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3 Questions To Ask When Determining The Right Exercises For Yourself

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of exercises you can choose from.

And quite honestly, more and more come out each day it seems. Some may look at exercises the see online or on social media and say to themselves; “oh I should try that, that looks hard.” Or you may see a really fit, jacked, and or strong person do it and think if “if I do that I will look like them or be as strong as them.” However, without knowing that exercises purpose or the story of the person who posted it, you may not get the same results as them.

These 3 questions I am going to share are not meant to move you away from using online platforms to get workout ideas. Social media can be a great place for that. However, this post is meant to provide you with some kind of blueprint to decide weather or not an exercise you try is right for you.

Question 1: have I worked up to this yet?

A lot of times we see an exercise and immediately want to try in our next training session. I can always get down with the eagerness to try something new. But, it is important to look at the exercise you saw as individual parts. For example, take a simple exercise like a reverse lunge. Though it may look easy for some, there are elements of a reverse lunge that may make it more difficult for others.

In order to execute a good reverse lunge I have to:

  1. keep my head, shoulders, and hips in a good position.

  2. I have to balance my self on one leg for a brief moment in time.

  3. I need to know where my foot is in space so that I know where to put my foot back down.

  4. I then have to flex/bend my hip, knee and ankle.

  5. then I have to push with my front leg into the ground, to come back up.

  6. then balance on one leg a again, and then get back to the start and do it all again.

There is a lot that goes on here, and some people, maybe even you, may have difficulties with one or more of these steps. Fear not though, as I have some easy solutions for you. For example, if you struggle with balance, try using one hand on a rack or pole for balance, and hold one dumbbell in the other hand. Or try split squats as a starting point. Split squats a secret weapon when it comes to overall health and movement.

Next time you see something you want to try, think: can I do this piece by piece before tackling the bigger whole exercise.

Question 2: When I do this, am I feeling the right muscles?

We want to feel muscles around the joints that are moving the weight. For example, think back to the last time you did some sort of rowing exercise of some kind. Did your lower back ache after each set, or even for the next day or two? If it did, maybe we were working our lower back more than our lats, rear delts, and or our upper back muscles.

Let’s say the rowing exercise you did was a bent over barbell row. This exercise requires a lot of stability from the core and spine, and it is unfortunately very easy to lift the bar by extending our back rather than pulling it to us. This may place unwanted sensations or joint stress around or lower back. If this happens to you, ask yourself, “should I be feeling this much in the lower back?”

What I suggest you do if you do feel it in the lower back and not the lats, rear delts, and upper back is to either:

1: see if you have a qualified coach you are either working with, or feel comfortable enough with to ask them to look at your form.

2: opt for a different exercise that works the muscles you are trying to target. For example, if you are training your back, a dumbbells row can be a great substitute for bent over barbell rows. There is no rule that states you have to do certain exercises (I haven’t done barbell rows in years).

The point here is not to demonize bent over barbell rows (or any exercise for that matter), it is to provide some tips to make sure you know how to determine if it is right for you. Pain and discomfort can be frustrating set backs in your training. If you are able to avoid those by picking smarter exercises, than you are setting yourself up for a long and successful fitness and lifting journey.

Question 3: Is this helping me with my goal?

As trainers and coaches, we are taught pretty early in our education about the SAID principle. Which stands for the Specific Adaptations to the Imposed Demand. In simpler terms, my body will change specifically to what ever I do to it.

In my opinion, the internet and social media is flooded with “HIIT workouts (when they aren’t really HIIT workouts) and circuits. These can be good for the right person with the right goals that match it, however if you are looking to build muscle and get stronger they may not be the best option for you.

If you are interested in trying something you saw, ask will this get me closer to my goal, or is this just working out? Not that there is nothing wrong with just working out.

Working out is a great way to burn calories, maintain and develop muscle mass and strength, and loose weight. Training for a specific goal on the other hand just requires a more specific plan of attack and training program.

If you are someone who is set on a specific goal, let’s say to get stronger; the trending Instagram circuit workout may not get you there. Specific adaptations (weight loss, muscle gain, strength, athletic performance, etc.) all have specific elements that make you achieve those goals. That being said, know what you are training for so you can be a little more intentional about what you try and don’t try.

The point of this article was not to come off as cynical or critical. It was just to provide you all with a framework to create your own way of determining what fits best in your individual training based on you, your goals, and your own progress.

Lastly, if you don’t even want to even worry about asking yourself these questions, then consider working with someone to coach, guide, educate you, and get you your results in the best way for you! When done right, and with the right coach you can create long lasting changes that impact so much more than fitness.

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