Personal Training: 4 Principles of Exercise Selection

The principle of specificity dictates that different training goals require different approaches. That said, regardless of the individual training goal, there are certain principles and guidelines of exercise prescription that are applied to everyone in the Performance U training approach. And, those guidelines are as follows.

1. If It Hurts, Don’t Do It!

This should be obvious, but many people are stubborn and use exercises that cause them pain, which is often the product of having more ego than brains.

Put simply, if an exercise hurts you for whatever reason, find a modification or another exercise alternative that doesn’t. Now, the sensation associated with muscle fatigue isn’t what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about aches and pains that exist out-side the gym or flare up when you perform certain movements.

These problems may need time to heal through rest, or they may simply be injuries, which are compromised areas of your body that can no longer tolerate the same level of load and do not improve. Either way you’re not helping the situation by training through pain – you want to train around pain, which is why we put together the Joint Friendly Strength Training 2-DVD set.


In fact, you very well could be making things worse and causing further damage, which could take a painful area from something you can easily train around to something that’s more debilitating. That said, it’s always a good idea to have a qualified medical professional assess any aches and pains rather than trying to play doctor yourself or by going to a personal trainer who’s trying to play the “corrective therapy” game after reading a few books and taking weekend course.

Additionally, there are many options for all of the foundational exercise movements: pushing, pulling, level changes (i.e., squatting, lunging, hinging, stepping, etc.), rotation, etc. for you to choose from. So, if a certain upper-body pushing exercise hurts you, for example, simply experiment with other upper-body pushing exercise options until you find one that you can do without pain.

2. Don’t Fit Yourself to Exercises, Fit the Exercises to You

Going along with what I just discussed above, one of the biggest mistakes in training, which trainers and coaches often make, is attempting to fit the individual to the exercises instead of fitting the exercises to the individual.

All of us are the same species: human, just like all different makes and models of cars, trucks and vans are the same species: automobiles. But just like automobiles, humans come in all shapes and sizes. Your size and shape is caused by your structure, and structure determines function. Although both a mini-cooper and a mini-van are made up of the same basic parts (4-wheels, two axels, etc.) and can perform the same basic driving functions (e.g., go forward and reverse, turn right and left, stop and start) you’d never expect a brand-new mini-cooper to drive and handle the same as a brand-new mini-van because of the different ways their (same) basic parts are put together. This is exactly why it’s unrealistic to expect a guy who’s built like a football running back to move the same as a guy built like a lineman. In that, although both the running back and lineman can change levels, push, twist, pull, and so on, they may perform the movements in slightly different ways based on their structure.

In other words, there isn’t any exact exercise that matches the movement of everyone because there are individual variations in the way humans move. Therefore, one must choose the particular exercise variations that best fit how they move.

To put it another way, the reason why we have exercise variations isn’t just to add variety to training, but because there are variations of normal in the way humans move. Some exercises just don’t fit well for certain people’s body.

Not only do we all move a bit differently based on our size and shape, which is dictated by our own unique skeletal framework and body proportions, but past injury, loss of cartilage, or natural joint degenerative processes such as arthritis can influence how we move. This is why attempting to fit every person to the same exercise movement is potentially dangerous. Doing so could cause a problem or further exacerbate an existing problem as it may go against one’s movement capability.

Despite these undeniable realities, some coaches and trainers continue to make ridiculous statements like “everyone should be able to squat like a baby” or “barbell exercises are the best way to get strong (for everyone),” and claim the only reason someone wouldn’t emphasize barbell exercises over all other exercise options is because they don’t want to spend time coaching/ learning them. Certainly it can’t be because some professionals don’t have an attachment to any specific training modality because they realize that trying to fit square pegs, triangular pegs and diamond shaped pegs into round holes simply doesn’t make sense from either a physiological or safety standpoint.

3. Use the Two C’s

With the above realities in mind, there are two simple criteria used in the Performance U training training approach when it comes to selecting exercises that best fit the individual:

  1. Comfort—The movement is pain free, feels natural, works within your current physiology, and so on.
  1. Control—You can demonstrate the movement technique and body positioning as provided in each exercise description. For example, when squatting, you display good knee and spinal alignment throughout, along with smooth, deliberate movement.

Keep in mind, by “comfort” I don’t mean the sensation associated with muscle fatigue or “feeling the burn,” as I addressed above: I’m talking about aches and pains that exist outside the gym or flare up when you perform certain movements.

To allow for comfort and control, you may have to modify (shorten) the range of motion or adjust the hand or foot placement of a particular exercise, such as a squat or a push-up to best fit your current ability. Or, as stated above, you may just have to avoid certain exercises and emphasis other variations.

4. Emphasize Exercises that Oppose the Sitting Position 

Most of us sit too damn much! I know I do because I’m always putting together presentations, enjoy writing articles and blogs, recently wrote a book: Strength Training for Fat Loss, and I’m currently working on my second book.

It’s no secret that habitually sitting is great way to place the muscle of the backside of our body at a lengthen position for extended periods of time, while also placing the muscles on the front-side of our body at a shortened position. With this reality in mind, regardless of the individual training goal, our training programs emphasize exercises like Deadlift variations, Hip thrusts, horizontal rows, etc., because those types of movement oppose the sitting position. Does this mean that we don’t use any trunk flexion exercises or stuff like the bench press. No, we use those protocols too. We just do a bit more work on the backside of the body.

It’s important to note that the Performance U training approach does not use this training principle in attempt to fix any sort of “dysfunctions” by trying to play the corrective therapy game. We simply take this training approach because it gives people what they’re not getting on their own. Plus, having stronger, more well-developed glutes and mid-back musculature is something that most people are looking for in order to look better or move better, or both. And, the job of a fitness pro is to give people what they’re paying for. Not to mention, figure competitors often say that their competitions are “won on the backside,” and the majority of bodybuilders I’ve spoken with or consulted for commonly ask me to recommend ways to help them increase their back and gluteal development.

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