The Three Greatest Exercises …. Ever!

There is a thing called an SEO; a search engine optimisation. It works to make your content more visible to the web. Sometimes when you surf, you’ll see a stream of apparent nonsense at the bottom of a page. That’s there for the SEO. It’s what Google and other search engines look for and if done correctly, you can get a lot of hits. I’m really bad at this. I don’t care. I hold a profound disdain for what is deemed to be popular among the masses; for the masses are generally ignorant of what it is to be unique or personally valuable. I’m only interested in you, and if you’ve found this page—well done, have a lollipop. Or a paper cut-out of an angel.

The title of this post is standard of an SEO siren call. “The ‘X’ greatest ‘Y’”. It could be the five best Ice-creams; the three fastest cars; the ten most polished turds; or, the single greatest book yet to be published *cough*, it’s called Hammer & Glass and it’s out this year. In three months, Google it one-thousand times and I might be able to quit my day job. Maybe. Anyway, SEO’s suck and they exist to enslave you to a world that is devoid of nurture and care. But not me, oh no; I’m here to tell you the truth and nothing but the truth.

I hear you. You’re shouting at me: “Get to the point, you word jabbering despoiler of vowels!”.

What are the three greatest exercises ever?

Number one: The Squat

As a bona-fide cripple (of sorts), I’m not very proficient at these. I can squat but I perform a very good charade of a ship listing in a bad storm. But, if you remove my nerve-knobbled left leg from the illustration, the squat is without doubt the single most effective and functional exercise known to any linear-jointed biped anywhere. The primary movers: the gluteals and the quadriceps, are given stability by the hamstrings and calf muscles. If you do it well enough, you’ll even integrate your core muscles too.

To consolidate its position as the greatest of the greatest three exercises, it is worth mentioning that legs are important. That might seem obvious to you but as a fitness professional, I’m appalled at the number of people who disregard the functional value of the limbs that dangle beneath their rounded tums or skinny bums. The days of requiring rapid, bipedal movement may have been relegated by the advent of the motor vehicle but the fundamental purpose of a set of leggy pins is without compare. In short—you need your legs to move. If evolution, mother nature, or God, had intended us to forego our legs, we’d be slumming it with the invertebrates. Yeah: worms, slugs and molluscs. Go you, you fleshy, boneless shoelace.

Number Two (or three) – The Chin-Up    

I had to trek to Tibet and find a lonely monk who sat guarding a rare Lotus flower to seek the answer to the question, “What is more important: the Chin, or the Dip?”. (And you know what, I had to do that journey on a set of weary legs; that’s why squats are number one).

Truth is, the answer I received from the wise monk, whose teeth were strangely white and straight for a shed-dwelling luddite, was ambiguous.

He said, “If what is before you is an obstacle, the push to overcome it is paramount; but, if what lies behind is a weight upon your soul, you must pull yourself free”.

Clearly, the monk was on vacation from California and he was likely an avid user of hallucinogenic drugs. From that, I gathered he was probably called ‘Boof’ and drives a Tesla. But beyond that revelation, I sought to pick apart his riddle.

I chose the Chin Up (or pull up) as the primary candidate for number two. Why? The chin-up is grounded (ironically) in the action of pulling oneself up, or, to place it in a nice pictorial demonstration: to climb upwards. As the apes do. You know, what our ancestors once did. There is a reason our back muscles (Latissimus Dorsi) are so freaking huge—we used them to climb when we were furry, tree-dwelling rock-chuckers. If you don’t believe we are descended from apes, check out your tail bone, your useless and degenerate pinkie toes, and the fact you feel an unusual affinity with chimpanzees.

Regardless, the chin-up, working the lats, the biceps, the forearms, and posterior deltoids, as well as recruiting the abdominal muscles, is as good as it gets for upper body work outs. It even incorporates some pectoral action. In short, the chin-up is the miracle exercise.

Number Three – Yeah, it’s number three – The Dip.

Considering the phenomenal benefits derived from the mechanical movement of the Chin-Up, the Dip can appear a poor second (technically, a third in this discourse). But hold on; there is faith to be had in the workhorse that is the push to escape gravity. Any action that requires you to push an object: a door, another door…. Seriously, all I can think of is doors… maybe a person, or an angry bovine, perhaps even a disgruntled zombie—these actions require the muscles enervated during the dipping movement. Ooh… I thought of another—you need to push a car, a trolley; or any other large mass object in your way. That is the remit of the ‘pushing muscles’: the triceps, the anterior deltoid, and the pectoral muscles.

