How many of my top 5 and bottom 5 exercises are you adding to your workout routine?

I thought I’d take a break from the fitness soapboxing and delve into a more practical arena for a post or two. This post will break down my TOP 5 and BOTTOM 5 strength and conditioning exercises.

These exercises are ranked based on their potential for injury, effectiveness, functional usability, and bang for your buck efficiency.

I’ll start with my BOTTOM 5 so I can finish the article with a more positive vibe.

  1. Taking the number one worst spot is the torso twist in a v-up position. This exercise puts a ton of shear and torque on the low back, THEN adds spinal twisting to boot. If you have a lower back issue, this one is actually hard to even witness. If you don’t, and you’re doing these (especially with extra weight), you’ll probably soon be in the ranks of those with back pain. The little ab work you get isn’t worth the cost.

2) Coming in at number 2 is forced range of motion squats, aka going “ass to floor” when your form clearly doesn’t support that. In the fitness world, its not uncommon to hear “if you’re not squatting all the way to the floor, you’re not squatting.” Ninety percent of those who prescribe to this notion don’t have the mobility to perform these, and the resulting squat looks like a combination of a good morning and a slight knee bend. The lumbar flexion, or “wink” often seen at the bottom of this movement loads the lower back tremendously. If you cant stay vertical with a neutral spine throughout your squat, you shouldn’t be squatting that deep.

3) The leg press. As far as functional movement goes, this exercsie is about as dysfuntional as they come. Lying on your back in a lounger pressing up? Along with this obvious limitation is the fact that full range of motion leg presses almost always flex your lumbar spine at the bottom. Under a load. That’s bad. Also, if you’re an athlete, this one does not match your athletic needs…Let’s hope you aren’t spending too much time on your back during your games. The leg development that you’ll get with this one isn’t worth the strain on the back and hips.

4) The upright row. This exercise puts the lifter in a pronated, internally rotated shoulder position. That, along with a typically flexed upper back creates a poor movement environment for moving the shoulder. Meaning, you’ll likely feel some impingement in the joint and will slowly wear away at your connective tissue with repetitive use. There are too many other great shoulder exercises to waste your time grinding your joints with this one.

5) Back hyperextensions. Training the muscles of the lower back to forcefully extend the lumbar spine from a flexed starting position is stupid. The muscle, including the core muscles that surround the low back are designed to work in unison to create hoop tension around the lower back, effectively creating a tense “girdle” to limit movement. To specifically train these muscles to move against the weight of your body will create back problems for you. Let the glutes and hamstrings do the work that you’re taxing the lower back with.

Honorable mention: burpees, supermans, and sit ups.

And know for the TOP 5.

  1. The deadlift. It’s hard to imagine a more functional movement pattern than the deadlift. Lifting kids, getting in and out of cars, exploding off the line in football, going to the restroom all require deadlift style movement patterns. The main feature of a deadlift, the hinge of the hip, is a must train muscle group for athletics and a requirement of normal, everyday walking. The combination of core work, upper back work, and your entire lower extremity makes this a very efficient, effective exercise. The deadlift may not be for everyone. Deadlifting from the floor with a back issue will exacerbate the issue. Even most of those folks can safely deadlift from an elevated surface, though.

2) The pull/chin up. In my opinion this is the king of upper body functional strength training. Done well, this exercise blasts the core, upper back extensors, lats, biceps and shoulder stabilizers. If you can’t do body weight pull or chin ups, use a long strength band to assist you.

3) The goblet squat. People who can’t squat can almost always goblet squat. This squat variation keeps the weight close to the chest, putting some awareness on the upper back extensors. The result is a very vertical, counter balanced squat that is typically performed deeper than most bar squats. The core is involved and quads, glutes, and hamstrings are allowed to provide the horsepower.

4) The farmers walk. This is nothing more than a functional, unilateral, walking core exercise. You’re whole body is involved, from your traps, shoulders, lats, core, biceps, single leg hip stabilizers, glutes, hamstring, quads, and ankle stabilizers. This is a huge bang for your buck exercise. If you want to test how functional all of your other strength training is, see if you can farmers walk with half your body weight (plus) in each hand.

5) All medicine ball throws. For training functional power, this group of exercises is a good bet. Power training often entails learning difficult, body and joint taxing exercises. The relatively light loads and joint friendly movement patterns of these throws allow even novice exercisers a chance to train powerfully. Overhead throws, rotational throws, slams, and presses are all great variations that involve powerful movement and awesome core stability training.

Honorable mention: The overhead kettlebell press, the hip bridge/thrust, planking variations.

If you have questions on these, or any other exercises, email me at

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

It’s your turn. Emerge.

Why not you?

“You’ll Never Realize Your Fitness Goals.” -You

Take a step forward.

