This is the best exercise for everything!

Or is it?

Which exercise?

We regularly see posts and claims for the best exercise, rep scheme or training methodology. A quick search for ‘best glute exercise’ or ‘best bicep exercise’ will throw up a list of suggestions from well meaning people who have probably had great results with the said exercise or protocol.

But if there was a best exercise for your lower abs why would so many people still be bothering with the others? The truth is that the best exercise will be different for different individuals, depending on their anthropometric proportions, joint positioning, their skill (or lack of it) with the complexity of an exercise, and the way they try to exert force. The reason that people rave about certain exercises is that they are terrific for the people who rave about them. They really feel the muscle working in a bridge shelk but not an RDL perhaps.

However, the ‘better’ exercise might not be equally effective for two athletes with different limb to torso ratios and different fibre compositions. Some athletes are prone to exert force differently. One relies on concentric muscular force more than explosive potential energy. They are dependent on different properties from different tissues. These forces can come from ground reactions via feet that have a totally different medial longitudinal arch. That force can be transmitted into hips that are vastly different etc., etc., anywhere you care to talk about along the chain. That is one of the reasons why there are so many exercises. This isn’t even taking into account different goals for the adaptation or even different sports

How long?

Let’s say you find the best exercise for you based on some of the above criteria. How long before you adapt to it and how long before you get no positive adaptation but are still accumulating wear and tear?

No doubt some exercises are better for some athletes than others, and it isn’t always that hard to find them. Even if you find the best one, after 3-6 weeks, depending on their experience, it won’t be doing them much good apart from maintenance and preserving tissue tolerance for work. So you need to have a way of preserving the stimulus to prevent a detraining effect while continuing to put the optimal exercises back into the rotation if there is still a beneficial reason for including the exercise.

Instead of giving your team the ‘best’ exercise you could try following these four easy steps:

  1. Think of the quality you are trying to train and make sure the exercise incorporates that adequately
  2. Give athletes a suitable choice of exercises that instill that quality, give input as required
  3. Treat each rep you get to observe as an assessment, see how good their technique is after cueing, get feedback from them as to what they feel during and after
  4. Determine which exercises are preferable for you and the athlete based on measurable improvements and step 3. Try to keep them in the rotation 50-75% of the time, but don’t train it in consecutive blocks.

Eventually you will hit a ceiling. Then you need to decide whether you want to merely maintain the relevant adaptation and focus on improving other more pressing areas of your sport. If this is an area you still want to improve then there are ways to make our best exercises better but that is for another day.

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