Training Methodology Part 4: Exercise Selection

Training Methodology Part 4: Exercise Selection

This is my fourth and final article in my series on Training Methodology. If you missed the first 3 articles, check them out here: Part 1: Specificity of Training, Part 2: Periodization, and Part 3: Metabolic Pathways. In this article I will discuss the most important exercises for strength and power training and some general guidelines to prescribing exercises in your daily and weekly workout programs. Lets start out by defining the types of exercises we need.

Core Exercises
Perhaps the most important exercises in the strength training menu are what we call core exercises. Not to be confused with abdominal exercises, core refers to the exercises that use large muscle groups over multiple joints and load the spine. The most common are squats, deadlifts, presses, cleans, snatches, and jerks. If you are a competitive athlete, or just want to get the most out of your time in the gym, you should be doing some or all of these exercises on a regular basis. Core exercises strengthen the entire body and are proven to see the best training adaptations when performed correctly. I should note that all of these exercises should be performed with free weights and not machines. That pretty much means you should be using barbells, dumbbells, and other heavy weights or objects that are not attached to cables or anything else. Although certain machines have a purpose and are very useful at times, doing a leg press will never give you the same results as doing a back squat.

A Tad Bit More on Squats
It is my personal opinion that the back squat is the best exercise on the face of the planet and probably will continue to be as long as the Earth has a gravitational pull and there is a need for people to move heavy things. I have yet to find a healthy human that would not benefit from doing back squats in some capacity or the other. When done with correct form, the back squat will make you stronger, leaner, healthier, faster, more explosive, better looking, and reduced back and knee pain. The bottom line is that if you are a healthy and capable human that does not do back squats, or at least some form of squat with weight ( front squats, over head squats, etc), then you really aren't doing strength training at all. You are just wasting time.

Assistant Exercises
Assistant exercises work small muscles and usually only work across one joint. Common examples are bicep curls, triceps push downs, shoulder raises, etc. Although the meat of your program should be made up of core exercises, assistant exercises are good for injury prevention, helping to build up smaller muscles that are limiting core exercise performance, and to make yourself look pretty. Just like when we choose core exercises, these should be selected for a specific goal, even if that goal is just to have "big guns".
There is another group of exercises that are slightly different from assistant and not considered core that are very beneficial to most training programs on some level or another. These are body weight or gymnastic exercises. These can be as simple as push-ups or burpees and as complicated as muscle-ups or the iron cross. The simpler exercises are particularly beneficial when doing high intensity interval training, because you can go as hard as possible without the fear of injury from bad technique (my personal favorite is the burpee). Doing lots of pull-ups, push-ups, air squats, hand stand push-ups, muscle-ups, toes to bar, and other body weight or gymnastic movements improves coordination and body awareness along with strength and muscular endurance. Plus they workout great in a hotel room when you can't find a decent squat rack to get all nasty on.

A Little More Specificity
Now that we have a general understanding of core exercises, assistant exercises, and the importance of squatting, we need to talk more about specificity of training (this time in exercise selection). Although it's true that everyone should be doing back squats, a 40 year-old house wife does not necessarily need to be training the snatch if her only goal is to be healthy and look good (although the snatch is a great way to do both!). On the other hand, if you are an athlete that plays any type of ground based sport, you had better have some type of Olympic lifting in your regiment. The point here is that what you do in your program should mimic what we are training to achieve. A football player wants to forcefully and violently explode his hips to generate enough force to knock down another large human being. This movement pattern is almost identical to the hang or power clean. When deciding what exercises you should be doing, it should be clear that our training directly transfers to our goals. Additionally, we need to understand that the time we spend perfecting technique and potential risk of injury from more complicated exercises should play a role in selection as well. For example the snatch is an amazing lift that strengthens the entire body and develops amazing power. However, it is one of the most difficult lifts to learn good technique. So although the snatch would do wonders for the 40 year-old house wife I mentioned earlier, she could reach her goals doing less complicated lifts that are a little safer and easier to learn.

Fitting Everything Into the Program
Once you have a good idea of the exercises you want to do, we need to put them in a logical order throughout our program. When developing a program coaches must determine the training frequency for their athletes. This essentially breaks down into how many days a week the athlete will lift at a given point in time for the year. Athletes should lift more in their off-season when they are solely focused on developing strength and power. As you get closer to competition the coach generally adds more sport specific training in the form of speed and agility while backing off on the lifting. Finally, the athletes will enter a maintenance strength phase during the season when athletes are practicing and competing almost daily. With this in mind the strength coach must determine how many days a week the athletes should train to avoid overtraining and injury.
Once the frequency is determined we can decide how much we want to lift per training session. This is called our training volume. Volume is determined along with frequency so that the athlete has adequate time to recover between training sessions. It generally takes 48 hours to recover from an intense training session. However, that does not mean that we should only train once every two days. It just means that we need to plan and implement the correct exercises in an order that allows us train a certain set of muscle groups while another rests. For example, if we attempted to squat heavy every day for a week, or body would never fully recover and we very quickly see a decrease in performance and probably get injured. However, if we squat heavy on Monday and did predominantly lower body exercises with it, we could successfully train presses and upper body pulls the following day without over training. For this reason, a typical lifting week could include a leg intensive Monday, upper body intensive Tuesday, rest on Wednesday, legs on Thursday, and upper body again on Friday. We can also go as far as programming specific muscles from day to day. For instance we could train the back of the upper body which is responsible for most pulling movements one day and train the front of the upper body (used for pushing motions) the next. There are many different variations of training cycles and splits and none are particularly better than another. The key thing to take away here is that although we need to be specific and consistent with our exercise selection, we also need to vary them enough to allow full recovery between training sessions.

Full Circle
At this point in programming we begin to consider all of the basic principles discussed in articles 1, 2, and 3. We determine our rep schemes through periodization of our overall program and we determine our training modalities based on the metabolic pathways we want to target. The entire time we are focused on the specificity of training for our sports or to achieve our goals. As I have mentioned numerous times in this series, there are many different ways to plan a successful training program, but the basic principles of strength and conditioning must always be applied. Know your goals and be specific in your programming. Have a big picture or plan that you can use to periodize your training cycles. Know the basics of the metabolic pathways and target what you need most. Finally, select the exercises that are specific to your needs and give you best "bang for your buck".
This concludes my 4 part series on Training Methodology. I hope it helped you better understand our program and prepared you to evaluate your current program or perhaps create a new one. Stay posted to for more articles on training and everything else that's Slobby.
Go get after it.