How To Choose the Best Exercises for You

There are countless exercises that you can perform with all kinds of equipment. The list is almost endless. Hell, there are hundreds, maybe thousands if you consider variations, that you can do with just your bodyweight alone!
So, how on Earth do you determine what is the best exercise for a given goal, and better yet, is it the best one for YOU?
The truth is, you don’t. Well, sort of…
Let me try to make some sense of this so you’ve got a solid takeaway by the end of this article.
Choosing the Best Exercises?
First and foremost, can you really determine what is the BEST exercise for a given goal?
Personally, I don’t think so. I mean, let’s say we wanted to be really specific about our goal here – a great butt! Afterall, who doesn’t want a kickass backside? Do you see what I did there? ;-b
I’m also going with this example because, while a nice butt is good to look at, a strong functional set of glute muscles is critical to good physical health. Weak glutes are a common factor in knee and low back pain…
Oh, and before we get too nitty-gritty, we’re going to attack this from a muscle development/shaping point of view. Remember, you canNOT spot reduce – remove fat from an area by doing a specific exercise for that area. That’d be like chewing gum to slim down your face. It just doesn’t happen.
So, let’s assume we’re doing everything else right (nutrition, stress management, sleep, overall activity, etc.) to shed unwanted flab from down under and now we just want to give that booty some nice pop.
There’s a whole slew of exercises that work the butt from bridge variations, hinging exercises, split squat variations, step-up variations, and so on…
Can anyone really say which one is best?
Well, I’m going to say that the best one is probably the one you’re NOT doing.
In other words, over time your body adapts to the stimulus you give it based on the old FITT principle – Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type. We won’t get into that here, but just understand that you can’t keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Einstein said that was the definition of insanity, remember?

  1. So, now what?

Well, now we get down to YOU. Let’s talk about how YOU should choose exercises…
Keeping with our building a beautiful butt theme, it’s easy to make the mistake of just picking a few of the proven butt builders, spreading them through your weekly training program and going from there. Hit them for a few weeks and then change ‘em up, right?

  1. So maybe the answer is to look at your fitness level/experience. After all, even though the kettlebell swing is a great booty blaster it’s not exactly a newbie move. Perhaps a better place to start is with a simple split squat – they do TONS of those in your typical bootcamp and group fitness classes, right?

Sorry to be so harsh. Listen, if you were focusing on fitness level/experience you were on the right track; you just missed a spot.
Here’s the problem. We still haven’t gotten down to YOU.
First and foremost we should take a look at your FUNCTION.
The Functional Movement Screen
We have to look beyond your ability to perform an exercise, even if you can do it with decent form. Instead we have to look at how functional you are in the overall movement pattern. That’s where an assessment like the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) comes into play:
The FMS is a ranking and grading system that documents movement patterns that are key to normal function. By screening these patterns, the FMS readily identifies functional limitations and asymmetries. These are issues that can reduce the effects of functional training and physical conditioning and distort body awareness.
The FMS generates the Functional Movement Screen Score, which is used to target problems and track progress. This scoring system is directly linked to the most beneficial corrective exercises to restore mechanically sound movement patterns.
Exercise professionals monitor the FMS score to track progress and to identify those exercises that will be most effective to restore proper movement and build strength in each individual.
So, in a nutshell, the FMS is designed to

  • Identify functional limitations and asymmetries which have been linked to increased injury risk
  • Provide exercises to restore proper movement, and build stability, mobility, and strength in each individual

In order to better understand the FMS, let’s take a look at some of the “rules” the system is based on:

  • Pain should not be present while performing basic bodyweight movement patterns. If there is pain associated with these basic movement patterns, they will be compromised and substantially increase the likelihood for developing further injury to the site of pain. Also, this could lead to a secondary injury from the body compensating to avoid the pain or restricted movement.
  • Having multiple limitations within several basic movement patterns, even if they’re pain free, can create compensations and general weaknesses that may lead to a greater likelihood of injury.
  • Basic unilateral movement patterns should be symmetrical on both right and left sides of the body.
  • Fundamental and basic movement patterning should precede performance related activities.
    • Basic before Complex, Stable before Unstable

Using the Functional Movement Screening, we are able to establish a solid baseline to help manage and prevent injury to the musculoskeletal system. Plus, by establishing a baseline scoring criteria, we will be able to monitor and track progress to ensure that the right exercises are being implemented.
Real Life Example – Back to the Beautiful Butt
You still with me?
Good. Let’s try to put all that into some real-life examples…
You go through the FMS and discover that you have a dysfunctional In-Line Lunge pattern…
(By the way, you can read more about the FMS and get a description of each movement screen in a great article in Experience Life Magazine1)
Now, given this particular dysfunction we know that it’s in your best interest to avoid the following exercises:

  • Sagittal Lunge Variations (split squats, reverse lunges, forward lunges)
  • Running

So, given our goal of building a beautiful backside we know right off the bat what exercises NOT to do. Fortunately, there are still a TON of exercises to choose from to blast your butt. :- )
Oh, and knowing that you have this dysfunction we can also provide a list of exercises known to correct the dysfunction. Double :- ) :- )
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that one…
Remember, the FMS “rules”? Review this one:

  • Having multiple limitations within several basic movement patterns, even if they’re pain free, can create compensations and general weaknesses that may lead to a greater likelihood of injury.

