Steiner's Top 21 Exercises - Do You Do Them?

Hitting it hard at age 60 - and still using the kind of heavy, compound barbell exercises that Brad Steiner recommended 50 years ago.

Hail to the Dinosaurs!

When I was a kid, my favorite Iron Game
author was Bradley. J. Steiner.  His work
appeared regularly in Strength and Health,
Muscular Development and Iron Man.

One of Steiner's classic series of articles
was a four-part opus titled, "The Essential
Exercises." It ran in Iron Man way back in
1969 or 1970.

For those of you who missed these articles
the first time around, here are Bradley J.
Steiner's "Essential Exercises."

Note that  there aren't too many of them --
and that they don't require much in the
way of equipment -- and they can be
performed in most home gym settings.

Steiner was a home gym trainer, and
believed that it was best to train at
home whenever possible. (For the
record, I agree with him.)

At the time he wrote his four-part series,
he trained in an apartment in Brooklyn --
using thick rubber pads to keep from
disturbing the neighbors when he lowered
the bar to the floor!

By the way, here it is 50 years later, and
I'm using thick rubber mats to train outside
on the concrete driveway. Some things never

Arms and shoulders

1. Barbell curls (strict)

2. Dumbbell curls (standing, seated or lying
back on an incline bench)

3. Press behind neck (standing or

Note: This was Steiner's favorite shoulder
exercise, by far.

4. Military press (strict)

Getting ready for a set of front squats. The towels help me hold onto the bar with my elbows raised high and the bar resting on my deltoids and wedged tight against my throat.  Note that the towels are for front squats only, not back squats. Use a Safety Squat Bar or Dave Draper's Top Squat device if you have tight shoulders and can't hold the bar for back squats.

5. Dumbbell presses (both arms together
or alternate arm style)

Note: Steiner did not believe in doing direct
exercises for the triceps, such as french presses
or triceps extensions. He believed they put too
much stress on the elbow joints. He also believed
(as did John Grimek) that overhead presses in
strict form were the very best exercise for the
triceps. Steiner also believed that bench
pressing was a great exercise for the triceps.


1. Light breathing pullovers with dumbbells
(performed after squats, with light weights,
and lots of deep breathing, solely as a way
to help expand the rib-cage)

2. Bench press (strict!)

3. Dumbbell incline press (strict and heavy)


1. Power cleans

Note: Steiner also liked high pulls.

2. Stiff-legged deadlifts

Note: this was Steiner's favorite exercise
for the low back.

3. The good morning exercise

4. Barbell bent-over rowing (strict!)

Note: This was Steiner's favorite
exercise for the upper back.

5. Dumbbell bent-over rowing (strict!)

6. Shoulder shrugs (barbell or

7. Bridging (for neck development)

Note: This was the first time I ever saw
anyone recommend neck training in a
muscle magazine.

Finishing a snatch at the outdoor gym here at Dino Headquarters.The snatch wasn't on Steiner's list of the top 21 exercises, but it's certainly a good one. And he did like power cleans and high pulls.


1. Squats

Note: As you might imagine, Steiner believed
that squats were the single best exercise.

2. The straddle lift

Note: I think Steiner liked this exercise
because John Grimek did them. He was
a big Grimek fan.

3. Calf raises


1. Leg raises -- preferably with iron boots

2. Dumbbell side-bends

3. Sit-ups with weight resistance -- preferably
on a sit-up board

And that was it. A total of 21 exercises. In Steiner's
opinion, the 21 BEST exercises. The "Essential

You may or may not agree with Steiner's choices,
although you probably agree with many of them.
But I like the idea of picking THE BEST exercises
and building your training programs around them.

There are literally thousands of exercises to do, but
you only have so much time and energy -- so why
not focus on the very best movements?

By the way, the fact that Steiner selected 21
"Essential exercises" did not mean you were
supposed to do all 21. You might use only five
or six in any one training program. But that's
a topic for another day.

As always, thanks for reading and have a
great day. If you train today, make it a
good one!

Yours in strength,

Brooks Kubik

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P.S. 3. Thought for the Day: "For best
use the best exercises." 

-- Brooks Kubik

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