Tip: How to Find the Best Exercises for Your Body

Think of a weight-training exercise. Is it the best choice for YOU? Here's how to know.

Optimize Exercise Quality

For any given lifter at any given time, some exercises are better than others. By "better" I mean a more optimal benefit/drawback ratio.

What makes an exercise "better?" Lots of things:

  • Exercises you can perform safely and effectively are better. If bench presses hurt your shoulders and you don't really feel them in your pecs, either fix your technique or find a better alternative.
  • Exercises that target large muscles tend to be better than those that train smaller muscle groups. Sure, getting bigger biceps will require "small" exercises (curls), but overall, big exercises for big muscles are the most effective way to get big. Guys who squat, bench, and pull big numbers tend to be big all over.
  • The best exercises are those that permit a high degree of loading. Ask any accomplished strength coach what the best exercises are, and he's very likely to say squats, pulls, flat and overhead presses, rows, and pull-ups. Four hundred pound squats will ALWAYS do more for you than 80-pound pushdowns, even if big arms are your primary goal.
  • Exercises that allow more ROM are better than those performed over a smaller ROM. Generally speaking, standard bench presses and deadlifts are better than board presses and block pulls.
  • Static (isometric) exercises such as planks are very poor muscle development tools. Sure, they might be good for "activation" (does anyone know what that means by the way?), or maybe you just like them for unknown reasons. Just don't expect them to directly contribute to a great physique.
  • Stable exercises are better than unstable or less-stable movements since they allow for greater loading potential. Smith machine step-ups are better than standard step-ups. Standard military presses are better than overhead pressing on one foot or from a BOSU ball.

Sure, there's always a place for exercises that are exceptions to these rules; just don't major in minors.

Charles Staley is an accomplished strength coach who specializes in helping older athletes reclaim their physicality and vitality. At age 56, Charles is leaner than ever, injury free, and in his lifetime best shape. His PRs include a 400-pound squat, 510-pound deadlift, and a 17 chin-up max. Follow Charles Staley on Facebook