A Resurgent Emphasis on Exercise Selection
By Mike Tuchscherer
When a lifter is first introduced to weight training, or physical activity in general, it is usually best to have wide and varied exercises to teach useful and efficient movement patterns. As they settle into a late-beginner or early-intermediate status, the exercise selection usually is reduced to the contest lifts with a few others. But then as the lifter progresses and specific problems arise, exercise selection again becomes key to continued development.
There is a problem, though. Many lifters don’t understand exercise selection enough to pick the appropriate exercise for their current training status. That is to say, if a lifter is in the beginning stages of a training cycle, oftentimes they do not understand the goal of the training block and therefore don’t understand which exercises are best suited to meet their needs. So proper exercise selection depends on understanding the style of training you are using, what the goals and objectives are, etc.
Including a large section on how to know the goals and objectives of your training cycle is beyond the scope of this article, but there are a few general points to be made, as you will see shortly.
Exercise selection can be broken up into a continuum. At one extreme, we have Contest Movements. These consist of exercises that are actually tested in the contest. They obviously have a high degree of specificity, but over use can exacerbate problems.
On the other end of the continuum, we have GPP exercises. These are not related to the contest movement in any real way, but have a positive impact by improving general fitness.
Of course most exercises fit somewhere in the middle. There are two other general categories; General Exercises and General Specific Exercises. General exercises train the muscles of the contest lift, but not similar movement patterns (think of how a GHR relates to a squat). General Specific Exercises are close to the contest movement, but are separated by a degree (think of close grip bench press as it relates to the competition style bench press).
Some exercises (like Good Mornings) seem to fall somewhere in between for a powerlifter. And that’s okay. This article really has less to do with classifying your exercises and more to do with how to use them.
If you use an RTS Style template, your Main exercises (Prime Squat, Prime Bench Main, Secondary Bench Main, etc) will typically be Contest lifts or close derivatives. Your Assist exercises (Secondary Squat, Secondary Bench Assist, Prime Bench Assist, etc) will usually be General Specific movements. Supplemental slots (Prime Bench Supplement, Deadlift Supplement, etc) typically use, you guessed it, General exercises.
Of course this is not set in stone at all. That’s why there is a continuum. In the early stages of your training, it is generally advisable to select exercises closer to the GPP end of the spectrum. As the contest nears, exercise selection shifts toward the contest movements.
As an example, let’s consider Prime Bench Supplement for a raw bench presser. So we know right away that as a primary emphasis, we will concentrate on the raw bench. As a supplemental exercise, we want to usually pick something that falls into the General category. Perhaps early in the cycle, the lifter chooses to do front raises to develop his shoulders. As the cycle progresses, this will gradually transition to exercises still within the General category, but closer to the Specific side then before. For example, a lifter may choose to transition to Military Press, then later still, Incline bench.
That is an example of a general progression. Specific lifters have specific weaknesses. Selecting exercises to target a specific weakness depends on the category of exercise you are working within. Let’s take another example. Take for instance, a lifter who has trouble maintaining the arch in his back during a conventional deadlift.
When selecting General exercises, choose exercises that train you to hold an arch and develop that ability. Early in a training cycle, the lifter might start with 45 degree back raises, then transition into Good Mornings as they come into mid-cycle. In this instance, they might finish up the cycle with Zercher squats or Zercher good mornings.
When selecting General Specific exercises, this particular lifter might want to start with pause deadlifts, then transition to Deficit pulls and finally pulls against chains. This represents a logical order of exercises that is geared to produce specific development at the end of the cycle. In this case, the specific development was to teach the lifter to hold an arch for the duration of the lift.
So as you can see, good exercise selection is not a mystery. It is a matter of being aware of your programming and aware of what you are trying to accomplish. The Training Generator (part of Team RTS) has several features in place to help facilitate good exercise selection from the way exercise slots are defined to the way the cycle as a whole is constructed.
No matter which way you choose to set up your training, keep these principles in mind to help ensure that the exercises you pick are highly effective for your training cycle and your current deficiencies!
|About the Author
Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.