rest of your body. Therefore, there’s a much lower calorie burn and benefit with this lift as opposed to the others.
Which brings us to deadlifts! If done properly, deadlifts are the single most functional movement all of us can do. Your entire body is engaged in this lift; glutes, hamstrings, core, back… this results in a huge calorie burn as everything has to work to make this one happen, including the muscle groups as I mentioned before that aren’t challenged a lot of the time and need it most. In addition, your back has to be straight and flat/extended, promoting proper alignment through the spine without compressing it. Also, while the butt and hamstrings should do the majority of the work, your core has to be fully engaged in order to keep your back straight, and the upper back and arms assist in moving the weight to standing.
In short, if you’re an OCR racer or other cardio lover, don’t neglect to strength train, and if you need a place to start, the deadlift is your best bet.