Selecting exercises when writing a training program can be a challenging topic for some. Most get bogged down with trying to figure out which day to put which exercises or how to fit everything in:
- “We have to have kettlebell work!”
- “Olympic lifting is a must!”
- “When should we do our conditioning?”
- “What day should we squat and which day should we deadlift?”
I used to constantly obsess about exercise selection and where to put my vertical push and my horizontal pull and my single leg knee dominant and double leg hip dominant exercise, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I think balancing joint movements is critical and thinking about exercise selection in this fashion is certainly important, but I think we need to first ask ourselves, “What is it we are trying to achieve with this training program?” Once we establish this we can begin to select the training methods which reflect out physiological goal and then finally we can plug in whatever exercises make sense for that person (based on their movement profile, their needs, their sport, or their orthopedic considerations).
Training Means & Training Methods
Training means are the types of exercises/activities that we can perform in our workout. We can think of these as the tools that we have available to us:
- Medicine Balls
Training methods are the parameters that we can apply to our exercises in order to achieve some sort of physiological outcome. There are a number of parameters that we may choose to manipulate:
- Rep tempo
- Rest interval
- Training session duration
- Training volume
- Exercise pairings (super sets, complex training, etc)
- Intensity (as it applies to weight on the bar, HR, and/or running pace or WATTS)
- Rep duration (particularly as it applies to varied intervals within energy system training)
The cool thing is that we don’t need a ton of different exercises! All we really need is the ability to teach the individual to do a few exercises well and then from there we can begin to adjust certain parameters in order to achieve different fitness outcomes. Here are a few examples:
- Oxidative Squats 3 series x [4x10reps (2-0-2-0 tempo) ; Rest = 60sec] Rest = 5min between series >> Squats 5 sets x 2 reps @ 90%; Rest = 2-3min >> Jump Squats 20%/10 sets x 5 reps ; Rest = 90sec
- Tempo Run 20x70yrds @ 75% intensity ; Rest = 60sec >> Hill Sprint 20x5sec ; Rest = 45sec ; Short Shuttle 4 series x [5x20yrds (10yrds down and back); Rest = 45sec] Rest = 2min between series
In both examples the exercise did not change. All that changed was the parameters I applied to that exercise and ultimately the fitness outcome.
In the first example, if the goal were to improve tissue specific metabolic adaptations in the lower extremity, the oxidative squat (sometimes called the stato-dynamic squat) may be one way to achieve this. Similarly, if I was trying to improve strength I might choose the second option and if power output were the goal the third option would be one way to target that. In thinking about it like this, it would be totally possible for me to be training three different people at the same time, all with individual needs (determined via assessment and understanding of their sport) and all of them doing squats just with different parameters set to target their goals.
In the second example, the training means of running did not change. The first option is more general in nature and may be used to initially improve the individuals fitness. Option two would allow the athlete to begin sprinting and the hill (or a light sled) would help to slow them down and reduce potential risk of injury that might be there if they were sprinting over flat ground. Finally, option 3 would reflect something more specific to what a field or court athlete may require in their sport. Again, all that was changed were the parameters set to the exercise (the training means) in order to achieve a certain goal.
With this in mind the options for training really become endless and the idea that we can train anywhere, and with minimal equipment, becomes apparent. Here are some examples of what I mean:
- The training goal is power output. The training method would be 3-5sec of max effort work followed by 60sec rest (I classify this as being alactic capacity in my system, but of course these classifications are not so black and white and there is crossover with all of this stuff). Knowing the goal and the methods I can now select a training means based on whatever I have available. Some options might include – sprints, hill sprints, bike sprints, airdyne sprints, plyometrics (bounding, multiple jumps, etc), Olympic lift variations, dynamic effort lifting against accommodating resistance, medicine ball throws, kettlebell swings, and the list goes on and on.
- The training goal is aerobic power. The training method would be 4 reps x 4min @ > 87% maxHR ; Rest = 3min. Now that we know the goal and the training method we can select whatever training means make sense for that person. Some options might include – running, biking, rowing, a circuit of 30yrd run, 10 jump squats, 30yrd run, 15 push ups and repeat for 4min, airdyne, and the list goes on and on.
Hopefully this provides some ideas about program design to get people thinking outside of the box and freeing them up to construct workouts that reflect specific training targets first and then select exercises second.