Choosing the right exercise to produce results

Train based on your ability and background, not your age or peer pressure, since there are lots of variations in the competence and training level among people of the same age group and fitness levels.

Need to be cautious: Going heavier also increases your risk sometimes, because the more load you use, the closer you get to potentially exceeding your body’s tolerance. This is the reason why lifting injuries are a product of having more ego than intelligence.   -  The Hindu photo library

When you ask strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches or trainers ‘which is the best exercise?’ you may get a profound answer ‘it depends.’

Here are a few points to ponder over the question from the S&C point of view

Determining the best exercises comes down to evaluating and comparing exercises based on the following factors.

What’s the risk to reward problem?

Plyometric box jumps with high box are a great example of a high risk, low reward exercise because at times the emphasis is on the height of the box instead of the height of actual jump. Here’s what it means.

For example: Executing a single high box jump,which is same height as your waist. If you’re trying to increase vertical jump height, it requires a powerful and explosive hip extension action, instead of a hip flexion action, which means, you actually want to minimise the amount of hip flexion involved in landing on top of the box.

READ: Training domain: sport-specific or athlete-defined?

When you have a couple of exercises that train the same movement pattern or muscle group, and those exercises create less prospective unwanted stress on the joints and connective tissues, the exercise that offers better reward than risk can be considered the better exercise. 

There are some exercises which can be tweaked to give the same benefits with less stress on the joints and connective tissues.

Applying general rule of the thumb, exercises that create forced end-range joint and spine actions while lifting heavy loads or using medium loads for high repetitions can be considered high risk. This is because, when joints are moved to their end range of movement, the load shifts from the contracting muscle to the non-contractile connective tissue.

Going heavier also increases your risk sometimes, because the more load you use, the closer you get to potentially exceeding your body’s tolerance. This is the reason why lifting injuries are a product of having more ego than intelligence.

Having said that, it doesn’t mean lifting heavy is dangerous or impertinent — that would be a ridiculous claim. It simply means that if you’re not training to be a powerlifter, you don’t need to go whacky with 1RM work. Instead, you can get plenty strong lifting heavy loads, doing 3 to 5 rep sets while maximising the effort on each rep, Doing so gives you the benefits of lifting heavy loads with far less risk of injury from potentially surpassing your body’s tolerance.

Risky exercises need not come from the movements or amount of load they involve too. They can also come from the equipment chosen.

Does the exercise fit you?

Regarding increasing the risk of injury, doing an otherwise low risk exercise with poor technique or functioning through pain can also increase your risk.

Since we are all made differently with different medical background, fitness antiquity and lifting experience, not every exercise is right for everybody. This is why it’s imperative to fit exercises to you instead of trying to fit yourself to exercises. Finding exercise variations, you can do pain-free and with good technique for the best results.

It also allows you to perform them with what I call the three C’s of individualised exercise:

Comfort: The movement is pain-free and feels normal.

Control: You can execute the standard movement technique and body positioning of the exercise with the right form.

Coordination: Joint angle coordination with synergy in strength and resistance curve.

Train based on your ability and background, not your age or peer pressure, since there are lots of variations in the competence and training level among people of the same age group and fitness levels.

What’s the effective range of motion?

There’s the various range of motion (ROM) you move through in a given exercise, and there’s the effective range of motion that your involved muscles are dealing with enough load to create sufficient training adaptations.

The effective ROM is what matters when it comes to building strength and muscle. This is why strength zone training is full of motion lifting for each joint movement to the full ROM to build functional strength component.

Choosing the right strength zone exercises is an art, depending on leverage and planes of motion for specific individual to specific sport and skill.

READ: The importance of communication between athletes and coaches

Does the exercise’s resistance curve match your strength curve?

Two significant influencers that impact the way we execute all resistance training exercises are 1) the resistance curve involved in the exercise and 2) The strength curve when performing the exercise.

The Resistance Curve: This refers to how the load changes throughout the range of motion based on changes in lever-arm length.

The Strength Curve: This refers to how your strength changes throughout the range of motion of a given exercise, which is known as the length-tension relationship or the length-tension curve. This describes how muscles are strongest in their mid-range of motion, and weaker in their shortened range (contracted position).

Ideally, you’d like the lever arm of a movement — or the distance between a weight and the joint responsible for moving it — to be longest at the point where you’re strongest, and less where you’re weaker.

Many trainers falsely believe that adding resistance bands to free weight and plate-loaded exercises creates ‘accommodating resistance.’ The resistance is only accommodating when the band getting heavier corresponds with you gaining a mechanical advantage over the load as you do the lift, such as what occurs when doing a free weight or machine chest press, deadlift, Romanian deadlift, squat, leg press, etc.

However, the opposite occurs when adding bands to rows, which creates un-accommodating resistance. And, when the resistance curve is increasing as your strength curve is decreasing, it forces you to cheat.

Does it require great skill to perform?

It’s well accepted that the best methods for improving power output are probably ballistic training (i.e., jumping and throwing with weights) and Olympic lifting.

Putting it basically, if there are multiple ways to accomplish the same training goal, the one with the shorter learning curve is the best because it gets the job done more efficiently, instead of spending time working on skills specific to Olympic lifting for non-Olympic lifters. There are various other methods of improving power, such as different types of jumping, medicine ball throwing and kettlebell swings, or jump shrugs work just as effectively while also allowing for more time to be devoted to training other important things they do need. Pertinent protocols are the key for specific sport.

Setting up time

Setting up for the best exercise need not require loads of time to be spent. It is better to choose specific exercises to reach the same goal with limited time frame.

Speaking of maximising one’s limited time, if you have a bunch of exercises that accomplish the same goal, the best exercises are the ones that accomplish roughly the same goal but don’t require a lot of extra equipment and setup time.

Not being the best exercise doesn’t mean it’s bad or ineffective!

Just because an exercise might not be classified as the best, doesn’t mean it’s not an effective exercise. Having said that, since there are voluminous exercise possibilities out there to choose from, you can use these above criteria, zeroing in on your top 10 list of ‘go-to’ exercises for each movement pattern or muscle group for specific sport and skill.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :