If you are asking what makes an exercise good, then you know that different exercises have different applications. By nature, in order for an exercise to be good, it needs to be of benefit to YOU and YOUR goals. How do we determine if an exercise is of benefit to us? That is exactly what I will be discussing within this article.
#1 – You Can Properly Perform The Exercise & The Exercise Can Co-Operate With Your Body:
Before we actually implement an exercise in a way that is challenging for progress, we must be able to properly execute it. Doing a lunge with your back rounded like a banana and your front foot so far up on your toes that your knees cry for help, will do more harm than good. In order for an exercise to be properly performed, we need proper technique.
This relates to safety, so our joints and muscles and the like are working how they should be. This also relates to effectiveness, so the muscles and joints we want to be loaded, are loaded how we want them loaded.
What do I mean by, “the exercise can co-operate with your body”? Well, not all exercises work. Our anatomy has specific structures relative to us. We also have specific capabilities (i.e. mobility). Anatomy can’t be changed. Capabilities can be changed, but sometimes not and sometimes the effects can be negligible, or maybe they can be great.
The bottom line is, if we have anatomical issues that physically prevent us from properly executing an exercise, that is not good, and we can not change our anatomy (i.e. bone structure). If we have capability limits holding us back, we should assess if we can improve them and if it makes sense to improve the capability limitations based on the potential for progress, and the impact/benefit that the progress will have. If all this is fine and dandy and makes sense, great, improve that capability.
Here is an example. Maybe someone has the perfect anatomy for a squat, but their mobility capability at the ankles is impaired. This is usually improvable. Improving this would allow the individual to execute the squat properly, and assuming the squat and how it is programmed correlates well to the goals of the individual, it would be considered a “good” exercise.
That brings me to the next point. How do we know if an exercise and the way it is programmed makes sense for our goals?
Exercise & Programming Efficiency:
In order to understand this, we need to have a basic understanding of what mechanisms we need to stimulate in order to create progression for our goal. I won’t be going down that rabbit hole in this article because that is a deep hole. I will link some articles I have done that go into more detail for specific goals, at the bottom of this one, however.
To sum things up, there are specific mechanisms that we can stimulate via training, that when stimulated and progressive overload is applied, either signal for or carry out the progression for our goal.
Here is an example. Doing a long-distance run could be great for improving conditioning since it is working the heart. But how good would this exercise be for strength training? You wouldn’t be practicing specific movement patterns that are recruiting maximal numbers of muscle fibre to improve neuromuscular efficiency effectively, nor would you be efficiently stimulating for muscle growth. So… long-distance running would be beneficial for endurance because it stimulates the heart, but not so much for strength because it doesn’t efficiently stimulate the mechanisms that produce strength progress.
This is why it is crucial that you understand what you need to stimulate, in order to choose the proper exercises and how you will program these exercises, to see progress for your goal.
Speaking of how we perform an exercise (sets, reps, weight, etc), this is needed just as much as the exercise selection. A set of 15 reps on the squat taken 2 reps shy of failure will not have the same strength benefit as a set of 5 reps taken 2 reps shy of failure, for many of the same reasons mentioned above, although it is not nearly as ineffective for strength gains as running would be.
To add, we also need to consider goals within our goals. What if we have specific lifts we are trying to bring up? Well, then I am sure there are great assistance exercises we can implement to help develop those lifts. Whatever exercises we choose, there needs to be a reason with logical rationale as to why the specific exercise chosen will help YOU.
Progressive Overload Capability:
When you implement an exercise and you see results, it’s because the exercise worked for you, the exercise and its programming made sense for your goal, and it was done challenging enough, (either because of a novel stimulus or it was actually done with enough effort).
Either way, you provided your body with a reason to adapt. What do you think occurs if you continue to do the same exercise with the same weight and reps or time or whatever? Your body will adapt to that, but then it won’t be challenging enough, and your body will not continue to adapt.
That is where progressive overload comes in. If you continue to progress the stimulus you are giving your body, you are forcing your body to continually adapt. This is why we need exercises that have the capability to be progressed relative to our goal.
Side note, obviously we don’t just see linear progress forever as we make exercises harder and harder. Otherwise, humans would be deadlifting 10,000 pounds by now.
In order for us to determine if an exercise can be progressed for our goal, we need to see what forms of progression make sense for our goal. Maybe it is the duration or speed of your runs if your goal is endurance, maybe it is the weight on the bar if your goal is strength, or it could be the number of sets you are doing if the goal is hypertrophy.
Usually, if you pick the correct exercises, the progression capability sorts itself out. This is because you are picking exercises that can be performed to stimulate the mechanisms for your goal, so this usually means they are “compatible” with the optimal form of progression for your goal, too.
Well, folks, as you can see, a good exercise FOR YOU really comes down to 3 things. Can you perform it properly and is the exercise right for you physically? Does the exercise and it’s programming stimulate the right mechanisms to see effective progress for your goal? And are you able to optimally apply progressive overload to the exercise, in the way or ways that best relate to your goal?
That is what it comes down to.
Do you have any questions? I would love to hear from you in the comment section!
Here are some other articles that may be beneficial for your knowledge!
What Are Assistance Exercises?
Until Next Time,
Please refer to my liability disclaimer to ensure you know who is responsible for use of this information after reading.