“It’s not time. Remember when you tried to start an exercise regimen in January last year? Let’s wait until March when things aren’t as hectic. You’ll be ready then.”

“You need to get into better shape before you make it back into the gym. You should run outside for a few weeks, THEN go back.”

“Dieting has never worked for you. You need to find time to pick up that fat-loss supplement. That will be the difference. That’s when you’ll make the change.”

“It’s cold outside. It’s hot outside. You’re too fat. You’re too skinny. You’re too old. You’re too busy.”

Your own mind can tell you some pretty shitty things.

Author Steven Pressfield, in his book “The War of Art,” calls this toxic inner dialogue “resistance.”

Resistance is fear. Resistance asks us to postpone action and to rationalize our current, comfortable situation. Resistance will incessantly whisper in your ear that “its not time,” or will conjure up any possible negative consequence of action.

According to Pressman, you should ask yourself “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

Resistance won’t go away. Whatever story it’s telling you now will be there next week, and next year. Resistance will invent new stories to keep you from action.

Resistance will remind you of past failures. It will give you countless reasons NOT to act, and it can be convincing.

Resistance can come in the form of binge TV watching, excessive drinking, or other activities that can temporarily distract you from doing what you know you need to do.

If you allow it, the fear that resistance instills into you can stop you from doing the EXACT thing you need to do. You already know that, otherwise resistance wouldn’t be talking to you so loudly.

And I’m not talking about a one-in-a-million Rocky Balboa story. This isn’t an invitation to up and climb Mount Everest. This is about doing what people do hundreds of thousands of times every day.

Just start something, and then keep going.

Every single person who has ever had a fitness success story has started with resistance, and has eventually disregarded it in favor of action.

Why not you?

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For the Week 6 measurement days, they will be on Tuesday, April 18 from 6 pm to 7 pm and Wednesday, April 19 from 7 am to 8 am.

Measurement days for the end of the 12 weeks will be posted 2 weeks prior to each week.

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Existing class packages can be frozen until the end of the 12 week promotion, or the balance can be credited toward the 12 week unlimited class package.



  • 6:00 AM – Strength 101 With Kathryn
  • 11:30 AM- Tabata with Ben
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  • 6:00 AM – Boot Camp with Keelin
  • 7:00 AM – Strength 101 with Kathryn


  • 6:00 AM – Strength 101 with Kathryn
  • 11:30 AM- Tabata with Ben
  • 7:00 PM – Strength 101 with Keelin


  • 6:00 AM – Boot Camp with Keelin
  • 5:30 PM- Boot Camp with Kim


  • 6:00 AM – Strength 101 with Kathryn
  • 11:30 AM- Tabata with Ben


  • 9:00 AM – Strength 101 with Keelin

Relax and Enjoy Everything

Train hard. Eat good. Move More. Live a Little.

Ive come to something of an epiphany as of late concerning my own health and fitness philosophy.

Truth be told, this thought has been incubating for some time, ive just been hesitant to fully accept it.

We have all been inundated, especially in the last five years or so, with the ultra healthy lifestyle message. Social media, mass media, gym selfies and billboards reinforce the message.

At first, it was a good message. Eat clean most of the time. Eat a lot of clean protein for strength. Eat a lot of veggies for health. Drink a lot of water. Use supplements to add to your diet what you’re deficient in.

The message was to move more. Do some resistance training. Walk or do something to elevate your heartrate a few times per week.

Those are pretty good messages, but they weren’t sexy enough.

Since then, the message has morphed.

Don’t poison your body ever with less than perfect health food. Don’t eat for taste. Don’t drink calories. Enjoy that bag of celery and accept your bland fate because its healthy.

Also, do more than more. Never take a day off. Winners don’t quit, they do more. Your friends are your lifting buddies. Your favorite hangout should be the gym. Your world should be devoted to your next workout.

Your enjoyment in life should be training, eating for training, sleeping and recovery so you can train again.

For what?

Most of the time, training is done with a goal in mind.

Sometimes, it’s to better your performance in a sport or recreational activity.

But most of the time the goal, in my opinion, should be to increase the quality of your life.

I’m going to say it.

Eating is more than fueling your body. Eating is and should be pleasureable. Sometimes, that should include things you like. I mean things you REALLY like.

Training is rewarding and fun, and sometimes its grueling and difficult.

Here’s a secret, you can love training AND love other things, too. Even BAD things, sometimes. You may even like to do somethings that aren’t getting you any gains in the gym.

So what.

The whole idea of fitness, again, is to IMPROVE the quality of your life. Even if that means looking and feeling better when you’re being occasionally “bad.” Fitness is a supplement, a way to a better life, but its not an end in itself.

