“Being selective, doing less, is the path of the productive. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest.” Timothy Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week.
When it comes to exercise selection it’s all about keeping it simple with a minimalist approach. At the end of the day you do not need a million and one different exercises to achieve the goals you desire. Look at it this way, some people say change is good and another says change is bad. Who do you believe?
Personally I think change is great but when it comes to exercise plans change is great every 4-6 weeks. What benefit would you get if you changed your workouts everyday you went into the gym, probably none. It’s actually difficult to make measurable progress when you use too many exercises. Keep it to a few effective exercises.
The plan moving forward will be to eliminate what’s not useful and focus on one or two really beneficial full body exercise that is. Working a lot of muscles groups in one movement is highly beneficial. Let’s say, for example, you want to get rid of the dreaded bingo wings...you’re thinking why don’t I do tricep dips, tricep kickbacks, tricep extensions or even standing overhead extensions. Now i’m not expecting you to know what every exercise I’ve listed is but this analogy should help.
All the mentioned exercises work the triceps. You’re thinking YES, these are the exercise I need to do to rid me of the wings and I need to do them all. However, the limiting factor with these exercises is the tricep itself. As it is a relatively small muscle it can only do so much before fatigue sets in. There is one exercise there that has the greatest benefit, and that is the standing overhead extension as it is the most compound of the 4 exercises. I’ll explain what compound exercises are later on. The overhead position puts your full shoulder in flexion and allows the full long head of the tricep to get involved in performing the exercise effectively. Meaning that you can eliminate the other 3 from your exercise programme, due to their limiting factor, and focus on the one that will give you the greatest benefit.
Another great example would be to squat. Everyone know squats are king but don’t get caught up on this. If you can’t squat there are other solutions. I am going to use this for the benefit of the explanation. Most people think a squat is only for your legs but I can assure you there are many muscles involved by performing the squat. It’s a full body movement. A movement we find harder to do the older we get as we spend less time on the floor moving around and more time stiffing up in a chair.
Squatting recruits greater muscle fibres and puts a greater demand on the body’s Central Nervous system in comparison to a leg press machine which would only work the legs i.e quads. Unlike the leg press the squat works, the legs, core, back and glutes and therefore would be the better exercise to do if you were to only chose a couple exercises for your programme.
So let's talk about some of the terminology.
Main Lifts (Compound LIfts):
These are exercise that are most important on your quest to achieving your training goals. Often referred to as compound exercises these are often programmed at the start of the workout where they will have the greatest demand on the body. They serve as a staple in most programmes and a client's long term training goals. Compound exercises are exercises that involve multiple joints of the body and work lots of muscles allowing you to lift heavier weight and train the body more efficiently.
Accessory lifts (Isolation Lifts):
These lifts are included in a programme to add more volume to your training, which increases training stimulus in the programme. These lifts are often referred to as isolation exercises which mean they work on a single joint and muscles for example like a bicep curl. By using isolation lifts you you can target certain body parts without including to much stress on the rest of the body.
Performing compound exercises efficiently and consistently you will notice changes to your body without having to do 500 new exercises a week. Do them until you finally hit a plateau and then make small changes to rep ranges, set ranges, tempos and look at incorporating isolation exercise to target those weaker areas.
When selecting the right exercises, you first have to determine what your goals are. Once you have realised this have a look at the four main movement patterns.
The Main Movement Patterns:
I generally recommend doing compound exercises regardless of your training experience. I must stress here only if your body is capable of doing it to start with. Normally for beginner clients I would build up confidence, mobility and focus on the movement pattern first before putting on any kind of weight to the barbell. There are factors which will not allow it but that’s for another day. Listed below are some of compound movements and their variants which should be beneficial to any level of lifter. If you look to incorporate one exercise from each category the basics of a programme will be covered.
Squat - Barbell Squat, Goblet Squat, Rack Squat
Hinge - Deadlift, Romain DeadLift, Glute Bridge, Kettlebell Swing.
Push - Bench, Overhead Press, Push Up
Pull - Chin Ups/Pull Ups, Inverted Row, Lat Pull Down.
For new programmes I generally get people doing the three big lifts, this way they are recruiting the most amount of muscles fibres and will notice changes within the first 12 weeks of their programme. I’ll incorporate some fun exercises to finish of the session but the main focus will be the big 3. The big 3 consists of Bench, Squat and Deadlift. As you become more advanced you will notice your progress will slow down.This is a good sign that you are leaving the beginner stage and moving on to a more intermediate level of strength and fitness. One of the ways you can spice things is up to introduce different rep ranges, exercises and changing the total training volume of the exercises and therefor the programme. This is the stage that programme design and exercises selection plays a better role for the client to continue to make progress towards their goals.
For most people the main goal is body composition in general terms to lose weight and gain muscle. A great way to do this is to include compound exercises into your workout. Add in some HIIT (high intensity interval training) at the end of your workout and you’ll see the body fat drop on a monthly basis.
Why try and reinvent the wheel and change your programme every week?
For three to six months I would focus on technique, compound exercises and HIIT training. By focusing on simply getting better in these areas than previous weeks and working in the set and rep ranges advised by your trainer you’ll notice significant changes in body and strength.
If you are struggling to come up with what exercises to do and what days you should workout on then try this. By focusing on doing this routine 3 times per week it will keep your programme simple, easy to follow and enjoyable.
Exercises programming doesn't have to be difficult. Follow the simple steps and with the help of a trainer you’ll be a new you in no time.
Rome wasn't built in a day so why would you expect your fitness goals to be achieved in a short space of time. Reaching your fitness goals should be a journey and an enjoyable one at that. Don't let those Instgram models fool you!
My name is Calumn, founder of CD Fitness Coaching. You’ll find me in and around the gym and helping like minded people get the results they deserve. I enjoy everything from keeping fit, yoga, snowboarding, coffee and making people happy. If you would like to be a part of the bigger community join my Facebook group, Healthy Living With CD Fitness Coaching is a must.