Thursday 12 July 2012

Selecting the Best Exercises for Your Goals Part 3

In part 1 of this post, I wrote about the importance of choosing multi-joint movements. In part 2 I talked about selecting exercises from a movement template. Now, here are some more important tips for selecting the best exercises for your goals.

Pick the hard exercises
Our natural tendency is to pick the easier way out. If given the choice between a pull-up and  a pull-down, most people pick the pull-down (unless they know better). However, harder exercises give your body a greater stress and thus a greater reason to adapt. In most cases, harder = better.

Select exercises that pose a greater threat to the body’s survival
One of the reasons that squats are such a great exercise, is that they place a greater survival stress on the body than exercises like leg extensions. The body is designed to respond to stress in order to survive. With squats, your body says, "I'm going to get crushed and I better adapt to prevent that from happening". One of the ways the body reacts is to release hormones (e.g. testosterone) which lead to better results!

Emphasize free weight and body weight exercises over machines
Free weight and body weight exercises are great for building strength that you notice in real life (e.g. playing sports, helping your friends move, carrying luggage, etc). They also allow more variety which helps prevent what Paul Chek calls "pattern overload syndrome" (where you damage tissues from repeatedly being locked into the exact same movement pattern). If you are purchasing home gym equipment, then you also obviously save yourself a lot of money. In addition to all these, you also work more muscles. For example, if you were to do a 1-arm DB shoulder press, you would work not only your deltoids and triceps, you also got a lot of hip and trunk stability work and burned a lot of extra calories in the process.

Consider your available coaching
No exercise is worth doing incorrectly. Exercises such as squats and deadlifts offer incredible benefits but also a higher risk for injury if done incorrectly. Be sure to get qualified coaching so you learn to do the best exercises in the safest and most effective way possible. One the most valuable investments you can make for your body is to invest in proper coaching. 

Consider accessibility & practicality
What do you have access to on a regular basis? How set-up intensive is the exercise? Is this set-up time worth the benefit you will get from the exercise. Is this exercise realistic based on where you train and what you have access to?

Consider past/current injuries
If you have an injury (or have had problems in the past), be sure to get assistance from an appropriate therapist to determine if certain exercises would not be appropriate for you and if you need some rehab before getting into regular training.

Keep a balance between opposing movements
A great thing about selecting exercises based on a movement template as opposed to body parts is that it helps you keep better structural balance. As a general guideline, be sure to balance pushing and pulling (horizontal & vertical) and knee & hip movements. The expection to this is if you need to correct an existing  imbalance. For example, most people are weaker in their upper body pulling movements and should do more upper body pulling than pushing. 

Avoid exercises that feel bad on your joints during or after training
With the assumption that you are doing the exercise correctly and have not pre-existing condition, if a version of a certain exercise (e.g. bench press) is creating bad pain during or after the training session, look for another version of the movement (e.g. DB bench press) that lets you train pain free.

When appropriate, emphasize exercises where you move your body through space
Moving your body through space is great for goals such as muscle gain, fat loss and performance. Most of the very best exercises (e.g. squats, deadlifts, lunges, push-ups, dips, pull-ups, ect) involve you moving the body through space.

Select exercises that are "easy" to progress
Back when I was new to training, I used leg curls as my primary hamstring exercise. It was a frustrating exercise that didn't seem to progress. Later, I learned about Romanian deadlifts. After about 4 months, I had added over 100lbs to my Romaian deadlift (5-10lbs a session adds up quickly). To my delight I was bigger and stronger. Also, when I went back to try leg curls, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was stronger at them - even though I had not been training them. Exercises like deadlifts are in no way easy to do, but you can add an extra 5lbs a training session to them for a long period of time and end up with a huge improvement. Other exercises (e.g. dumbbell side raises) do not offer this luxury and therefore are much more limited in the amount of results they can deliver. Remember: a positive change to the barbell = a positive change to your body!

Spend some time doing exercises you do not like to do
If you do not like it, it may be exactly what you need to do. We all naturally gravitate towards our strengths and in many areas of life, this can be a good thing - but not in training. For example, most people who are bad at overhead and incline pressing tend to stick with flat bench pressing (especially if they train at a public gym). However when it comes to your body, you need to keep somewhat of a balance. Do the things you don't like to do so your body will be healthy enough to do the things you love to do!

Now, get out there and pick the best exercises for YOU!

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