There is a seemingly endless selection of strength training exercises. The key to successful training is to pick the best exercise for the goal given your limitations, injuries and abilities. It may be perfectly appropriate to choose the dumbbell fly over the bench press, or the lat pull down over the pull up. There are no irreplaceable exercises, but one exercise comes very close- the deadlift.
I remember the first time I was exposed to a deadlift- I just didn't get it. It seemed almost incomplete. "I just lift it up? And this is supposed to help me how...?". I have coached hundreds of new lifters on the deadlift, and many get confused by the simplicity of the movement. They feel it should be more complex. Yeah, it is a simple exercise, but never confuse simplicity with efficacy. In fact, the simplicity might just be why this exercise is so powerful. There is nothing fancy going on, just the bar in your hands, your feet on the ground, and the pure application of your strength. Technique can be learned in about 5 minutes, and really, it is just unlearning the terrible lifting mechanics we all learned from those telling us we should lift with our legs. Most new lifters can be competent within a few sessions because it is a movement that we have all done in some way. Lifting any object off the floor constitutes a "deadlift", whether it is a bag of groceries, a piece of paper, or something heavier like the propane bottle for your barbecue.
Brandon's 650lb Deadlift. Great For MMA AND Moving Furniture
Very few lifts actually replicate daily movements. And this is OK, because strength training isn't supposed to replicate daily movements, or even sport specific movements. Strength training is supposed to build strength in the target musculature (squats don't replicate a sprint at all, but increasing strength and power in your legs with squats will improve your sprint times). However, when an exercise does accurately replicate a functional movement, and the exercise is also highly effective at building general strength, then you have something very special. The deadlift is just that- it is both general AND specific. It trains your whole body to be get stronger AND it gets you really good at lifting heavy things- a somewhat risky maneuver when you aren't physically prepared for it, but something we must do our entire lives. It helps you do anything that requires a strong grip, back, shoulders, core or legs (because it trains these muscles), and it will make lifting up your couch a lot easier (because you are stronger AND better at lifting things off the ground).
It makes you strong... check. It gets you better at lifting things off the ground... check. But what if you don't care about those things? What if you just want to look good, or run a 3 hour marathon? Well, consider this... being stronger is ALWAYS better than being weaker, and lifting things off the floor is a near lifelong requirement. Plus, remember when I wrote about goals? Here is the thing with goals- no goal is inherently "better" than another. Someone might want to look good at the beach, while the other wants to throw a harder kick in Muay Thai. Both are completely legitimate and worthy goals. Since the deadlift makes you stronger and more functional, it has a place in the pursuit of just about any goal. Want to run a faster marathon? Deadlift. Want to grow some muscle for the beach? Deadlift. Need to carry an 80lb pack on a hike through the mountains? Definitely Deadlift. Want to preserve your bone health as you age? Deadlift too. Want to maintain the basic capability of being able to safely pick something up off the ground? You get the idea... Maybe some of those benefits surprised you, but the deadlift can help you age gracefully, maintain basic functions, build muscle, improve athletic performance, and prepare you for the random lifting you will inevitably encounter in your daily life. That qualifies it for a top spot in EVERYONE'S training.