Take days off. Occasionally, take a week off. Have some “light” days in the gym.

Ignore social media and the pressure to be “always on.” No matter what people try to project, nobody is always on.

Training your body and eating healthy are just components of a happy, quality life. Enjoying other aspects of what life has to offer, even if they are on the proverbial “bad” list keeps life interesting and enjoyable.

Train hard. Eat good. Move more. Live a little.

Emerge Class Schedule

The Teacher’s Boot Camp is available to non teachers; we do ask that you contact us first for more information about it. If you have any questions, please give us a call at 636-757-3726 or email us at!



  • 6:00 AM – Strength 101 With Kathryn
  • 11:30 AM – Tabata with Ben
  • 5:30 PM – Boot Camp With Keelin
  • 6:00 PM – Insanity with Jaime


  • 6:00 AM – Boot Camp with Keelin
  • 7:00 AM – Strength 101 with Kathryn
  • 4:00 PM – Teacher’s Boot Camp with Kim*


  • 6:00 AM – Strength 101 with Kathryn
  • 6:00 AM – Insanity with Jaime
  • 11:30 AM – Tabata with Ben
  • 7:00 PM – Strength 101 with Keelin


  • 6:00 AM – Boot Camp with Keelin
  • 4:00 PM – Teacher’s Boot Camp with Kim*
  • 5:30 PM- Boot Camp with Kim


  • 6:00 AM – Strength 101 with Kathryn
  • 11:30 AM- Tabata with Ben


  • 9:00 AM – Strength 101 with Keelin

Try a Little Less

This can be counter-productive, so…

Don’t be afraid to try different.

I was brought into the lifting world with a bodybuilding message.

At the age of 14, I was inundated with “information” from bodybuilding magazines.

“Lift for 3 hours a day, ideally splitting the time between two workouts.”

“If you’re not puking at the end of your leg day, you haven’t worked hard enough.”

“Pick two body parts per day and destroy them with as many sets as possible.”

“Any day off is a day you’re not making gains and someone else is.”

Etcetera, etcetera, blah blah blah.

I did all of this, and it worked.

Then, I did the opposite, and it worked.

At first, I worked out for 2 hours a day 6 days a week.

For years.

And I had good results. I was strong and had gained the muscle that I was after.

I competed in 5 bodybuilding shows and did well.

Then it got…old.

Let me tell you, you can only do so many “chest days” before the whole thing becomes stale.

Then I tried something else. I focused on Olympic lifting for 2 years.

This was a departure from the reps, sets, and bodypart training I was used to.

More rest, less total volume, generally heavier loads, and less training days.

And it worked.

I kept my physique and learned some new lifts to boot.

Then 4 kids caught up with me and time became more precious than ever. Every minute spent in the gym meant I was sacrificing a minute in some other aspect of my life.

So I decided to bring my training time per day down to 45 minutes. I added a few runs of 2 miles in per week. I focused on 4 large movement patterns for strength (push and pull, squat and hinge) and did a handful of single joint accessory exercises to round out the workout.

I’m lifting 4x per week, and its working.

I’m keeping my physique up and feel generally less achy.

Moral of the story, it’s hard to change what you’ve always done, especially if what you have done in the past worked. The thought often is “if I spend less TIME lifting, or if I change what has worked, my gains will go away, or I’ll stop improving.”

I’ve come to understand, at least for my workouts and most of the clients I’ve trained over the years, that a few QUALITY workouts with a sharper focus work almost as well as more, much longer, less focused workouts.

Think of it like this: the first 40 minutes of a workout gives you 95% of the work you need to make gains, the rest of the time gives you relatively small return.

If it takes me another 40–50 minutes to add only 5% of benefit to my workout, I’d rather spend that time on some other aspect of my life that can benefit more from that time. For me, the same applies to training days after 4 a week.

Try different. Try less.

The fitness bible is mostly unproven dogma with no real substance, anyway. What works best for you may be something you’re nervous to try because “that’s not the way its always been done.”

Give that something else a try.

It may give you equal or even better results, possibly save you some time, and can reinvigorate your workout motivation.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

Simple and Effective

Basic is Beautiful.

Knee surgeons often perform the same surgery, the same way, hundreds of times a year. They perform it the same way because it’s the best, most effective way to do it.

They don’t change the protocol because it’s boring.

They stick to the routine because it’s effective.

Trainers (and trainees) often get caught up in changing workout routines just for the sake of change. This is done to combat boredom or to “confuse” muscle into getting stronger. Most of the time, this just ensures you don’t really get better at anything, and sub-par exercises are often chosen simply because they are different.

A goblet squat performed by Ben Serangeli.

Sticking to a routine, often a basic routine, is the best way of tracking change and encouraging progressive gains.

