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This or That - Exercise Selection

Let’s start with an old saying, “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” When it comes to choosing exercises to put in your program, don’t bench just because the other guy or girl is benching, choose what is right for you. Easier said than done when there are so many exercise choices out there. Sure if you are trying to build up shoulder and chest muscles or competing in powerlifting, benching might be the answer, but first ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is your goal – what are you trying to accomplish with each session and by the completion of the program?

  2. How many times a week are you able to train?

  3. How much time do you have to train during each session?

  4. What is your current training experience? Are you new to the gym, training to compete, or are you looking to try a new program for better progress?

  5. Where are you lacking mobility (ability to move through full ranges of motion)?

  6. What muscles/muscle groups are the weakest?

  7. Which muscle/muscle groups are the strongest?

Once you have an outline of your answers, you can start picking through exercises that are specific to your goals. Think about how many different types of squats there are; High Bar Back Squats, Low Bar Back Squats, Front Squats, Overhead Squats, Sumo Squats, Box Squats, Bulgarian Split Squats… yeah this list can go on forever. Back squats (when done at full range of motion – ROM) help strengthen the posterior chain (glutes, back, hips), while your front squats are going to help build up your core and strengthen your quads. Which one do you need? Maybe both, but you have to determine what your goals are and what you need to strengthen before throwing them into a program just because.


Let’s take one step back before we layout the program. Before executing the chosen exercises for each session, I highly recommend moving through each movement using your body weight or light resistance. If you can’t move through ROM with body weight or light resistance, you can’t fully activate the muscles you are trying to train and you may end up injured. Test the movements first, determine where you are tight and figure out what mobility techniques are appropriate to develop full ROM in that specific movement. Below are some of my favorite mobility techniques, check them out!

Continue to use body weight and light resistance until full ROM is possible. Once that is achieved begin loading the exercise (How to prescribe loads, volume, and intensity for specific goals will be discussed in a later article). Additionally, while developing ROM, choose other exercises that allow you to focus on your weak areas until you can successfully complete the larger more complex movements. For example, if you can’t get full ROM in your squat, you can do mobility work in combination with other leg exercises: Box Squat, Lunges, Leg Press.

Establishing The Plan:

Unfortunately, to write each goal out there and a plan for the purpose of this blog would 1 – be exhausting, 2 – no one would read it, 3 – each plan is individualized, this is just to help you start thinking about what you should be doing. Here is an example of a plan based on the following goal.

Goal/Purpose of Training: To put on 8 lbs of muscle in 12 weeks (Keep in mind, there are many variables that attribute to the success of this goal; nutrition, sleep, and training consistency, exercise frequency, intensity, load, volume, rep scheme, current training experience and so on. For now we are just going to lay out the skeleton).

  • # of Days Available to Train per Week: 4

  • # of Hours per Day to Train: 1 Hr

  • Training Complications: Overhead movement, weak shoulders

  • Weakness: Back, shoulders, occasional hip pain.

  • Strengths: Legs, Chest, and Core

With a goal to put on muscle, training frequency should be moderately high (4-5 days a week). For the purpose of this example, let’s go with split days – 2 days upper and 2 days lower. Let’s also say the subject spent time mobilizing and building strength to allow for full ROM in all of his/her exercise choices (that doesn’t mean stop mobilizing, it becomes a part of the program). Where do we go from there? Start putting the skeleton together. Here are a few rules/tips to follow:

  1. Movement and mobility prep/corrective exercises prior to session and then prior to each exercise if needed.

  2. Complex or Primary Movements First – Squats, Deadlifts, or some variation.

  3. Bi-lateral and Unilateral accessory movements second – Lunges, Leg Press…

  4. Isolated muscles third – Calf Raises, Hamstring Curls, Leg Extensions…

Day 1: Legs & Core

  1. Pick 2 primary movements