Exercise Selection is Meaningless


by Alec Enkiri | 3/16/23

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Today I'm here to tell you that the specific lifts you choose to do in the gym are irrelevant to your long term progress.

Let's talk about the importance of exercise selection! Or rather, how TRIVIAL the specific exercise variations that you choose to spend most of your time on are in terms of your long-term progress in the gym. I made a video a few week's ago responding to FitnessFAQ's assertion that the Z press is a superior upper body hypertrophy exercise as compared to the standing overhead press. And I argued in that particular video that that assertion is incorrect, and that the Z press is inferior for upper body hypertrophy as compared to more stable vertical pressing variations, such as the standing overhead press and the AD Press.

And while I stand by the general validity of that argument, the fact is that it is somewhat of a reductionist take. One reductionist take gets another reductionist take in return. When analyzing the bigger picture, however, the whole truth of the matter is if you want maximal upper body hypertrophy then you probably actually SHOULD master the Z press.

Because the true reality of the situation is that every single variation is SO IMPORTANT for long term progress that no single variation, in and of itself, actually matters at all. Every single exercise is great in its own way, but every single exercise is just another tool in the toolbox and the more tools that you have at your disposal the better, more productive, and more efficient job that you can do across the vast majority of scenarios that you may be presented with over the training career.

Different Tools & Different Tasks

Now some of these tools are going to be a better choice where you want to bias, say, hypertrophy over strength. Some will be better where you want to bias strength over hypertrophy. Some will be better where you want to bias mobility over strength and hypertrophy. And still some will be better where you want to bias stability over strength or hypertrophy or mobility. But EVERY SINGLE TOOL builds EVERY SINGLE QUALITY, they just do so to varying extents. They all exist on a continuum.

However, the fact is, regardless of your goals, the more of them that you know and the more of them that you have mastered and the more of them that you are apt to include in your training over time then it is likely that the better that your long term gains will be. And as I said that is irrespective of your primary goal or goals - they can be strength, they can be hypertrophy, or they can be some blending of the two.

But there are so many different possible permutations available, so many different potential variations available to accomplish any different type of goal, that the individual variations themselves become rather meaningless. In my own training I have gotten to a point where I don't even plan the workouts anymore! I don't schedule a specific variation on a specific day and I do not have an official cycle on paper that I rotate through. For the most part, I just do whatever the fuck I feel like doing on that day within the framework that I have prescribed for myself.

So if you have seen any of the programs that I sell on my website then you know that they're all template based. I prescribe exercise categories and then the user fills in the blanks based on their goals and preferences. And this is how I train myself at this point as well, I just do so in a less formal fashion. The template style framework is all there, and fill in the blank slots are all there in my program (so I know the general idea of what I'm trying to accomplish on any given day), but there are no specific prescriptions for exercise variations - just for movement patterns. I may as well just roll a pair of dice and select the actual exercises that I do on any given day that way.

In reality though, I go by preference, I go by what feels good and what I am motivated to push hard on, and I go by what has been going well lately. 

And then I rotate through cyclically in that manner over time. So sometimes certain variations will show up in clusters for a few weeks or months, and then disappear for a few weeks or months. Whereas other variations simply appear sporadically every so often. I've started to present so many obscure variations of the big compound exercises in the last few years that people ask me all the time now something along the lines of, "why should I do this specific variation? What is the benefit of this specific variation over this other specific variation!?" 

It reminds me of that scene in Forrest Gump where he's been running across the United States for a few years, and he's all over the news, and people have started following him and running with him, and they're asking him, "why are you doing this!? Are you running for some opaque but important reason? Are you running for world peace!?"  and in true forrest gump fashion he responds by saying "I just felt like running."

I just felt like...

pressing from behind the neck with my butt on the floor

I Just Felt Like Running

And that's really as simple as it is! "Why are you Z pressing from behind the neck? Why are you performing Anderson squats with an SSB with your butt just 3 inches off the floor? Why are you lunging off of 6 inch deficit with 240lbs in your back? Why are you performing ATG heels elevated SSB squats? Why pin squats? why zombie squats? Why top down pin lifts? Why bottoms up pin lifts? Why AD presses? Why Larsen presses?" etc. etc. I can go on all day, but the fact is "I just felt like running!"

Mostly it's because I just felt like it. I tried a bunch of different shit. I found a bunch of different variations of the primary exercises that felt good, that I could consistently improve upon, and that build upon small aspects of different things I personally want to improve upon, and now I hammer them all in rotation.

And the more of them that I can consistently hammer and get better at the better my overall long term progress will be.

But there is no hidden meaning behind each one; some esoteric rationale for the inclusion of each specific variation. I could make one up, but that's all it would be: made up. Each variation biases something slightly different from the next one, but regardless of what my current goal is I'm always going to be better off being better at more of them, and making judicious usage of more of them, rather than less of them.

Again, I may want to emphasize specific variations at specific times if I'm trying to achieve a specific goal that a particular variation accomplishes better than a different variation, but in terms of the long term, BIG PICTURE?

No particular variation really matters at all. No particular variation is a panacea.

It is the appropriate progression and variation, combined of course with plenty of effort sleep and food, that really matters at the end of the day.

Why This is a GOOD Thing

This should be considered a good thing because...not every variation suits every individual!

If, for example, the Z press press actually was the ultimate end all be all for everybody for shoulder hypertrophy, then a large percentage of people would be incredibly screwed because a large percentage of people will simply never be able to master this movement. But the Z press is not the end all be all. There are 20 other variations that can be used to accomplish the same goals that the Z press may accomplish, so nobody is screwed. And that is a good thing!

In reality it's really all just about covering your bases. If your goal is general strength & hypertrophy in the long run (or powerbuilding or whatever you wanna call it), which is the goal of the majority of trainees, then include in your training:

These are the major players. These are the major movement patterns. If you perform these movement patterns consistently and get stronger at them, and get better at them, and master all of them, then in 5 or 10 years you will be jacked and you will be strong. The goal will be accomplished. And that is farther than 99% of people ever make it.

From there fill in the holes with some tertiary and isolation movements to round out whatever you decide your weak points are, but don't obsess about whether or not you should include a particular variation in your training because none of them are going to make or break the program in the long run.

It's more about finding things that feel good, finding variations that you enjoy doing, and then moving through them cyclically to keep things interesting, add some spice to your training, and prevent your body from becoming overly accommodated to specific variations (as well as to prevent overuse injuries). The more of these variations that you can master over time the better off you'll be, but each variation, in and of itself, is irrelevant. Remember that next time you get overly bogged down in a cycle of paralysis by analysis.

This article in video format on my YouTube channel!

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