One thing I am seeing in the exercise industry is a lack of specificity. In particular, specificity when it comes to exercise design and prescription for an individual. This bleeds over into many areas – the type of exercise, the dosage of the exercise, the speed/tempo at which the exercise is performed, the tools used to perform the exercise. In fact, almost everything in the exercise industry is the complete opposite of specific. One size fits most programs; group fitness classes; semi-private training; exercise DVDs, books, and online programs; and exercise tips given to the masses are all examples of this.

I am not trying to suggest that exercise needs to be so complicated that it can only be done under laboratory-esque conditions with all variables controlled and accounted for, but there needs to be a lot of appreciation for the individual. Additionally, the different variables of exercise need to be at least acknowledged if not strategically manipulated.

So how do we take something that is as complex as exercise (and yes, it is highly complex) and make it less overwhelming? Are there general guidelines that actually could be given to the masses that would allow for both safe and effective exercise prescription and progression?

Yes, I suppose it is possible, but the reality is giving a recommendation that is appropriate for the majority of the bell-shaped curve is likely inappropriate at some level for each of the people who actually make up the curve. That said there are five principles that are worth applying to most individuals.

Principle 1: Exercise is designed to create a change within your body.

What This Means: Decisions about exercise need to be made based on the changes you are trying to create within your body.

Practical Application: If you want to use exercise to help you prevent cancer, for example, you need to be exercising at a high enough intensity to create those changes.

Principle 2: Exercise happens within your body, not outside of it.

What This Means: Your focus needs to be on what is happening inside of your body while you are exercising, especially while resistance training.

Practical Application: When performing an exercise such as a knee extension, focus on squeezing the group of muscles you are trying to challenge (i.e. the quadriceps) instead of focusing on lifting the weight.

Principle 3: The current state of your body needs to be taken into consideration before you exercise and while you are exercising.

What This Means: Perform a diagnostics check on your body before you do your workout. Keep tabs on how you are feeling while you are exercising, too.

Practical Application: Even if your super-secret Russian program requests that you do 8 sets of squats on a given day, if you are not feeling up for it before the workout or are hurting during the workout, change what you are doing.

Principle 4: You must be able to recover from your exercise.

What This Means: If you are feeling overly fatigued, beat up, sore, achy, or injured from the exercises you are doing, there is something about the exercises that is inappropriate for your body at this point in time.

Practical Application: If you cannot at least match the intensity or volume of exercise that you did the last time you worked out, you have likely not recovered well enough and should consider taking more time to recover before your next workout.

Principle 5: Exercise consistency is key.

What This Means: Exercise in a manner that you are able to do it week after week. You need to take into consideration your schedule, your work demands, your life demands, and how much time you would actually like to spend exercising. However you choose to exercise, you need to make sure you are able to keep exercising for the rest of your life.

Practical Application: Look at the exercise you are currently doing and ask yourself if you will be able to keep it up for the next 40(+) years. If the answer is no, you should either adjust your exercise or adjust what you are doing outside of your exercise time (i.e. recovery, nutrition, sleep, stress) to ensure the longevity of your exercise life.

At Muscle Activation Schaumburg, our focus is helping our clients improve their health and longevity by teaching them how to exercise for life. This approach to exercise requires a highly specific and detail-oriented focus on the individual and the exercise. These five principles are foundational for our thought process and the decisions we make with each client. My hope is that you are able to use these principles to help guide your decision-making process for your exercise, as well.

What exercise principles do you use to ensure that you are able to exercise for life?

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Charlie Cates

Charlie Cates is the leading consultant to high-level professional, college, & high school basketball players in the Chicagoland area for injury prevention, recovery, & muscle performance. As a certified Muscle Activation Techniques® MATRx practitioner & former college basketball player, he uses his personal experience & understanding of the game & player demands to create customized exercise options for his clients to recover faster & perform their best. Follow him on Instagram @CharlieCates!