It’s rare to see the “basic” exercises done very well. There is simply no reason (when improvement is the goal) to move on from a basic exercise when it cannot be performed with precision.

Stick to what works.

Progress when you are ready, but know that improving your basics will get you further, faster.

Plus, doing the ordinary extraordinarily well feels really good, and it’s obvious when you see it.

The Basics:

Lower body push pattern: front or goblet squat, back squat, split squat.

Lower body pull pattern/ hip hinge: RDL, kettlebell swing, hip bridge.

Upper body press pattern: overhead press, push up, chest press.

Upper body pull pattern: pull up, row.

Progress to single arm or leg versions. (single leg squats or single arm presses)

Progress to dynamic versions. (walking lunges or push press)

Progress to powerful versions. (jumps and throws)

Have questions or want to see demonstrations?

Email me at

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

Tell me one thing

And shut the f**k up!

Rapid firing movement cues to your client during an exercise is dumb.

The desire to see a movement pattern performed PERFECTLY is understandable. After all, as a coach, your job is to ensure the safety and effectiveness of your clients strength training program.

Choose the most important cue and have your client focus on that.

The squat, as basic as it seems, has so many intricacies that, if you were to explain them all at once to even a novice lifter, the information would be overwhelming.

That’s when prioritizing the cueing process comes in.

Take the squat for example again. What about that squat, for that person, needs urgent attention. A flexed spine? Diving forward on the way down? A shift to one side? “Caving” knees? A reminder for core bracing?

Imagine if you mentioned all of those, plus more, to a client in the middle of a squat set.

I have to confess, I’m guilty of this often. The need to correct and sometimes just TALK leads me to overwhelm a client during a set with a barrage of feedback.

Sometimes I tell myself to just shut up and watch during a set, saving my simplified feedback for after the set when the client can pay closer attention.

So, if a fix has to be made on the spot, pick the most important thing that can be fixed with a simple cue. Let the client focus entirely on that one thing until they don’t have to focus on it anymore. Then pick another one.

Throwing up information all over a client during a complicated exercise will only hinder their ability to improve the movement. And they might just get annoyed.


Something else to consider is whether or not a cue CAN fix the movement on the spot. Cueing someone with poor thoracic mobility to simply “keep their back straight” wont fix the problem on the fly. Most fixes require some specific strengthening, which takes time to correct. Cue only the aspects of movement the client is CAPABLE of improving, and has simply lost focus on.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

Your Gap is Showing

“I dunno, she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.”

Sylvester Stallone- Rocky

Listening to a popular strength and conditioning personality speak about his fitness and performance philosophy, I heard something that resonated.

Examine your fitness routine, and then fill in the gaps.

What does that mean?

You can take any athlete, or any weekend warrior, or senior citizen training to improve the quality of their life and apply this idea.

Spinning enthusiasts will spin.

Runners will run.

Lifters will lift.

Soccer players will play soccer.

But with gaps in their resistance training regimen, performance and fitness will suffer.

So how do you identify gaps in your program?

Dan John, the aforementioned strength and conditioning expert, identifies 5 basic movement abilities that should be emphasized in anybody’s training regimen. Because you’re a moving human being, you need these.

The Hinge:

Hip Bridge

Examples are deadlifts, RDLs, kettlebell swings, hip bridges, etc.

The target here is the posterior chain, glutes, hamstrings, and core.

The Squat:

Goblet Squat

Examples are back squat, front squat, split squat, and lunges.

The target here is a combination of lower body muscle including quads and hips, upper back and core.

Upper Body Press:

Overhead Push Press

Examples are bench press, overhead press, med ball presses and various angles of push ups.

The target is shoulders, chest, triceps, and core.

Upper Body Pull:

Band Assisted Pull Up

Examples are pull up variations, rows, and dragging by pulling.

The target is back, biceps, posterior shoulder, and core.

Loaded Carries:

Farmers Walk

Examples are farmers walks, asymmetrical farmers walks, and overhead loaded walks.

The target is the integration of the whole body with emphasis on core stability.

These are just example exercises that emphasize a movement pattern, definitly not an exhaustive list.

This group of movement competencies represent the basics, the fundamentals of human movement, and they should be included to some extent in everyone’s training program.

After that, a persons sport or specific fitness goal can dictate an emphasis specifically on one movement over another, or on other exercises that would benefit specifically that persons needs.

The idea of “gap filling” can apply to other aspects of fitness and well being, too. The person who has perfected their workout regimen, but is limited based on iffy nutrition has a gap. The person who has a perfect diet and has a regular routine of physical activity, but has terrible sleep habits has a large gap to fill. Gaps limit potential.

Fill your gaps.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS

Questions, as always, can be directed to:

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