How to select exercise for your training session

In this blog, I will talk about two common approaches for implementing adequate exercise selection in your training program and those are muscle group method and the push-pull method.

Your training program needs to be balanced so that all muscle groups are trained within a training week. Why? Because this system prevents an overemphasis on particular muscle groups or movements. If we have an overemphasis effect on our training program, injuries and muscle imbalances can occur. For example, if in your training session on Monday you have 4 exercise movements that target chest muscles and one exercise that targets triceps, this is called imbalance. Now, these 4 exercise movements that target chest muscles may have some minor triceps targeting but again, it’s an imbalance. Ideally, you want to target muscle groups in a session in equal and balanced intensity.

Let’s start with an overview of muscle group method.

Muscle group method

In this method, you are dedicating each training session to specific muscle groups so that all the major muscle groups are targeted within a training week.

In this case, the target muscle groups will dictate the exercises that you select.

An example of a muscle group split. Monday (chest and back), Wednesday (Legs), Friday (Shoulders, triceps, and biceps).

Let’s do Monday for example. In order to create a balanced training program, ideally, you select an equal number of exercises for each muscle group. In this example, 3 chest exercises+ 3 back exercises. Furthermore, it depends on your goal, but ideally, you should strive to keep the same number of reps and sets throughout the training session.

Let’s talk about the push-pull method.

Push-pull method

In this particular method, exercises are selected based on their actions, for example: pushing (moving away from the body) or pulling (moving towards the body). In here, you want to ensure that agonist and antagonist muscles are training equally. This is the definition of balance here.

Image credits: Workout Uni

A great article explaining the agonist and antagonist muscles and how they work you can read it here:

Pushing and pulling exercise movements we can divide into:

  • Horizontal
  • Vertical

An example of horizontal pushing exercise is bench press and usually, these horizontal pushing movements will involve anterior muscles for example pectorals, anterior deltoids… On the other side, horizontal pulling exercises will involve the posterior muscles like trapezius or rhomboids. An example of a horizontal pulling exercise is Bent-over row.

For the upper body, this system works great but for the lower body, we have some challenges as the same muscle groups can often be worked during pushing and pulling exercises. Let me give you an example.

Let’s say we do the dead-lift which is pulling and squat which can be classified as pushing. Now, these two exercise movements both work posterior muscles like hamstrings, gluteals…How do we solve this issue? By classifying further these exercises. Let me explain.

We can classify these above exercise movements as knee or hip dominant. What is the difference? Well, hip dominant exercise movements involve flexion or extension around the hip joint, and knee dominant exercises involve flexion or extension around the knee joint. In this case, the hip dominant exercise would be dead-lift, and knee dominant would be squat.


There is a one more basic RT exercise categorization that I need to mention here and that is:

  • Multi-joint exercises or compound exercises
  • Single joint exercises or isolation exercises

Compound exercises are exercises that involve movement at more than one joint during the exercise and involve a number of muscle groups working concurrently. Let me give you an example. A back squat is a compound exercise because it involves the recruitment of a large number of muscle groups as the exercise movement occurs at the hip, knee, and ankle.

Isolation exercises on the other hand involve visible movement at one major joint so fewer muscles are recruited. For example here is a biceps curl. Biceps curl involves visible movement only at the elbow joint.

In exercise sessions, compound exercises are usually performed first when the person is fresh because compound exercises are more technically demanding. Isolation exercises are followed then. Also, one more benefit to this system is that performing compound exercises before isolation exercises result in a greater long-term strength improvement.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Until next time,


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