Your practical guide to exercise selection (4 points)

written by Philip Stefanov  |  DECEMBER 21, 2021

Exercise selection is a topic of interest, and you can find countless recommendations for which exercises to do and why.

While beneficial, the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming, especially for people new to training. I remember how frustrated I felt when choosing exercises back in the day. “Should I do the dumbbell or barbell press? Lunges or leg press? Front or back squats?”

With that in mind, I decided to make this week’s newsletter a practical guide to exercise selection. Let’s go over the four points you need to consider when picking each movement.

1. Does it Help You Feel The Correct Muscles Working?

Feeling the correct muscles is important when choosing what exercises to do. For example, the bench press is often touted as one of the best chest-builders out there. But I’ve come across people who barely feel their chest doing any work during the exercise. So, despite the popularity, I recommend doing other exercises that might work better:

  • Dips
  • Dumbbell press
  • Push-ups

Of course, you will rarely feel significant muscle contractions during your first few tries of an exercise—experience matters. But if you find that some activities just don’t do it for you, move on to alternatives.

2. Is The Overloading Potential Good?

Not every exercise will have an excellent overloading potential. For example, you will never lateral raise 100-pound dumbbells. But, the primary activities you choose for each muscle group should allow for decent progress over time. Let’s take the back squat as an example:

The exercise is fantastic for quadricep growth because it works your entire body, allowing you to overload the knee extensors with a lot of weight. It’s not uncommon for trainees to squat 300, 400, even 500 pounds after years of serious training. Leg presses are beneficial in a similar way. 

3. Can You Do The Exercise Without Feeling Any Pain?

Have you ever found yourself doing an exercise, despite feeling pain because someone told you that you had to do it? I know I have.

The problem is, aside from ruining your training experience, pain is often a signal that something is wrong. If an exercise causes you pain, that’s typically a sign that you’re in for trouble if you don’t stop.

For example, some trainees feel pain in their shoulders or sternum while performing chest dips. Sure, the exercise offers benefits, but I would never hesitate to take it out of a client’s program if they complain of pain while doing it.

With that said, pain isn’t always an indicator that the exercise is bad. For instance, you might feel hip or knee pain during squats because of poor hip mobility, adductor weakness, flat feet, or something else. So, it never hurts to seek professional advice or film some of your training sets to see how you look from the side.

4. Does The Exercise Feel Right?

This is more of a subjective point but an important one nonetheless. While it certainly takes experience to gauge how exercises feel, you can sometimes lean on your intuition. For example, I don’t enjoy doing chest dips because the movement doesn’t feel right for me. It always gives me a sense of unease, which is why I much prefer to do push-ups, incline bench presses, and flyes.

There are no ‘must-do’ exercises, so don’t be afraid to ditch a movement if it doesn’t sit well with you.

Thank you for taking the time! Until next week,


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