My exercise selection (strength matters 3)

Welcome back

Let me start by thanking so many of you on sending your valuable feedback on the last blog, made me feel I certainly  picked up the right topic. So far we have established why we need baseline strength for almost everybody and what are the training principles for it. On the third part of this series post I would like to keep it short and power packed. What are some of the exercises that will have the maximum impact on upper and lower body strength and are functional. The word ‘functional exercises’ has been thrown around a lot these days but to me the meaning is simple. These exercises will have carryover benefits to certain ADL’s, hence more functional.

If you were able to convince your client that lifting weight could positively impact his/her health and he/she agreed but has a very busy day and can only spare 30 minutes a day to exercise, what exercises would you chose? If some athletes come to you during off season, tell you that  they want to get stronger or increase their overall muscle mass and that they can only spare 1-2 months before they shift their focus back on sports skills, what would your exercise selection look like then? Remember time is not on your side and the clock is ticking, your clients demand the maximum training bang for their buck. In such a situation, here are a few things to take into consideration


  1. Bigger muscles. You know what I am talking about- the glutes, the hammies, the quads, the lats, the pecs. Your biceps, triceps, calf, forearm muscles are not the obvious choice. (Tik toc remember you don’t have the luxury of time).
  2. Compound multi-joint exercises- why not use one exercise that works on multiple joints and perfect that movement rather than spending time and energy on 5 different isolation exercises to target the same amount of joints/muscles. I think it’s a no brainer.
  3. Exercises that mimic sports movements/ADL’s- aka ‘Functional exercises’.
  4. Body weight exercises over machine exercises- Machine exercises are not ‘functional’. Here’s an example – you could train your quads with a knee extension machine in the gym or train it with a squat. Now, how often do you need to squat in a day, to pick stuff off the floor, sit in a toilet seat etc. How often do your athletes need to squat? To jump, to dive etc. I don’t need to elaborate here. How often do you perform the knee extension movement while sitting on a chair, what do you use that for? Is there a sport that requires athletes to sit and extend their knees? I certainly can’t think of any. Also remember that when performing body weight compound multi-joint movements you are not just training a physical attribute of overcoming resistance but as these movements are complex, you are also creating new neuromuscular pathways to develop a skill. Kind of sounds like motor learning, doesn’t it?

Without further adieu, here are my current favorite exercises for strengthening/fitness –

  1. The squat-
  • Targets multiple big muscles like glutes, quads, hammies, erector spinae, core etc.
  • Functional in ADL’s and sports movements.
  • Translates to higher vertical jump.
  • Positive effect on blood hormonal levels of serum insulin like growth factor, testosterone and growth hormone.

2.  The dead lifts-

  • Very functional- trains the hip hinge pattern.
  • Great upper and lower body strengthening exercise.
  • Targets even greater number of muscles than the squat- glutes, quads, hammies, erector spinae, lats, traps, grip muscles.
  • Similar positive effects on serum testosterone and GH like the squat.

3. The Kettlebell swing-

  • Strengthen posterior chain and the core.
  • Great exercise to teach the hip hinge pattern for people with low back pain.
  • Trains the cardiovascular & muscular system, balance & coordination, core stabilization and hand and eye coordination.

4. The pull up-

  • Great exercise to build upper body strength in ‘pulling’ movements.
  • Works on multiple muscles- the lats, scapular stabilizers, elbow flexors, grip muscles etc.
  • Multi joint exercise with good metabolic effect.

(Sorry I don’t have a video of me doing this exercise yet. This is my weakest link in upper body strength and I have struggled with it for years. I can perform a few bad pullups but I cannot perform a single good ‘strict’ pull up. I am currently training for it with assistance weights and bands. I will put a video of them shortly for those who struggle in this exercise like me. Just like this blog loosely following my journey of learning, I plan to have a parallel journey of performing 10 strict pullups and sharing it with you. I am not sure how long it will take but I will update often. I also welcome anyone who would like to embark on this journey with me, send me a message and we can talk more.)

5.  The Military press/Shoulder press-

  • Strengthens shoulders, arms, core, scapular stabilizers.
  • Builds strength in overhead movements with carryover in ADL’s.

6. The Dumbell/barbell bench press-

  • Great exercise to build upper body strength in ‘pushing’ movements.
  • Works on pecs, arm and core muscles.


By no means is this list exhaustive. There are a lot of other exercises out there that have great benefits which I have not mentioned here. Training athletes for more sports specific exercises can be a book in itself and I will write more on it in the future. However, if you look at most of the exercises above, they have something in common. They all focus on training more than one muscle/joint at a time, target the larger muscles and have some carryover to what we do in everyday life. For this first post on exercise selection, I am sticking to the ‘KISS’ principle.


