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Movements vs. Exercises

"BRO I'm gonna crush some barbell bench press followed by some dumbbell bench press followed by push ups supersetted with cable crossovers to maximum muscle confusion!"

A sentence I'm sure we've all heard, if not in the free weights section at GoodLife at least in our nightmares. I'm hoping this article can walk through the exercise selection process for people creating their own programs or coaches interested in what my programming process looks like.

How we adapt:

In my article on how we get stronger I talked about all of the different ways we can increase our strength. In general, you can provide the greatest stimuli to your body through manipulating:

- Intensity - % of your 1RM you are working at, movement speed, etc...

- Volume - # of reps completed at a working weight in a sets x reps format

- Frequency - # of times training that movement per week

- Duration - volume for timed exercises. Could also be total time spent training.

We apply these variables to different movement patterns to improve performance, aesthetics or other characteristics we want to develop.


Humans have 7 basic movement patterns:

- Push

- Pull

- Squat

- Hinge

- Lunge

- Rotation

- Gait

These movements are comprised of actions at joints that make up these basic movements, for example: a split squat is a lunge pattern but you are performing knee extension (quads working) and hip extension (glutes/hamstrings working) to make that movement happen.

These movements can be completed unweighted, weighted or assisted. They can be completed at different velocities, intensities, for longer or shorter durations or more frequently. THAT is how you stimulate adaptations in the body. Exercise selection is merely a tool accomplish that goal.

For example: Exercise // Movement Category // Primary Actions

BB Bench Press // Horizontal Pressing // Shoulder Flexion+Adduction+Elbow Extension

DB Bench Press // Horizontal Pressing // Shoulder Flexion+Adduction+Elbow Extension

Push Up // Horizontal Pressing // Shoulder Flexion+Adduction+Elbow Extension

KB Floor Press // Horizontal Pressing // Shoulder Flexion+Adduction+Elbow Extension

Your pecs don't know if you're holding dumbbells or a kettlebell. Your muscles respond to range of motion, plane of movement, load and rate of contraction, duration of contraction, and a number of other factors. The movements you select are more important than the implements you use to load those movements.

Selecting Movement Categories

The 1:1 pull:push ratio is a good rule of thumb to start with. If you do one pressing exercise (dips, bench, push ups, shoulder press, etc...) make sure that is balanced with a pulling movement (row, pull up, lat pull down, bench pull, etc...). The same can be said for your lower body. If you are doing knee extensions, then make sure you are working your hamstrings as well.

It's important to look into the angle you're training. When I work with military athletes I always make sure to include a focus on single arm work including horizontal pulling and vertical pressing. Military athletes typically do so many push ups and pull ups that they require a "rebalance" of sorts. Simply put - if you are training vertical pulling 2x/week, aim to include 2x vertical presses/week.

Always Back to the Why

Like everything with training, there should be a reason why you select the movements you train. Here is an example of going through an area to improve -> movement category -> exercise

Rugby Forward Lineout Boosting -> Vertical Pushing -> Push Press

Working backwards, push pressing will make the athlete better at vertical pushing which will translate to improved performance in lineout boosting.

Lets look at a rugby player through our 7 movements:

- Push: Lineout, Fending, Passing, Tackling, Mauling, Getting of the ground

- Pull: Injury Prevention, Tackle, Poaching, Mauling, Rucking

- Squat: Scrum, Tackling, Jumping, Mauling, Rucking

- Hinge: Scrum, Tackle, Jumping, Mauling, Rucking

- Lunge: Tackle, Running, Rucking, Change of Direction

- Rotation: Pass/Catch, Ball Placement, Clear Outs, Anti-Rotation in Scrum/Maul/Ruck

- Gait: Running, Sprinting, Crawling,

As you can see, all movements are covered. So - here's the trick. How do you fit in all of these movements in a week of training? The answer: lots of thinking, prioritizing the exercises that give you the most bang for your buck.

When selecting movements you always need to go back to your why.

What are you training for? Once you have that answered - what are your limitations? Do you have injuries that would prevent you from hingeing?

Below I'll run through an example of a typical lifestyle client I'd see and how I would progress through programming for them.

Client: Jebron Lames

Age: 30

Height: 5'11

Weight: 250lbs

Occupation: Tech Savvy Person


**Weight Loss

**Run a 10km race in next year

Physical Limitations: Weak glutes, thoracic rounding

Restrictions: 3x/week in gym, 60min Sessions, 2 days available for running

We know that for Mr. Lames goals we'll be looking to try and get lots of work in to a 60min period while also working to strengthen his hips and upper back.

Step 1: Decide Weekly Schedule (another article coming on this later)

Monday: Full Body Push Weights

Tuesday: Walk/Jog + Stretch

Wednesday: REST

Thursday: Full Body Pull Weights

Friday: REST

Saturday: Upper Body Weights + Walk/Jog

Sunday: REST

His lower body will be loaded 4x/week (2x weights + 2x runs) his upper body is loaded 3x/week during all the weights sessions.

Step 2: Select Movements + Sets/Reps (example: Thursday)

1 - Full Body Warm Up

2A - Double Leg Hinge 4 x 8

2B - Hip Accessory 4 x 10

2C - Hip Accessory 4 x 10

3A - Vertical Pull 4 x 8

3B - Upper Body Accessory 4 x 12

3C - Anterior Core #1 4 x 8

4 - Finisher Circuit x 3 Rounds

Bicep Exercise x 15

Upper Back Exercise x 15

Anterior Core #2 x 30sec

Anterior Core #3 x 30sec

Step 3: Select Exercises (Thursday)

1 - Full Body Warm Up

2A - Barbell RDL 4 x 8

2B - Band Around Knees Glute Bridge 4 x 10

2C - Band Monster Walks 4 x 10 per side

3A - Lat Pull Down 4 x 8

3B - Band Pull Apart 4 x 12

3C - Deadbug 4 x 8 per side

4 - Finisher Circuit x 3 Rounds

*DB Hammer Curls x 15

*Cable Face Pulls x 15

*Front Plank x 30sec

*Inch Worms x 30sec

Applying in Practice

If there's one thing to take away from this article it's this: you gotta get your protein in 20 minutes after you crush arms bro or you're gonna miss your anabolic window.

Just kidding.

It's a good idea to go through your programming and write down each movement, direction of movement, and limbs used. For example, you might find that the program you made for yourself that you are pushing 4 days per week of those days 3 days you're pressing vertically. This might be fine if you are working towards a goal where that works to your advantage. But you should have the information available to make an informed decision. I hope this article has helped bring up some questions as to why your programs are the way they are - and empower you to ask questions!

Until next Monday.


Mylan Clairmont, MSc, CSCS

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