Work out smarter, not harder

By Kenneth Prabhakar | Photographer

The fitness industry is notorious for its reputation of profiting off of the general population’s lack of knowledge about personal fitness. Many influencers push unrealistic standards by endorsing their fitness programs. They tell the audience their programs can transform anyone and make them look like themselves. In reality, the industry is filled with trainers who cycle steroids and leave the public completely oblivious to this key fact.

The truth is, no program can make anyone look like anybody specifically. Everybody has a different body and different genetics. Even if a program is followed very strictly — on top of a high protein-regulated diet — it is very unlikely anyone will look like the trainer who created the program.

The art of personal fitness takes many forms. There is no one right way to work out. Defining your goal is extremely important in terms of figuring out what form of fitness you should pursue. Assuming the general population works out to look a certain way, this column will strictly be talking about aesthetic-based training.

There are no “right” exercises that will make you look a certain way; however, there are smarter exercises you should prioritize that will better help you reach your goals.

Take the barbell bench press as an example. It’s one of the most loved exercises among gym rats everywhere. It’s a great exercise for building strength, but considering your goal is building muscle or hypertrophy, it would be smarter to prioritize the dumbbell bench press. This exercise better activates and targets the muscle fibers in your chest.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t include the barbell bench press in your program. It is a phenomenal exercise with an amazing capacity to progressively overload. However, if you are not training for strength, I personally don’t think it is necessary to include it in your program.

I believe the same principle applies to the two other exercises included in the big three: the squat and the deadlift. I can’t reiterate enough how great these exercises are.

There is a reason they are known as the big three. In particular, the squat and the deadlift work muscle groups from all over your body. These types of exercises are known as compound exercises and should always be prioritized in your programs, regardless of your goals. Just because these exercises are phenomenal and are proven to work, does not mean they are the only way to achieve your dream physique.

The deadlift is known for its high risk and reward, and many people do not practice it with the right form. The squat is a popular exercise as well; however, a lot of people suffer from knee pain or other issues that makes the squat harder to perform.

Alternative compound exercises do exist and can be implemented as a replacement for these traditional movements. The deadlift can be replaced with rack pulls, farmer’s carries and the hex bar deadlift. The squat can be replaced with Bulgarian split squats and the hack squat.

It is so important to research the exercises you are prioritizing. The traditional squat will work better than an exercise like leg extensions even though they technically both still activate your quads. The reason for this is that leg extensions are considered an isolation movement, meaning they only target one muscle group.

Leg extensions are amazing for growing your legs; however, they should not come before your main leg compound movement. Compound exercises are so important for all types of fitness, and I cannot emphasize that enough. They should always be prioritized.

The point is there are no right exercises, and there are viable options to work with if certain exercises don’t necessarily work out for you. There is so much misinformation in the fitness industry pushed by people who lie about their “natural” physiques. Define your goal and find out which exercises work best for your body and your goals. Fitness is such an important aspect of your life, and it is equally important that you enjoy the time you spend working out.