Let me start this post off by saying that the metaphor of a tool belt may be a terrible choice for me to use. The work uniform I’ve worn 6 days a week for the last 5 years has consisted entirely of elastic banded shorts. I rarely wear shoes in the gym and when I do, they’re a pair of sliders. I’m positive I’ve never owned an actual tool belt. As a trainer though, I have a giant tool belt. Depending on the situation, I can pull out powerlifting routines, bodybuilding routines, group circuits, one man (or woman) circuits, group competitions, cooperative workouts, stretching, injury prevention, mobility, sport training and a variety of other workout methodologies depending on the situation. I think that any good trainer SHOULD have a lot of different areas to draw from so they’re ready to get good results with any client that walks through the door.
Be smart with your exercise selection and you’ll be happy with your workouts.
The issue then comes from using the wrong tool for the job. I see people trying to use a hammer to drive in a screw all the time in the fitness world. The fact is, some tools are just better suited to jobs than others are. I think that for the majority of situations, dumbbells work better for hypertrophy work than barbells. Good lifters make subtle tweaks to exercises to allow themselves to “feel” the exercise to a greater degree. If I’m targeting growth in my biceps I’d much rather go with a DB Curl than a Barbell Curl. I think barbells work fine, but personally I’m going to select a better tool.
I think Olympic lifting is a poor tool for conditioning. I feel the same way about deadlifts. Can they be tiring? Absolutely, but I think that rowing, skiing, pedaling a bike, or pushing a sled is a much better option. I want to be able to encourage someone to push as hard as they can without fear that they’ll compromise form and hurt themselves. The rowers and skiers are also very low impact and give automatic feedback every single stroke so there is no opportunity to delude yourself. If you see a 2:01 pace, you’ve slowed down from the 1:55 you were pulling at. There is no way to deny that one. I love it. Can olympic lifting serve as conditioning? Absolutely. Can you dig out your swimming pool with a spoon? Absolutely. You’re just not going to catch me doing it.
A few simple rules for my thoughts on which tool is right for you.
- Trying to get stronger? Select a compound exercise where the limiting factor is your strength in the area you’re trying to bring up, i.e. don’t select a heavy overhead squat to make your legs stronger if your shoulders are going to be the limiting factor.
- Trying to get fitter? Pick exercises where you can focus primarily on pushing harder. Don’t select exercises that are overly complicated and will exhaust you mentally or are likely to get you injured if you move the wrong way.
- Trying to work on hypertrophy? Select an exercise that you can “feel”. Don’t feel the bench press in your pecs? Don’t use it to try to bring up that muscle group then.