An Expert Trainer Reveals The Three Exercises No Strength Training Plan Should Be Without, And Why

Coach holding a clipboard talks to client in the gym
(Image credit: Anchiy / Getty Images)

Not all exercises are created equal, and some deserve a spot in your workout plans more than others. 

To start establishing a hierarchy, I asked top personal trainer Ollie Thompson which three moves he prioritizes above all others, and his answer wasn’t the often recommended trio of barbell exercises—the back squat, bench press and deadlift

Instead, he served up some surprising yet worthy exercises to help you elevate your training. 

These include “the king of single-leg strength exercises”, an “effective and accessible variation” of a back-building staple and a loaded carry to set you on your way to a “robust, pain-free, and well-functioning body”.

Three Strength Training Exercises No Plan Should Be Without

1 Split squat 

Ollie Thompson demonstrates two positions of the split squat

(Image credit: Ollie Thompson)

“I consider the split squat to be the king of single-leg strength exercises,” says Thompson. “I’m a big advocate of single-leg strength exercises because they translate to everyday life. When we walk, run, jump and play sports, we’re predominantly using one leg at a time.

“There are many split squat variations that you can try; they all work your legs in slightly different ways and have their own benefits. 

“The traditional split squat shown here is a straightforward variation that almost anybody can do to strengthen their glutes and quads while building more robust knees, hips and ankles.”

Brush up on your technique with our guide to how to do a split squat.

2 Suitcase carry

Ollie Thompson demonstrates two positions of the suitcase carry using a kettlebell

(Image credit: Ollie Thompson)

“The suitcase carry is just one of many carry exercises that I love to use with clients, and it’s definitely more challenging than it looks,” says Thompson. 

“The suitcase variation in particular—walking with a weight in just one hand—challenges your core laterally, helping to build spinal stability and improve the relationship between shoulders, rib cage and pelvis, which is important for a robust, pain-free and well-functioning body.”

Find out more about loaded carries, including how to do this one-arm variation.

3 Incline bench row 

Ollie Thompson demonstrates the chest-supported dumbbell row

(Image credit: Ollie Thompson)

“A rowing exercise needs to be in this list, and the chest-supported dumbbell row is one of the most effective and accessible variations,” says Thompson. 

“Building a strong upper back is crucial to not only help us to move and function well, but also can help mitigate any lower back pain.”

Read our form guide to the incline bench row.

Harry Bullmore
Staff writer

Harry covers news, reviews and features for Coach, Fit&Well and Live Science. With over a decade of training experience, he has tried everything from powerlifting to gymnastics, cardio to CrossFit, all in a bid to find fun ways of building a healthy, functional body.