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Workout Programs – Exercise Selection and Exercise Placement

Workout Programs – Exercise Selection and Exercise Placement

In a world of ever changing “revolutionary” workout programs, it is important not to forget the basics. In order to really get the most out of your training, forget the likes of FST7, fortitude training etc, these are useless without the paired knowledge of what it takes to create a subjectively effective program suited to you or your client’s needs.

Before you begin to create workout programs you must clearly understand the goal, this is your foundation and without it, you’re essentially shooting in the dark. Taking an objective approach to programming and ensuring you listen to the needs and wants of someone (whether that be a client or yourself) is imperative.


Exercise placement

In order to really get the most from a workout, it is important to prioritize your movements, making sure you get the most bang for your buck with each movement. Think of each movement as costing a certain amount of calories, the calories you are wanting to spend in a session being limited to a certain number. Typically, compound movements engage more muscle groups thus requiring more calories per rep, whether the compound of choice is machine based e.g. leg press, or free weight based such as a barbell squat, the amount of calories spent during these movements will be significantly higher to that of an isolation such as a leg extension.

When programming, you will typically program the heavier compound movements first as these require the most energy and composure to execute. In more advanced programming for the more experienced athlete it may prove fruitful to program the heavier compounds later in the workout e.g. rack pulls at the end of a session.

This isn’t to say that isolation movements are not as important, they allow us to take one specific muscle to mechanical failure, they can also be used prior to compounds when there is a form of muscular imbalance present, e.g. if one finds there is an issue with quadricep engagement in a squat it may be advisable to do some leg extensions prior to squatting, this will force the inflammatory response and force blood into the quadricep prior to the compound. This is a form of pre-exhaustion/ activation and can be used with a variety exercises, the most common being any form of hip extension e.g. glute bridges in order to prime the glutes for heavy compounds, these can be done unilaterally, bi-laterally and with or without load.

How to make Workout programs

Exercise selection

Before I get into this section any further, I would like to press the fact that there is no such thing as an “essential exercise”, exercise effectiveness and suitability is completely subjective to the individual and their biomechanics, you do NOT need to deadlift and you do NOT need to squat. There are thousands of movements, immeasurable amounts of equipment and machines available so do not hem yourself into the false belief that you HAVE to do a certain exercise.

In the previous subheading, I mentioned getting the most “bang for your buck” and how it applies to exercise placement, now let’s relate this to exercise selection.

Typically, your workout programs will consist of maybe 1-3 compound movements, followed by various isolation movements, using straight sets, rest pause, supersets and drop sets etc. But are you really choosing the right movements?

The best movements are the ones in which you are able to take a muscle from a fully lengthened position, into its fully shortened position whilst remaining in a fixed movement pattern. This can be demonstrated particularly well when considering the standard bicep curl, when standing there is a lot of freedom around the elbow joint and shoulder joints, meaning more chance of deviation from a fixed range of movement. This may result in a decrease of muscle fibre recruitment, there is also a slight chance in form discrepancies accommodating a slight drop off in loading at certain parts of the movement. When compared to something such as the single arm machine preacher curl, this will prove inferior when considering muscle fibre recruitment. Due to the fixed plane of motion, this movement allows the bicep to be loaded fully and consistently to its anatomical potential.



In short, the more fixed one can be in a set plane of motion will often prove very effective in muscle fibre recruitment along with being generally lower risk in terms of injury potential, however this does not mean to say there is not a place for free weight compound and isolation exercises, although this is somewhat subjective to individual biomechanics and physiology, along with any potential previous injuries.


By Tireoghain O’Neill

Tireoghain O’Neill


You may also like our article on ‘Resistance Training Benefits When Adding to your Workouts’

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