This is something that comes up frequently with clients. God love ‘em, they want to work hard, but sometimes you have to pull on the reins a bit to protect them from themselves. By ignoring your movement dysfunction you’re putting yourself at risk for injury, and for what? So you can do a lunge? (in this example) – Are you trying to be a great lunger or have a great ass?
If it’s the ass you’re after then wouldn’t it make more sense to:

  1. Choose another exercise that works the same muscles, but doesn’t have the risk
  2. Fix the dysfunction so the exercise no longer poses a risk
  3. Both A & B

C makes pretty good sense to me! :- )
Oh, and one more thing to consider – there’s a pretty good chance that if you’re doing the movement with a dysfunction you’re not actually working the targeted muscles the way you want to anyway. Your compensated movement pattern has to call upon other muscles to help out. For example, when you lunge with a dysfunctional In-Line Lunge movement pattern you tend to use a lot more quads – YOU’RE NOT EVEN WORKING YOUR GLUTES!
>Butt Blasting and Ass Saving Routine
Let me give you an example of a workout (pretending you have In-Line Lunge dysfunction) that will:

  • Actually work your glutes well
  • Save you from yourself

NOTE: This is not a total body routine, but simply an example of a series of exercise you could perform in a workout.
Part 1: Fixing the Dysfunction
Now, the truth is there could be a variety of things causing the dysfunction, but I’ll base this on the common things that I see:

Tissue Quality Work

Softball Glutes 30-60 seconds each
Foam Roll Quads 30-60 seconds each
Foam Roll IT Bands 30-60 seconds each

Corrective Work

Side-Lying Clamshells 20 reps each
Cook Hip Lifts 10 – 15 reps each
½ Kneeling Hip Flexors 10 reps each

Flexibility Work

Z-sits 30-60 seconds each
½ Kneeling Quad Stretch 30-60 seconds each
Ankle Mobilization Drills 30-60 seconds each

Part 2: Kicking Ass ;-b

Below is just one of bazillion examples of a strength workout you could do. I kept it basic and old-school using straight sets. A long-term program should manipulate exercise selection, sets, reps, tempo, combinations and more…

Strength Work

Hip Bridge Variation 2 x 20
Romanian Deadlifts 3 x 8 (assuming NO Active Straight Leg dysfunction)
Goblet Squats 3 x 8 (assuming NO Deep Squat dysfunction)
Hip Thruster Variation 2 x 12
Other Dysfunctional Considerations
The Functional Movement Screen assesses SEVEN key movement patterns, with FOUR key ones that we focus on in our Group Personal Training program at The Transformation Club.

  1. Active Straight Leg Raise
  2. Shoulder Mobility
  3. Rotary Stability
  4. Torso Stability Push-up
  5. In-Line Lunge
  6. Hurdle Step
  7. Deep Squat

My friends Steve Long & Jared Woolever, creators of Smart Group Training2 (of which I’m on the Advisory Board) created this chart to guide you on which exercises to avoid with each each dysfunction:

KEEP THIS IN MIND – It’s not about punishing you and taking your favorite exercises away from you. It’s about selecting the right exercises for you, fixing the dysfunction, and putting those exercises back into your program.
Know Better – Do Better
My wife Janell has a saying that goes something like this, “Now that you know better, it’s up to you to do better.”
In other words, you can keep doing what you’re doing – hoping for the best and ignoring the worst – OR you can work with a trained professional (like me ;-b) who is first and foremost concerned with your LONG-TERM RESULTS.
Justin Yule, BS, CPT, MTE, FMSC
President & Chief Transformation Officer
The Transformation Club

By |2017-07-26T03:18:52+00:00July 26th, 2017|Exercise|0 Comments

About the Author:

Husband. Dog Dad. Author. Coach. Entrepreneur. Transformation Specialist. Justin Yule is the founder, president, and chief transformation officer of The Transformation Club. In addition, he serves fitness professionals worldwide as a business coach and subject-matter expert. Justin is the co-author of the best-selling book, The Transformation Book, as well as the author of the fictional tale, The Transformation Path. He is also the co-host of The Transformation Show podcast. Justin has a bachelor of science degree in physical education with a concentration in adult fitness and holds multiple specialty training certifications in fitness. He has been educating, motivating, and inspiring clients to become the best version of themselves since 1997.

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