Exercise Principles 101

Weight Management

Find something you enjoy doing. Do more of it. Eat fewer calories. Ta da! When it comes to fat-loss for the average person, the type of exercise matters less than the frequency and consistency you do it. Exceptions are people with specific aesthetic outcomes in mind. If you just want to lose some bodyfat and look a little more awesome, then don’t stress about specifics to start with.


Specifics Matter (?????)

Did I confuse you? In exercise courses PT’s learn about the SAID principle, which stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. This is simply a fancy way of saying that your body will determine what improvements to make, based on what you do, (this is also why staring at lingerie catalogues or flex magazine never got anyone slim or jacked). In the long run, we are what we repeatedly do, so make good choices and if you have questions about the details, get good answers.


Corrective Exercises

This term has been bandied about over the last decade or so and seems to have taken on a life of its own. A more accurate term would be improvement exercises, but that sounds rubbish. A good trainer tests and retests constantly. Did the exercise you did make you better at; that exercise or another exercise, the reason you’re exercising, or just day to day life? If so, that’s a corrective exercise, which means anything from a squat to a mini band shuffle could be corrective. It doesn’t mean anything was ‘wrong’ or ‘incorrect’ to start with, just that you had the hereto unrealised potential to be or do better.


Training Systems

Everything works, but nothing works forever and nothing works for everyone equally. That said, there are some general principles that all good systems adhere to (covered shortly). Whatever you do, make sure these principles are covered and you’re good.



Depending on your goal, your training volume is determined by one of two principles. For the average member of the public, most of the time, the goal is to find the minimum effective dose (MED) required to safely move you closer to your goal at the desired rate and do that amount of work, but no more. For the more serious trainee, the goal is to find the maximum amount of productive work you can recover from and adapt to, before the next training session. This is often referred to as maximum recoverable volume (MRV).


Recovery and Adaptation

Overtraining as a term gets bandied about a lot. Some people say it’s simply under recovering, others say it’s a myth and others still just say stupid stuff that wastes everyone’s time. Recovery is the process that returns you to your pre-workout state, post-workout, i.e. after you’ve trained. Adaptation is the period after you’ve trained that your body recognises the need to be better and puts that in place. For optimum progress, you need time for both.



All good programs have a balance, what you want vs. what you need. What you’re good at vs. what you need to be better at. What’s ideal vs. what’s available. Good coaches find the balance.


Balance – The Sequel

Good programs also have a balance in design: pushing to pulling, lower body to upper body, power to endurance, skill to effort. Generally speaking, it’s not bad practice for most people to devote more time to the muscles you can’t see facing a mirror (butt, upper back, hamstrings, triceps), than the ones you can (pecs, abs, quads, biceps). There’s no magical reason for this, other than many of them help maintain space for bones to move inside joints and make everything else work better. Also, every extra set of glute exercises you do saves a unicorn’s life, so don’t be selfish.



Being fitter is awesome. Not dying early is awesome. Stopping early due to breathlessness when it’s ‘business time’ is not. Cardio helps with this. Not all cardio has to take place on a treadmill, but if you like being on a treadmill, go with it. Regardless of the method, spend a little time every few days getting breathless. Don’t stress about whether or not to eat before you work out. If you taste food that you’re not eating during a workout, you ate too much or too near your workout, but other than that, chill.



Not to suddenly go all serious, but technique matters (no smutty remarks please). Remember the SAID principle (obviously)? Crappy technique has a cost but on a sliding scale. 1 rep has a negligible cost although that depends on the size of the load (…..). A gajillion reps with crummy technique are probably going to bite you in the ass at some point (depending on how bad the technique was and what exercise it was, they could bite you in the ass with added cavities and plaque and possibly gingivitis).


Technique – The Return

Aside from the point mentioned above, technique influences the effectiveness of an exercise, the bicep curl is not a hip extension exercise (although you may be forgiven for thinking that it is based on the typical gymgoers execution). Don’t expect your body to perform exercises well automatically either. Our bodies are smart and designed to take the path of least resistance, even when exercising.


Technique – The Long-Lost Franchise

Another point on technique, subtle variances can drastically change the outcome of an exercise. Torso position and shin angle determine whether a kettlebell swing is a quad exercise or a glute exercise. There’s never only one way to do an exercise, but there are more and less effective variations for specific outcomes.


Warm Up

As a master trainer for Trigger Point, I’m a massive advocate for foam rolling. The science is still unclear as to how it works or even what it actually does. Despite that, I see people feeling and moving better every day by including it in their training programs. That said, if you’ve only got 30 minutes to train, spending 15-20 minutes foam rolling may not be the best use of your gym time. But, you should still warm up. To constitute a warm up, what you do should: 1. Progressively establish active range of motion, 2. Progressively establish working load on the target muscles and 3. Progressively increase central nervous system activity relevant to the task at hand. This could mean simply doing 3-4 progressively heavier sets of a given exercise, before diving in to the money makers, or it could mean 5-8 minutes foam rolling and stretching anything tight or gnarly from a long period of sitting.


There is no confusion, only a lack of clarity

There’s much disagreement when it comes to exercise. We all agree it’s beneficial, but most people disagree on how to do it. Depending on who’s talking, their case may seem more or less plausible than someone else’s. The reality is that like most things in life, it comes down to your perspective. Squats are neither good or bad until put into context: how much weight, how many reps/sets, client history, injury, preferences, etc. The same applies to almost every exercise. If in doubt, refer to principle 1, find something you enjoy and do more of it.


Respect your level

No-one likes hearing this, but if you’re a beginner, act like it. Don’t jump straight into Clusters, German Volume Training or the Westside method. Develop a solid base of work capacity, strength and mobility. Once you’ve got those, then you can start looking at more advanced approaches.


Earn your progress

If you suck at a given exercise with bodyweight, you probably shouldn’t add external load yet. You only get the chance to put the foundations in a house once, take it. Get good at the basic bodyweight exercises before moving on to heavier, loaded movements. This will give your muscles and connective tissue time to adapt (remember we said that was important earlier).



Change your workouts often enough to prevent stagnation, but not so much your body has no idea what you want it to adapt to.



Have a plan when you go to the gym. You don't have to stick to it if it's not the right plan/time, but at least have one to start with.


Build habits

I’m more interested in the long-term viability of a program for the average person than almost anything else. I have little personal enthusiasm for treadmills, but if that floats someone’s boat and means they come to the gym 3-4 times a week enthusiastically, then it’s awesome. Once the habit of coming to the gym is in place, then we can get on to the business of saving unicorns with kettlebell swings and barbell hip thrusts.