How to avoid bad exercise selection

by | Dec 8, 2016 |

Initially, I wanted to call this article ‘Exercises you should never do with your client’, but I thought that was too much like click bait and did not do justice to what I want to share with you.

Before you can judge an exercise, then you need to define it. Exercises consist of two components –


For an exercise to be incorrect, then you would need to know the goal of the movement first, the capabilities of your client second and then finally you would need to look at the appropriateness of the loading.

Try this checklist that I go through to identify the suitability of an exercise –

1- What is the outcome of the exercise?

Here I want to know what the client needs to get from the exercise regarding our two big headings. Is this a structural change I am aiming for, or is this a skill change. Developing skill requires training in ways that allow the client to fail and self-evaluate. Failing in a movement means that the client is not able to work as hard as they could if they were performing an action where they have a high proficiency and experience.

(This article that shows some papers on how the body is a forward feeding system, and so covers skill development and fatigue management).

2 – Based on the available research, does the selected movement bring about the result we want for our client?

So if the client says that they want stronger glutes for golf, then it would be worth looking at the studies on how the gluteus maximus fires during the golf swing, for you to build a replica of that motion. Unless of course, you find contrary research that finds a better exercise to deliver the result.

3 – Is the load appropriate for the contraction you would like from the exercise?

When you select an exercise, then first evaluate how you load the movement to make it hard enough to hit the required energy system and intensity.

Things to consider with the resistance selection would include –

– The vector the resistance provides to the exercise and so its suitability in making the exercise harder while staying relevant to the end goal.

– The way the resistance imposes itself on the movement. Does it have characteristics that are elastic, momentum enhancing, a pulse of resistance or a progressively increasing resistance? Does that match the end goal of the exercise?

– How far can I ramp up the resistance without changing the exercise away from its ultimate goal? Taking this step will ensure you can get the client to work hard enough

– Does the resistance change the level of safety of the exercise? Does it change it enough to make the risk-benefit one that is not worth the outcome?

If I can answer all those questions, and the exercise fits in with the rest of the programming, then I will select it.

The only time I will consider the exercise as being bad would be if it ticks one or more of the following statements –

– This exercise dangerous beyond the level of benefit it will bring
– This exercise is to change structure but requires the client to develop considerably more skill to perform it
– This exercise cannot be loaded enough for the client to reach the correct intensity of the workout
– This exercise is too tough for the client to achieve the required volume for adaptation

I am sure I have missed some components of exercise design from this article. Breaking these rules may be okay depending on the outcome of the client. However, I do believe that this is a great starting point.

Below is an exercise that people deemed to be dangerous because they lacked understanding of the outcome and also the client who was performing the exercise.

Our goal was to get Alison to be able to condition herself for skiing and the short, sharp forces associated with this sport. Alison is one of our FTE’s and so understood the dangers and her capabilities. Additionally, she is a good skier, so the movements are not new. Read some of the comments, though! People are projecting injuries on this exercise without any evidence, just based on fear, possibly instigated by gurus.