1 – Squat.
Go to any book, magazine, blog or local gym wannabe expert on strength and there is one undeniable truth. The squat when performed with big weights and low reps will achieve overall size and strength. Now having said this the funny thing (or sad depending on how you look at it) is that in your average gym the majority of guys will happily bench all day or do curls until their arms have swelled to the point of stupidity but you would rarely seem them at the squat rack. The reason is because when done properly they hurt and most people frankly are soft! You want to set yourself apart from the rest of the sheep. Devote your life to becoming a squatting monster and you will be repaid many, many times over.
2 – Deadlift
I know what you are going to say. Your first 2 lifts are lower body lifts! Well firstly, I know and secondly if you are seeking real strength and athleticism if the largest muscle groups in the body like the glutes, quads and core aren’t strong then you have no right to claim that you are strong. Deadlifts when performed with maximal weights will test your resolve and will not just work your lower body. Anyone reading this that has lifted heavy on deadlifts will attest to the soreness the day after a big deadlift session in the forearms, biceps and traps, not to mention the quads, spinal erectors, glutes and hamstrings. Get strong, load up and stand up.
3 – Bench Press
How many times have you been asked, what can you bench? Yes it is a cliché, but clichés become just that for a reason, they are true and self-perpetuating. This was a difficult one because a strong case could be made for an overhead lift like the military press or behind the neck push press but I stuck with the bench because when fully loaded up and worked as hard as you can this lift will drive some serious strength gains in the pressing portion of functional human movement. Any man starting to push around greater than 125% of their bodyweight on the bench is going to be someone considered as strong.
4 – Wide Grip Chins
As a carry on from that last sentence under the bench press, anyone worth their while in the strength game that can perform multiple reps on multiple sets on wide grip chins just with their bodyweight let alone 125% of it is going to be carving out a worthy place as having strength compared to mere mortals. Wide grip chins particularly performed by big heavy guys is going to tax your upper body and be the perfect accompaniment to a big bench.
5 – Dips
I have seen it written many times and I must concur. The dip is the squat of the upper body. When worked hard and too exhaustion performing dips regularly and in particular working up to weighted dips will pack on size and strength. Depending on the angle of your body the versatility of the dip is great also. You can place an emphasis on your chest or your front delts and tri’s. Whichever way you go, if you dip frequently and hard, your upper body will be stronger for it.
If you could only ever perform 5 lifts these are the ones I would recommend. You may disagree and if so let me know but I would defy anyone to attack these lifts for a 6 week period and challenge me that they didn’t get stronger using these lifts.