Point is, the muscles used when Dipping are antagonists of the Chin-Up muscles. One is a push (Dip), the other is a pull (Chin-Up). When combined in an exercise routine, the two exercises effectively cover the entirety of your upper body—yes, they even work the traps, as traps depress, protract, and retract the shoulders; all of which are performed to various degrees when chinning and dipping.

A Summary

When fighting zombies, or seeking monks in remote mountainous terrain, your training schedule should consist of just three things: Squats, Chin-Ups, and Dips. But don’t forget to bring water. And maybe a bag of nuts, unless you’re allergic. Though, the monk ate nuts, so bring your epi-pen. And I guess if you came the zombie route, get a Tetanus jab before you leave the city. And sturdy shoes for both quests. Maybe a camera. Certainly some plasters.

But definitely Squats, Chins, and Dips.

Now go young weirdo. Go find your zombie monk. And tell him his Tesla’s on fire.

The Best Exercise in the World is…

What? You really think I’ll start the article with the answer? That’s not a very good strategy for writing. It would be the physiological equivalent of a traditional ‘Whodunnit’ when the butler pounces from the pantry and says, ‘It was me!’. You’d not be inclined to watch the rest, would you? A Scooby-Doo cartoon with old man Rivers throwing himself in front of the Mystery Machine with a sandwich board declaring his guilt. That’d be a grim cartoon; I’d probably watch it. Damn hippy teenagers and a metaphor for exuberant LSD use. You can’t disagree, Scooby-Doo is so 60’s you can practically get high just watching it. ‘Zowie’, ‘yoinks’ and whatnot.

And don’t jump to the end of the post either. You’ll not find it there. I’m going to bury it in some inexplicable paragraph. Make it so fleeting you’ll be genuinely disappointed at the mediocrity of the answer. But hopefully the journey to the truth will at least offer some entertainment.

Exercise sucks. I’ve said this before. You probably question why I work in the industry I appear to loathe. I do too. But I’m here, so let’s get on with it. Exercise is a thing best described as the means to an end. Unfortunately, for most, that end never arrives. You perish on the path of exercise fulfilment; dashed upon the rocks of rowing tedium or terminated by cycling catatonia. Exercise is boring. Consider the things in life that make you laugh and smile. A child who’s dropped their ice-cream, a cat with a lamp-shade collar stuck in a fence, a politician stuck on a zip-wire waving a union jack. That last one actually happened. Funny stuff.

Activities which are fun have one common theme—an instant reward. We eat ice-cream and chocolate cake because the taste tickles our pleasure centres. Foods with a 50/50 mix of fats and sugar send most humans into delirium (ice-cream being one such thing, accompanied by cheesecake, etc). Games that we play, competitive or otherwise, are intrinsically rewarding due to baked in evolutionary survival tactics. Physical games that require actual cardiovascular effort help to tune our bodies and increase our fitness. Technically, that in itself is a reward but more than that, the human interaction of game-play enhances social skills and, to a degree, social belonging. A game becomes fun not because of the effort involved but for the other rewards it delivers.

This is why exercise fails at being fun for most people. Granted, there are those who enjoy the repetitive nature of solitary exercise. Science would be diplomatic and say something nice. But I’m not a scientist. I am, however, a cynic, and that empowers me to be blunt. Finding pleasure in the individual pursuit of fitness is, in itself, bonkers. That’s right—bonkers. From a biological perspective, it is sheer nuttery to enjoy battering one’s body into submission. Take the marathon runner. Of note, I have nothing against those who choose to run 26 miles. Remember, this post is pure cynicism and tongue-in-cheek wickedness. You run marathons? I don’t care—either way. Running marathons is a first world excess. It used to mean something; namely, a message that the Persians were coming. Now it’s all about specialist footwear or people dressed as dinosaurs collapsing with heat exhaustion.

A marathon reduces most to rubble. You see the victims cross the line on legs not fit for purpose. Wobbly pins I’d not trust in a bowling alley. Imagine that endurance sapping feat. Take a bow, have a round of applause. Now, try running away from that bloody lion I just freed from the zoo. What’s that? Your legs are a little bit useless? Quick, here comes Tiddles, and she’s not fussed that you’re wrapped in shiny foil. To her, you’re a human Tunnock’s Tea Cake. Nom, nom, nom.

