• Anatomy Of Fitness

Exercise Selection Criterion - How to select the Best Exercises?

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

With a plethora of exercises to select from, it is often confusing which ones are the best. As a result, we waste our time doing suboptimal exercises that give little or no results. Since we have limited time, we need to invest in exercises that give us the most return on investment. Therefore, 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. Basis our goal, we can select the most suitable exercises depending on the skills and carryover effects we want in real life. Let us understand the logic behind the exercise selection criterion and probe how to select the best exercises that guarantee maximum benefits.

To understand how to select the best exercises, let us first understand the relationship between strength and skill and what constitutes a carryover effect.

The Relationship between STRENGTH & SKILL:

Strength is task-specific and is a combination of muscle and skill. Muscle alone with no skill or skill alone with no muscle does not constitute 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 of additional muscle.

Strength = Central Nervous System efficiency + muscle hypertrophy.

Another example: Although professional bodybuilders carry big muscles, they never win a boxing match against professional boxers because they lack boxing skills.

Thus, we need both muscle and skill for strength.

What is the Exercise CARRYOVER Effect, and How to Select EXERCISES based on their CARRYOVER Effect?

A carryover effect is the functional benefits that an exercise offers. Several exercises work on the same muscle groups. While some offer functional benefits, others do not. Let us try understanding this with simple examples:

Exercise Selection Criterion – Is Dancing better than Running?

Dancing and running offer muscular and cardiovascular endurance, components of general physical preparedness. If we require maximum results in minimum efforts, which between the two is better? The answer is simple. Dancing prepares us to dance, and running prepares us to run. In real life, we do not need to dance. However, there are multiple instances where we must run. It may be because we are getting late to board a flight, trying to get away from an attacking animal or trying to save ours or someone else's life. Unlike dancing, we can not rule out running. Thus, we conclude that running is way more superior to dancing as an exercise because, unlike dancing, running gives us the carryover effect. Hence, running is better than dancing.

Exercise Selection Criterion – Are Squats better than 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 carryover effect in real life while lifting free weight. Squats also train our central nervous system (CNS) to control an unsupported heavy load by keeping body tightness and rigidity. Such situations often arise 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 carryover effect in real life. Thus, we conclude that squats win over leg extensions. Hence, squats are better than leg extensions.

Exercise Selection Criterion – Are Bent Over Rows better than Bicep Curls?

Bent over rows and bicep curls are great exercises to build the biceps. However, the bend over rows is a compound (involving multiple joints and major muscles) unsupported movement, which has a carryover effect in real life. On the other hand, the bicep curl is an isolation movement with no carryover effect in real life. The bicep is an exceedingly small assistor muscle. On the other hand, the back is a large muscle. To ensure maximum microtrauma, hypertrophy, carryover, and results with minimum investment (time and effort), bent over rows wins over bicep curls (even for developing the biceps). Hence, bent over rows are better than bicep curls.

The exercise selection criterion is choosing exercises that help us perform better in our day-to-day life. Therefore, every exercise is functional, considering what we want to improve.

Exercise Selection Criterion in Sport Specific Exercises:

Athletes train for general physical preparedness to improve general fitness and sport specific preparedness to enhance sports performance. The aim of sport specific exercises is only to have a carryover effect in the sport. For example, a boxer skips for getting better at boxing. Skipping mimics the foot-tapping action which boxers do in the ring. Thus, skipping has a carryover effect for boxers and helps them perform better when boxing.

The carryover effect divides into two parts: the carryover effect from general adaptation leading to general fitness and the carryover effect from specific adaptation leading to specific fitness.

Tips for Choosing the BEST EXERCISES:

  1. Always choose an exercise based on whether it helps us in real life. If in doubt, check with the trainer to assess.

  2. Do not waste time in isolation exercises. Most isolation exercises target small muscles like biceps, triceps, forearms and have no carryover effect. Also, isolation exercises like forearm curls and triceps rope extensions are potentially dangerous and 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 and bent over rows over bicep curls. Always target large muscle groups like legs, back and chest. Select unsupported compound movements like free squats, free deadlifts, bent over rows, step-ups etc. Avoid 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 carryover effect in the sport.

  7. If training for general physical preparedness, choose exercises that guarantee a carryover effect in real life.

We hope the article helped understand the logic behind the exercise selection criterion and how to select the best exercises that guarantee maximum benefits.

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