A Little Sage Advice on Program Design: Is Exercise Selection Really the Most Important Programming Variable?

When most people think about designing training plans, they think of the process as nothing more than a matter of choosing which exercises they are going to do on a given day. This may work for a little while, but what happens when progress begins to slow, or if you"re working with an athlete or client that only has twelve weeks to maximize their physical preparation? Can you just slap a bunch of exercises down, hoping it will work?

Or, even if you"re just seeking to look better and move better, and you"re spending 3 hours a week in the gym, don"t you want to know that your time is being optimally invested, and not spent?

Treating exercise selection as the most important programming variable can be quite the imprudent approach, given that exercise selection is only ONE piece in the programming puzzle; and, in fact, is probably the last on the list.

Let"s look at the list of variables you have to "play with" when you sit down to create a program:

  1. Training Type. Examples of training type would be jumping exercises, running exercises, change-of-direction work, resistance training, and skill work (ex. practicing your sport-specific drills, such as hitting a baseball, or drilling hip escapes and passing an open guard in Jiu-Jitsu). This must be decided first.
  2. Intensity (neural, muscular, mental, and metabolic factors)
  3. Volume
  4. a. Number of Reps
  5. b. Number of Sets
  6. Tempo
  7. Rest Periods
  8. Exercise Selection

As you can see, exercise selection is last on the list! Not only that, but there are quite a number of critical factors before exercise selection.

Much more important than the exercises you choose is HOW you choose them to impose a specific demand to each of your body"s systems, creating the desired training effect.

To help make my point....what if I told you that the same exercise can be applied in completely different ways, thus developing diverse adaptations and ultimately leading to an entirely different result?

Take the squat, for example. By manipulating the loading, repetitions, sets, tempo, and rest periods for just that one exercise, we can create entirely different adaptations:

  • Maximal Strength
  • Alactic Power Output
  • Aerobic Anaerobic Endurance
  • Static Strength
  • Explosive Endurance
  • Aerobic Power Recovery Rate
  • Lactic Capacity

And, because I"m cool like that and am feeling a tingling sensation within my "giving spirit" with the holiday season upon us, I"ve provided you a few video examples:

Maximal Strength

While there"s some wiggle room here, this method is used performing 1-5 reps with a heavy load; the purpose being to stimulate the nervous system to improve maximal muscle recruitment. Here is Ryan hitting a 375lb squat on Thanksgiving morning:

**Aerobic Anaerobic Endurance; Static Strength

With a tempo squat, you enhance the body"s ability to delay fatigue, maintain power output over an extended period of time, improve anaerobic endurance, and develop static strength. This would be important for endurance athletes, military personnel, fighters, and yes, even field athletes.

Here I am using a 2-0-2 tempo...two seconds down, no pause at the bottom, two seconds up, and no pause at the top (I am admittedly performing the concentric portion a bit too quickly in my demo). Constant tension and slow movement is key here:

**Aerobic Power

With a squat jump, and using the right work:rest ratio, you can augment the fast twitch fibers ability to produce maximal power over a longer period of time. You can also train them (the type II fibers) to recover casino online more quickly betwixt explosive bursts of high power output:

*Imperative Note: Do NOT even bother with squat jumps (let alone loaded squat jumps) until you can squat at least 1.5x your body weight with good form*

Lactic Capacity

With a static dynamic squat you you can help your body learn to delay fatigue by boosting the buffering mechanisms of the lactic energy system. Do two reps, then hold in the stretched position for ten seconds, then two more reps, then hold for ten seconds, etc. etc. etc. One set of these babies should last 3-5 minutes! (Hint: this equals MAJOR suckitude). Work your way up to 10 minutes with a light weight, then slightly increase the weight and go back to 3 minutes per set:

**With the tempo squats and squat jumps, it is of extreme importance you utilize the correct number of sets along with the proper work:rest ratio to elicit the correct adaptation. Don"t just go hog wild here. You must also be sure you place them in their proper context within the grand program design structure, and know how/when to use them;  however, I"m not going to delve into that now.

As you can see, the basic squat can be used for a myriad training tools, and the demos I gave are just the tip of the iceberg. Nonetheless, I hope that this at least helped you understand that good program design is much more than slapping down exercises on paper. A squat performed with a particular load, tempo, number of reps, number of sets, tempo, and specific rest period will evoke an entirely different adaptation than doing a squat with a different all-of-those-things-I-just-listed.

When I write programs, the actual exercise is usually the LAST thing I put down on the paper; I decide how I"m going to manipulate the first five variables on the list above, THEN I put down the exercise I want to use to obtain the desired training effect; be it for someone training SAPT or in my own training.