A Tunnocks Tea Cake -A very Scottish cake/biscuit thing

I’ve not lost my mind. My point is, a marathon renders the human specimen weak and vulnerable. And for what reward? One week of DOMS? A buggered back and extensive physiotherapy fees? You can see it now, can’t you? I’m right. A marathon is not fun. It’s downright dangerous. Consider also that they often occur in metropolitan cities and most of these do in fact have zoos… I’m savvy that way. Won’t catch me doing a marathon. But then, I also use a leg brace. That would likely confuse the poor lion; under my foil wrapper I’ve got proper metal parts. Nom, nom, broken incisor.

I’ve established why exercise isn’t fun. And it’s precisely why most fail to adhere to it. So, what does work? The penny should have dropped by now; you should see where I’m going with this. If you can’t, you ought to go read another blog. One about those hollow mannequins called celebrities or conspiracy theories suggesting Ireland is actually a prehistoric, fossilised Koala. It so is by the way.

Now you’ll never see it any other way – The celtic mega-Koala

If we remove the curveball of mentalists who enjoy solitary exercise, there is one stand out activity that is sure to work. Or, to better phrase it: one condition of said exercise. It has to be enjoyable. Fun is the absolute key to maintaining an ‘exercise’ habit. Performing a physical chore that gives no ‘instant’ reward is a very disappointing endeavour to undertake. Fun creates a reward for the activity and replaces the apparent lack of feedback that our biology requires. Group fitness is often the key to exercise longevity. Participating in a communal class with an energetic and motivating coach can make all the difference. Of course, there are downsides. Cliques, body-image issues and an onslaught of mirrors that allow you to see every angle of your unsavoury backend can be a spoiler for some. But, by and large, GFX (as we abbreviate ‘group fitness’ to appear cool and trendy) is a winner for many.

But what if I hate people? Don’t worry, friend, I’m with you. Let’s celebrate hostility to humanity by drinking—just not together. If you prefer solitary exercise, you’re SOL* for standard narratives for fun. That leaves a huge array of personal activity. Outdoor cycling (I suppose it’s called…cycling) will get you into nature. Or under a bus. Rock-climbing or the inferior pursuit of finding a rock-wall to climb upon (called ‘hillwalking’) are excellent for raising mood and self-regard. Walking amongst nature—a good old trek through forest and glade—can lift both spirit and heart-rate. Just be vigilant for mammals with sharp teeth and claws if you’re lucky enough to live on a continent with dangerous indigenous fauna.

If you must insist on doing gym-work, you know, stuck in an iron cavern of clanking machinery where nuisance-mongers wear colourful battle Lycra and unnecessarily insist on clapping chalk into the air, there are some key elements to note. First, and most important, understand why you’re there. The gym will one day reward you. But first it must humiliate you and poke fun at your body. If you can scramble past the initial indignity of it all, the prize will come. Set your goal: weight loss, muscle gain, do a single chin-up, run a mile, yadda, yadda, yadda. Goals are important. Grab one and note it down. Stick it on your fridge. Glare at it with prejudice on a Sunday morning. But know it. Feel thy goal.

Second, rip out the nonsense. Talk to a gym coach and ask how you can most quickly and effectively achieve your goal. If the coach is overly muscled or shredded like pulled-pork, walk away. Fitness enthusiasts don’t understand that exercise sucks. They imagine you’ll love puking up after your 50th burpee. Find the coach with the grumpiest scowl; they know the truth, it’s why they’re so unhappy. Yes, I’m talking about me. I am the truth.

Grumpy coach will tell you how to make your work-out ‘most bearable’. Not fun. Most bearable. If you can find that coach, you’re set—they will nurture your attitude and make you the gym equivalent of a cockroach. That’s a good thing. You’ll persist through thick and thin (literally) and people won’t bother you. When Cindy Squat has long since vanished after her Instagram friends abandoned her over that ‘fat-shaming’ post, you’ll still be doing your 30-minute efficiency work-out. People will nod in your general direction. You’ll hear whispers of legend. Grumpy coach’s no-nonsense routine is still working. Why? Because you told them what you didn’t like and they listened. They allowed you a modicum of ‘fun’. And that’s the key to success. Whatever you do—you have to find the fun, sometimes in the smallest things. Print a tee-shirt with ‘I’m Grumpy Because I’m Here’ on the front and laugh quietly at the enthusiasts. They won’t understand but they’re abnormal. You can hold your head high and almost enjoy yourself. You conquered the gym your way. Now who’s laughing?

SOL* – Google it. If you find a sweary word, that’s it.