Good Exercise Selection

by Daniel Jangula, CSEP-CEP
Assistant Fitness Testing & Assessment Coordinator
Recreation Services, University of Manitoba

Regarding exercise selection, it’s far too easy to stick with exercises that may give you a good pump over working on a movement correcting an imbalance or helping fix poor posture. The temptation of spending your precious gym time working on developing your biceps, pecs or abs is pretty strong, and seeing your bulging muscles may seem to deliver a bigger hit of gratification over gaining a greater degree of thoracic spine extension or better control of the lumbo-pelvic region. I see this phenomenon particularly (although definitely not exclusively) with younger gym goers. With a lot of university students, it’s easy to get away with only working on chest and arms every time they’re in the gym, and maybe occasionally trying to squat or deadlift more weight than their form can tolerate once every other week. Poor exercise selection that feeds into posture faults is more easily tolerated time has yet to catch up with them, and they haven’t spent a decade or more working a full-time desk job where large amounts of time may be spent in compromised posture.

For many people I’ve talked with that have been unfortunate to have an injury related to general overuse, a sporting activity, or just being so unfortunate that age has taken their toll on their body, they’ve had a sense of appreciation engrained in them for the benefit of a well-balanced exercise program that includes exercise selection geared toward injury prevention, posture correction, and improvement of mobility. I’m not trying to be a wet blanket by saying don’t ever do a bicep curl again if you want to optimize your movement, just that devoting some time by throwing an exercise or two in each workout that’s geared toward mobility or stability of certain problematic body parts as opposed to JUST focusing on aesthetics can go a long way in helping you feel like you’re not falling apart (you can have the best of both worlds, don’t worry).

In a world designed around copious amounts of sedentary time, whether it’s at a desk for the job you’re working or time spent in lectures and studying, or time spent zoned out in front of a TV and on your phone, it can be tough to avoid being in compromised postures for long periods of time. Over the years, sitting in a chronically flexed position starts to manifest itself in symptoms such as rounded shoulders, hunched upper back, tight muscles in the shoulders, chest, and upper traps, and weakened spinal extensor and upper back muscles. While these things become more obvious if left unaddressed as the years go on, I notice the start of this phenomenon in a lot of younger people as well. This is just one of several obvious postural issues that are commonly seen in many people, and, if treated in earlier stages, has a relatively simple fix through a combination of stretching to open up the chest muscles, mobilizing the thoracic spine, and strengthening muscles of the upper back along with thoracic extensors. On the other side of the coin, doing exercises excessively targeting muscles like abs and chest without balancing that out with spinal extensor and upper back strengthening (respectively) can feed into that same issue. By being aware of any issues you may have and selecting exercises to help rectify them, you’re doing your body a favour in the long run.

Stay tuned to my blog over the next few months as I tackle issues such as ‘desk posture’ along with other issues by providing specific strengthening and mobility drills to weave into your exercise repertoire. My hope is that some people reading this will shift their philosophy to looking at their gym time as an opportunity to work on rebalancing their bodies against the stresses that daily life subject them to so that they can move better and feel more comfortable.