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Concurrent Training: Balancing Aesthetics and Strength-Part 2: Exercise Selection

Here's where we start to get into a topic you're probably already pretty familiar with--exercise selection. This term basically just refers to selecting WHICH exercises to perform during your training.

There are a few factors to consider when selecting exercises, and before you can select appropriate exercises, you must know what your goals are (see Part 1).

1) SAID Principle: The SAID (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) Principle states that our bodies adapt specifically to imposed demands when biomechanical or neurological stressors are applied. Basically, this means that if you want to increase your 1RM low bar back squat, you must train your low bar back squat at very high intensity (high percentage of your maximum) in a low rep range. If you want to improve your 100-M sprint time, you need to train short sprints. We'll come back to intensity, volume, frequency, and rep ranges in the next posts. For this post, we'll just be discussing selecting exercises.

Since we are specifically referring to powerlifting and bodybuilding here, you're going to want to make sure that you are training your competition lifts (Squat, Bench, Deadlift) regularly.

2) Choose Compound Exercises First: Any exercise that involves multiple joints and muscle groups will give you more bang for your buck than an isolation (single muscle group) exercise. If you are reading this, you obviously want to make the most of your training, which means that you should be focusing on compound exercises. These compound exercises should be the "meat" of your training, followed by compound accessory work (non-competition compound lifts that help you improve your main lifts--think: pause deadlifts, close grip bench press, split squats, etc.), and finally by isolation work when appropriate.

Begin your workouts with that day's planned compound exercises, starting with the most competition-specific first. Performing your competition lifts first ensures that you are doing them while you are most mentally and physically fresh, before you begin to accumulate fatigue. You can follow competition specific lifts with other compounds and accessory exercises, prioritizing the exercises that utilize the most and largest muscle groups. After you've completed all of your compound exercises, you can focus on any isolation exercises you feel are necessary. Isolation exercises are movments that involve only one joint or muscle group, and include things like curls, tricep extensions, leg extensions.

3) Lumbar and Spine load considerations: One thing to consider while selecting exercises is reducing risk for injury by being smart about the amounts of stress placed on certain vulnerable structures that are worked across multiple training days. Your lumbar spine takes a good deal of stress on both squat and deadlift days, for example. You will likely perform other compounds that can also be taxing on the lumbar--RDLs, rows, etc. To minimize the risk of injury and maximize recovery, consider using alternatives to the competition lifts that require a little less stress on the lumbar area on some days. Some good options for this are pause squats or deadlifts performed at a lighter load, belt squats seal rows instead of bent over rows, and similar alternatives. Many of these options provide a great opportunity to focus on and improve technique at a lighter load.

4) Other considerations: Choose exercises that use the full range of motion. Closed kinetic chain exercises are typically better than open kinetic chain exercises. Use machines sparingly (this includes the Smith Machine!).

As always, feel free to send any questions to

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