The Fantastic Five “Five exercises you can base your program around to become jacked, shredded and athletic”

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The Fantastic Five “Five exercises you can base your program around to become jacked, shredded and athletic”

We have all heard of the Big 3 when talking exercises, they are the base of many a great training program. However I feel this base of exercises can be slightly altered and ultimately can be improved. What I have comprised is a list of five exercises that you can base your strength program around and experience huge gains in strength and size! The exercises on the following list can be used to increase max strength, muscle size, decrease body fat and build monster conditioning, it’s just down to you to choose how you use them.

When deciding on my 5 exercises I tried to think what I believe was important for human performance whether that be in the sporting arena or the battle of everyday life.

What I came up with is a list that could be use to improve as many aspects of human performance as possible, and here it is;

The Squat
The Deadlift
The Pull up
The weighted Carry
The Overhead press

Performing the exercises in this list will give you a monster posterior chain, tree trunk like legs, and a back like a silver back gorilla.

The Squat


The squat is the foundation of almost every program I write. There are not many sports I can think of that the squat wouldn’t help improve performance in…Actually there are not many reasons that I can think of as to why the squat wouldn’t improve your everyday life.

When mentioning the squat and using it as part of a program like this variations are a great way of keeping training fresh and exciting and producing new gains in strength, size and performance. For example some variations that would look to use as part of a program like this are:

– Front Squat
– Zercher Squat
– Paused Squat
-Goblet Squat
– Air Squat
– Overhead squat
-Split squat
-Unilateral or single leg squat

The amount of possibilities from just these variations of the squat is huge, whether size of endurance is your goal. Something on this list is for you!

The Deadlift


A true test of metal! If you’re not strong enough to lift that piece of iron off the ground then you are not going to lift it! The Deadlift will build the musculature of the posterior chain like no other, as well as building vice like grip strength to go with it. The deadlift is a true cornerstone of strength and a favorite of mine when thinking of what’s the best bank for my buck in terms of returns of time taken to do an exercise. In other words if I had 25 minutes to get a brutal work out, the Deadlift would be my number one choice!

Like the squat, the deadlift has a number of variations that can be used in your pursuit of a better more efficient you! Some of the variations I like to use are:

-Sumo Deadlift
-Straight leg Deadlift
– Romanian Deadlift or RDL
-The block pull
– Paused Deadlifts
– Deadlifts against bands or chains
-Unilateral or single leg RDL

As with the squat this list should be more than enough choice for you to build an effective program around. With both these compound exercises changing something as simple as the speed of the eccentric portion of the lift can be enough the kick the daylights out of you! You would be shocked how much harder adding 2-3 seconds into the eccentric portion of your lift can be.

The Pull-Up


If you can perform strict pull-ups with good form then you have a good standard of upper body strength, especially if you are a larger athlete. The pull up and its variants are my go to upper body exercise for building a thick back, huge lats and thick arms. There’s something about the pull up that makes you a competitive monster with those around you! How many of those reading were soooo envious of the first guy or girl to smash a set of pull-ups in middle or high school? It was almost like they were superhuman right? Ha whatever grip style or variation, the pull up is a great builder of relative strength, muscle size and endurance and has many variants to work with, including a very simple progression route for those that struggle with the movement.

What I’ll do for the pull up is make a list of progressions and a list of variations of the full pull-up.


-Assisted pull-ups (powerband or spotter)
-Horizontal row (varying degrees dependent on strength)
-TRX or gymnastic ring horizontal row

*If the previous lifts were too hard and you could not perform 8-1O strict reps then a variation of the dumbbell or barbell row is the next step

Full Variations:

-Resisted or weighted pull-up (weights, chains or bands)
-Gymnastic ring pull-up
-Fat grip or odd grip pull up
– Paused pull-up
-Variations of hand position and widths apart
-Towel or rope pull-up

The Overhead press


I think people will look for the bench press when looking at my upper body push exercise, however I believe that there is not much greater show of raw upper body strength and power than the overhead press. The overhead press will help build the musculature of the shoulders, arms, upper back and make you feel like an absolute beast whilst doing so.

Some of the variations I like to use are:

– Snatch Grip press
– Behind the neck push press
– Kettlebell press
-Dumbbell press
– Z- press
– Strict military press

The Weighted Carry


I love weighted carries! There’s not many clients I wouldn’t incorrect some variation of a weighted carry with. The weighted carry is a weapon that I think should be in most coach’s arsenals. What’s not to like? Leg strength, lower back, upper back, arms, core and a little but if cardiovascular work to top it off! This type of exercise truly is as versatile as you would like to make it, and has been part of my training since watching Zach Even-Esh put those young beasts of his through the ringer with sandbags and other odd objects. I remember thinking at the time how not only would this build my physical capacity but supercharge my mental strength too, and.. It did.

There are many variations of the carry that can be utilized depending on the context and aim of the training.
Some of the variations I like to use are:

-Farmers walks
-Overhead walks
-Sandbag carry
-Yoke walk
– Wheelbarrow
– Barbell zercher carry

As with most articles I like to give an example of how I may implement what I have spoken about, so I am going to do exactly that. Below I am going to show how your week could be arranged to utilize these five lifts in either a three-day or four day format.

Three-Day Format

Back Squat
Pull up

Overhead press

Front Squat
Weighted Carry

The Four-day option

Back Squat
Weighted carry

Overhead press

Weighted carry

Pull up
Overhead press

You may look at the structure of the week and think how boring is it going to be? Well.. Not very, because earlier in the article I wrote down numerous variations to keep training fresh and exciting.

Accessory lifts

I’m not going to try and be a purist and say ONLY DO THESE LIFTS, because that’s not me, I see the broader picture of training. What I am going to say is you are going to be hitting so pretty taxing compound lifts consistently whilst utilizing this method so try to be smart when choosing the Volume, intensity and amount of accessory lifts. Two to three well chosen lifts is more then enough to get a great workout! After all “accessory” explains its purpose itself.

Thanks for reading
Ricky Mcfarlane
Follow Ricky on Instagram @themcfarlanemethod

Don’t forget about the Mash Elite Weightlifting Team Camp:

We are hosting a three-day camp July 8-10 at the Mash Compound. It’s going to look like this:

• Day 1 Max Out Friday with the team and social afterwards
• Day 2 Clinic with Coach McCauley, Coach Wilkes, me and the team
• Day 3 Clinic about meet day prep and strategy, and then a sanctioned meet

We’ve decided to limit the camp to only 20 people, so don’t wait if you’re interested. Here’s the link to find out more:

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