• Anatomy Of Fitness

Exercise Selection Criterion - How to select the best exercises.

With a plethora of exercises to select from, it is often confusing which ones are the right ones? Often, we waste our time in doing less optimum exercises and get little or no results. It makes sense to select the best exercises so that our investment in terms of effort, time and money is minimum and the results are maximum. Let us understand what is the logic behind the exercise selection criterion and how to select the best exercises that guarantee maximum returns.

Training for strength:

Strength is task-specific and is a combination of muscle and skill. Muscle alone with no skill or skill alone with no muscle will not constitute to strength. For example, in boxing, a male boxer never competes with a female boxer because although both have boxing skills the male boxer carries more muscle. As mentioned earlier, strength is a combination of muscle and skill and in this case, the male boxer has a clear advantage.

Strength = Central Nervous System efficiency + muscle hypertrophy

Another example is that although a professional bodybuilder carries immense muscle they will never be able to win a boxing match against a professional boxer because they lack boxing skills.

The carry-over effect:

A carry-over effect is the functional benefit(s) that an exercise offers. Several exercises work on the same muscle groups. While some offer functional benefit others do not. Let us try understanding this with simple examples:

Exercise selection criterion - Dancing vs. Running:

Dancing and running both offer muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance which are components of General Physical Preparedness. Considering that we have limited time and that we require maximum results in minimum efforts, which between the two is better? The answer is simple, dancing will prepare us to dance and running will prepare us to run. In real life, we are never required to dance. There are multiple instances where we would be required to run. It may be because we are getting late to board a flight, trying to run away from an attacking animal or trying to save ours or someone else's life. Unlike dancing, we can not rule out that we will never be required to run. Thus, we conclude that running as an exercise is way more superior than dancing as an exercise because unlike dancing running gives us the carry-over effect.

Exercise selection criterion - Squats vs. Leg Extensions:

Both squats and leg extensions work on the quadriceps. However, unlike leg extensions, squats prepare us to take a load on the axial skeleton and have a carry-over effect in real life. Squats also train our central nervous system (CNS) to control an unsupported heavy load maintaining tightness and rigidity. Such a situation often arises in real life. The leg extension is a supported movement. As mentioned earlier, strength is a combination of skill and muscle hypertrophy. Leg extensions may be good to build muscle but do not have any carry-over effect in real life. Thus, we conclude that squats win over leg extensions.

Exercise selection criterion - Bent Over Rows vs. Bicep Curls:

Bent over rows and bicep curls are great exercises to build the biceps. However, bend over row is a compound (involving multiple joints and major muscles) unsupported movement which has a carry-over effect in our real life. Bicep curl on the other hand is an isolation movement that has no carry-over effect in real life. The bicep is a very small (assistor) muscle compared to back (major muscle). To ensure maximum microtrauma, maximum hypertrophy, maximum carry over and maximum results effect with minimum investment (time and effort) bent over rows wins over bicep curls (even for developing biceps).

Exercise selection criterion is based on selecting exercises that will help us in our day to day life to perform better. Every exercise can be considered functional considering what we want to get better at.

Exercise selection criterion - Sports specific exercises:

Athletes not only train for General Physical Preparedness to get better at general fitness but also train for Sports Specific Preparedness. The objective of sports specific exercises is only to have a carry-over effect on the sport. For example, a boxer will skip for getting better at boxing. Skipping mimics the foot-tapping action which boxers do in the ring. Thus, skipping has a carry-over effect for boxers and will help them perform better when boxing.

Carryover effect may be divided into two parts: Carryover effect from general adaptation leading to general fitness and carry-over effect from specific adaptation leading to specific fitness.

Tips to choose the right exercises:

  1. Always choose an exercise based on whether or not it is going to help us in real life. If in doubt, check with the trainer to assess.

  2. Do not waste time in isolation exercises. Most isolation exercises have no carry-over effect and target small muscles like biceps, triceps, forearms. Some isolation exercises like forearm curls, tricep rope extensions are potentially dangerous and can extensively damage the joints.

  3. Strength is a combination of skill and muscle. We need to build both to get better at any physical task meaning strength is task-specific. Note to train accordingly.

  4. Barring a few isolation exercises like external rotations, always invest time in unsupported compound movements. These give maximum output in minimum input and minimum risk.

  5. Choose running over dancing, unsupported squats over smith machine squats, bent over rows over bicep curls. Always target large muscle groups like legs, back and chest. Invariably select unsupported compound movements like free squats, free deadlifts, bent over rows, step-ups etc. over supported, isolation movements like smith machine squats, smith machine deadlifts, leg press, leg extensions, forearm curls, bicep curls etc.

  6. If training for sports specific preparedness, choose exercises that have a carry-over effect on the sport.

  7. If training for general physical preparedness, choose exercises that have a carry-over effect in real life.

Now we understand the exercise selection criterion and the philosophy of choosing the right exercises.

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