Mistakes in the Gym: Exercise Selection

by Chris on December 5, 2011


Choose wisely.

I realize that getting into the gym can be a daunting task for some. Not everyone is a strength coach or has the time (or interest) to learn all of the ins and outs of strength training. With that in mind, I often see people who head into the weight room with no direction or concept of what to do. We all start out somewhere, and I was that guy once. I would either just do random exercises or machines or (maybe worse) I would try out some workout I picked up from one of the bodybuilding magazines around the gym.

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen people start their workouts with things like hammer curls, lateral raises or cable crossovers. I’m here to tell you that if that sounds like something you’ve been doing you’re compromising your results and shortchanging yourself.

Quite simply, when you enter the weight room the first movements you should choose are multi-joint, compound exercises that train a bunch of muscles at the same time. The best examples of these are squats, deadlifts, presses, rows and pullups. Why, you ask? For starters, this is the most efficient way to train. Your targeting a multitude of muscles at the same time. Also, since your training them together to lift the weight you are teaching your body to function as a complete, strong unit. For those of you who have fat loss as a goal these movements also burn the greatest amount of calories.

These types of movements also allow you to move the most weight and thus let you impose the greatest demand on your muscles. Think of it this way: what’s going to build your triceps better, a kickback with 10lbs or an overhead press with 100 lbs?

This isn’t to say that isolation exercises shouldn’t be in your training at all. They have their place, especially if you’re looking to bring up a weakness or lagging body part. But the focus of your training and the bulk of your time should be on the movements that will give you the most bang for your buck.

The other great thing about training around these movements is that if you’re short on time you can build a workout using only a handful of movements! Here’s an example of a full-body training session that is simple and hits every part of your body.

Squat – 6 sets of 4-5

Barbell Push Press – 6 sets of 4-5

Weighted Pullups – 6 sets of 4-5

That’s it. Yes, it’s just that simple. Three exercises that target the entire body and do so better than a workout with four different kinds of curls and leg extensions.

If you’re someone who wants to see real progress in your training and build a stronger, healthier body, choose your exercises wisely. If you’re still unsure, it may be worth investing in a well designed training program such as the ones I offer through my distance coaching program. (Yup, I’m not too good for shameless plugs!)

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