Tip: The Only Three Lifts

If you were limited to just one bodyweight exercise, one kettlebell exercise, and one dumbbell movement, what would they be? Try these.

A T Nation reader recently asked us, "You can only do three exercises – one bodyweight exercise, one kettlebell exercise, and one dumbbell exercise. What are they?" Okay, I'll bite.

I'd choose pull-ups as they're aptly nicknamed "the upper body squat." You could probably develop a pretty good torso and arms by doing nothing but pull-ups.

I'd go with swings, mostly because of a research study I wrote about in The Absolute Best Way to Burn Calories. It showed kettlebell swings, done in a particular manner, burn roughly 20 calories per minute, which is astronomical when compared to most other calorie-burning exercises.

KB Swing

As far as the specific protocol, researchers from the University of Wisconsin had a group of men and women do alternating one-arm KB swings for 20 minutes. The number of swings they did per set was based on how many kettlebell snatches each subject could do in one minute and dividing the number by 4, ostensibly coming up with a number like 4, 5, 6, or 7.

So they swung a kettlebell that weighed either 12, 16, or 20 kilograms, say, 6 times, and then rest 15 seconds. Then they'd do 6 swings with the other arm and rest 15 seconds. They'd go back and forth like this for 20 minutes.

The only other activity I could find that burns a roughly equivalent amount of calories is cross country skiing done uphill at a really fast pace. And even if you're not interested in losing weight, the kettlebell swing works as a pretty nice conditioning exercise, too.

I choose goblet squats. To do these, you hold a dumbbell against your chest, vertically, grabbing on with both hands just underneath the innermost plate (like you're in King Arthur's court and you're holding a fat goblet against your chest). Then you just squat down until your elbows slide past the inside of the knees.

Here's Dr. Bret Contreras with a breakdown:

The beauty is that they're almost impossible to do with bad form. To paraphrase Dan John, the squat, when done properly, is probably the most effective exercise there is. Done incorrectly, it can cause more damage than any other exercise. Doing it goblet squat-style ensures you do it right.