“The body adapts” 3DMJ Podcast No. 181: How to Select Your Ideal Exercises

Wow! It’s hard for me to overstate how much I loved this episode with Jeff and Nick from the 3DMJ crew! Every time they said something and I found myself thinking, “what about X?” or “just like Y!” then they would go and make the point I had just been thinking. This episode is on exercise selection and how we choose the right exercises for ourselves, for our goals, and for our unique physiologies.

When you get a program from a coach, or you buy one or download it off the web somewhere, do you feel compelled to use it exactly as written, or do you give yourself some flexibility to adjust it to your needs? I admit, I often feel like I should do it as written, to at least give it the old college try, but ultimately, I think I’ve adapted every program I’ve ever followed for any significant amount of time. I might change the moves because of limited equipment or because it’s too inconvenient to make it work at the gym. Or, I might change the order or how I warm-up to make it work better with my body. I see a program as a starting place, not as something that must be followed precisely as written. Well, based on this conversation, I’m thinking I’m in alignment with the folks over at 3DMJ. Right off the top of the episode, we get a sense of the shared philosophy about learning to adapt programming to ourselves rather than the other way around.

What follows is a thoughtful discussion of how we learn to adapt training to our needs. They recognize that there’s enough individuality that it will take time and trial and error for a lifter to develop a sense of what really works for them. Some of the elements they suggest we consider as we select exercises:

  • We need to do a move or a variation of a move long enough to develop some technical mastery of it before we switch it up. (This was in the order of weeks or months.)
  • We may benefit from rotating out exercises regularly to avoid problems associated with overuse and to build our repertoire of options.
  • We need to overcome the fear of changing things for fear that we’re missing out on what’s “optimal.” The search for optimal is worthy of its own blog post, but for now, I really appreciate Jeff’s perspective on the matter. As long as something allows us to progress, let’s not worry about if we could be maybe making more progress doing it some other way.
  • We would benefit from focusing on the moves that help us develop and maintain a mind-body connection.
  • We benefit from choosing moves that we enjoy.

This is an amazing list! I love the focus on progress over perfection, the importance of enjoying our lifting, not just treating ourselves like optimizing robots, and the undercurrent to the entire conversation about working around our challenges rather than pushing through them. No question, Nick’s experience as a physiotherapist educates this perspective, and if we want to be lifelong lifters, I really think it’s essential for us to develop those skills. I will need to post about it separately some time, but for now, let’s just say I have A LOT of experience working around injuries, and what has allowed me to keep lifting has been learning the skills to adapt my training around whatever limitations my body has thrown at me. I am pretty damn consistent and nearly always progressing, and that can only happen by being flexible with my programming and exercise selection.

Really, they said nothing I don’t love in this one. The cherry on top was Nick’s side comment on how we shouldn’t judge people who train differently from ourselves and that we should see it as an opportunity to learn something! Wow. What an amazing place our gyms would be if everyone set aside their egos for a moment, put an end to exercise-selection tribalism, and truly adopted this mindset. We all have something to learn, and as long as we are willing to keep learning, we are going to keep growing. And what bodybuilder doesn’t want to keep growing? (1)

Did you listen to this episode of the 3DMJ podcast? Have thoughts on exercise selection? I’d love to hear them! Yes, we do have a comment policy.

(1) As a total aside, I looked up Scot Morrison, referenced in this podcast, and I believe this is him, here. His blog is pretty great! I encourage you to take a look.

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