How to Assess an Exercise for its Usefulness

Here's how you know whether your workout is actually working!

When you first start out at the gym, you will no doubt find that it can be a little tricky knowing where to start. Not only is there a ton to learn (and a lot of different opinions to wade through) but there are also just a whole lot of different exercises. Say you want to train your pecs, how do you go about finding the right pec exercises that will help you to develop size quickly?

This isn't just a problem facing beginners either though. If you're a seasoned pro in the gym, then you may still find yourself questioning the usefulness of the moves you're using. Just because you've always done something doesn't necessarily mean it's the best thing there is to do!

So how do you assess the quality of an exercise? What different factors are there to consider when comparing different options? Here are just a few to consider…

Compound vs Isolation

A compound movement is a movement that targets multiple muscle groups in one go. A good example is the deadlift which targets the quads, glutes, hamstrings, erector spinae (lower back), rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, traps and lats. Isolation movements are those that target a single muscle group, such as the bicep curl that is designed specifically to target the biceps.

Single Joint vs Multi-Joint

The ultimate form of isolation movement is the single joint movement. This is a movement that only involves one joint, such as tricep kick-backs or pullovers. While both lat pull downs and pullovers are isolation movements for the lats, only the latter is a single joint movement.

Bilateral vs Unilateral

Bilateral exercises require you to use both sides of your body in unison. A good example is the barbell curl. Unilateral exercises use just one side of the body – such as dumbbell curls. Unilateral exercises are less efficient as take longer to have the same effect. However, unilateral exercises are very good for increasing symmetry in your physique.

Plyometric, Isometric, Dynamic

Plyometric exercises are explosive movements that include things like clapping push ups. These engage the fast twitch muscle fibers more and are great for explosive power but not for endurance. Isometrics are the opposite – these are static holds that involve nothing but endurance (such as plank). Most exercises are neither of these and could probably be best described as 'dynamic'.