Absolute strength is your ability to lift heavy objects, namely heavy barbells. The heavier the barbell, the greater your absolute strength. Yes, we could talk about force exertion and physics equations, but don't over-think it.
No other tool can be used to build strength better or with more versatility than the basic barbell. You can build elite strength and a world-class physique with only these five time-tested exercises.
1. The Back Squat
The KING of all exercises. Save the debate.
Numerous studies have shown that leg strength is directly correlated with life expectancy in the elderly. Am I saying you have to do heavy back squats when you're 85? No. But I am saying that having strong legs is paramount. The stronger your legs, the longer you'll live.
Not 85? Relatively healthy? Do back squats. Nothing builds functional leg strength more effectively.
2. The Conventional Deadlift
This lift could just as easily be ranked number one. It really just depends who you ask.
I actually consider the deadlift to be the most functional of all barbell exercises. Nothing is more functional than bending down and picking something heavy up off the ground. No other exercise builds more strength in the posterior chain either.
Oftentimes when lifters suffer from back pain or discomfort, it's not from deadlifting too much – it's from not deadlifting enough (or at all). Don't confuse pain with weakness. A strong back is a healthy back. Just make sure to prioritize correct technique and maintain spinal tension at all times.
3. The Bench Press
My least favorite barbell lift. How often in real life are you caught lying flat on your back and forced to press a heavy weight off your chest? Not often.
However, I still rank it as number three because it's undeniably effective at building upper-body pushing strength. If you want to maximize both strength and size, you must maximize mechanical tension (weight). No other upper-body push allows you to press more weight than the barbell bench press.
4. The Overhead Press
By far my favorite pressing exercise... even though it's my weakest lift.
Also referred to as the strict press or the military press, this lift is a much more functional exercise compared to the bench press: we often have to lift heavy objects overhead.
The overhead press is one of the most difficult lifts to improve, but learn to embrace it and train it often. No other lift builds strength or size in the shoulders more effectively.
5. The Bent-Over Row
What did six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates and the greatest powerlifter of all time, Ed Coan, have in common? Mutant-like back development. What else did they have in common? They both performed HEAVY bent-over rows. This exercise builds strength in the entire posterior chain and should be a staple in every serious lifter's routine.
What do you notice about these five lifts? They're basic. Always prioritize the basics. Never stray from them.