How many times have we heard the question, "If you could only do one exercise, what would it be?"
Truth is, I hate this type of stupid stuff. It's like when you were a kid. Could Superman beat the Hulk? Who cares?
However, as I watched my athletes sweat (and in a few cases, vomit) the other day, I think I found my answer. If I could only do one thing, I think I would push a heavy sled.
This will spark immediate debate. I know. First watch this video.
Second, if you've never pushed a heavy sled, shut up. It's amazing how many guys will weigh in on this one without ever having done it.
By the way, I said push, not drag. And I said heavy.
What's the big deal? Let's look at pushing a sled. As I watch someone push, I see a sport-specific, unilateral leg press. I also see perfect acceleration position for running. Sounds pretty good for starters, doesn't it?
Each push is really a closed-chain, single-leg hip extension – great for the glutes as well as the entire posterior chain. Great for rehab. A lot of the benefits of squats and deadlifts. Score another one for sled pushing.
As I continue to watch, I see a great core stability exercise that's again fed from a unilateral base. I hate the idea that squatting and deadlifting are great for core development. I don't think any bilateral exercise is particularly good for core development. It's just not the way the muscles work.
Simply holding a load while on two legs doesn't activate the core muscles in the way they're used in life or in sport. Squatting and deadlifting are the core versions of bilateral isometrics. Not a waste of time, but not optimal. When you push a sled, the base of support changes from side to side.
Third, I see a great upper body stability workout. Pushing is great for the scapula stabilizers and the entire shoulder girdle. It's certainly not the bench press or a pullup, but we're talking one versatile exercise.
Fourth, if you just want to get big, I will guarantee you a serious leg pump.
Last, and certainly not least, there is the energy system component. Call it what you want, GPP (a term I hate because most who use it have no idea what it means), work capacity, or conditioning; any way you slice it, pushing a heavy sled is hard work. And hard work is good for you.
I know it'll never come down to one exercise workouts, but either way give sled pushes a try. If you don't have a push sled, simply pile as many plates as possible on a regular pull sled and go for it. Or use your imagination and jury-rig something. It's even harder than using a sled built for pushing.