I welcome you to share your thoughts on some exercises you like.

Until next time


Pursue excellence

Abhijit Minhas PT


The science of training (strength matters 2)

Welcome back,

Ready to go down the rabbit hole?

Today’s blog post is a follow up on the last blog post ‘Strength matters’ where I wrote about why its a great attribute to work on strength and its benefits. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, I recommend going through it first (You can find it Here). What is the difference between hypertrophy, strength and power and how to train for each of these attribute? Let me give this a shot-

Hypertrophy– it is a form of resistance training which primarily focuses on increasing muscular size. The by product of this is also an increase in strength no doubt. It is most often seen in the sport of body building where the competitors are judged based upon biggest muscular development, definition etc. This training can help athletes during off season to gain some mass and is can be utilized by athletes to jump to a higher weight classes in sports like wrestling, boxing etc. Also, a great option for patients recovering from injury or individuals who have no prior experience with weight training. This training ‘generally’ utilizes isolation exercises to focus on very specific group of muscles like dumbbell chest press for pecs, bicep curls for bicep brachii, tricep extensions for triceps, hamstring curls etc etc. Most of us our fairly familiar with this kind of training. Here’s a good example of someone training for hypertrophy.


Remember this guy!

In my opinion most of us are fairly comfortable with prescribing exercise for hypertrophy, but know this, the most ripped guy is not the strongest or fastest, he just has better muscle definition and less body fat then the rest. This does not dictate improved athletic performance.

Here is where it gets interesting!


Strength –  in its simplest definitions means the ability of the muscles to generate/produce force to overcome resistance. This form of resistance training is different from hypertrophy in a way that it helps build strength in a person without gaining a lot of muscle mass. In other words, here the primary focus is on getting stronger, not bigger (muscles). The intention of this training is force production and activation of neuro-muscular pathways. The strength is generally measured by the amount of weight a person can press (bench, overhead press), lift (squat, deadlift) etc. It is generally trained with compound multi joint movements which are specific to the athlete’s sports.  Strength training is given preference during off season (few months prior to games, series, matches) as it utilizes high intensities and loads. Here is a video of a strongman competition from Europe. Notice how these guys are not ripped and muscular like Arnold but they could outlift most of the bodybuilders. These are the men that break world records and are also summoned by Queen Cersei, queen of the seven kingdoms and the protector of the realm to be her queens guard (hope you recognize the giant from game of thrones. I’m sure he will put his strength to display this season cracking some more skulls).



Power– is work done per unit of time. Earlier, I would often use the terms strength and power interchangeably but know that both are not the same. The key difference is that power training requires generation of force as fast as possible (Strength training focuses on force produced but not the speed). This form of training has great benefits in athletic performance as it works on explosiveness. When does an athlete need the above mentioned power you ask? They need it the most in the first 2-3 seconds of a hundred meter sprint as soon as the shot is fired, the sprinter’s lower body must produce the maximum amount of force as fast as possible, they need it to produce enough speed to throw a short put or a javelin  as far as possible (upper body strength alone wouldn’t be enough), a batsman needs the upper body explosiveness to swing the bat hard and fast on a relatively slow/spin bowl to make it go the maximum distance and cross the boundary. There are many examples as most of the sports require some sort of explosive power. Some exercises that can be used to develop power are Olympic lifts (snatch, clean and jerk), plyometrics (box jumps, lateral hops, clap push ups, broad jumps etc) However, unlike hypertrophy and strength training which can be very beneficial for our patients and the average joe/jane, power movements are highly skilled movements (as you will see in the videos below) which require weeks if not months of training and are generally used to improve athletic performance. This kind of training does not carry as much benefits for the patient population. Here are a just a few examples of power exercises-



Understanding these concepts is great but lets discuss  how can we train for these attributes individually in terms of sets, reps and weights lifted. What I present to you below are NSCA general guidelines (slightly modified) that are followed by most of american college level strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists and personal trainers.

Type of training             Load (%1RM)             Repetition           Sets

Hypertrophy                   65-85                           6-12                        3-6

Strength                           > 85                              < 6                          2-5

Power                               85-95                            1-3                         2-5

(Needless to say, one must calculate the 1 repetition maximum of a person before prescribing the above.)

I don’t know how you feel about all of this information, but the first time I was introduced to all of these concepts I was bewildered but extremely excited. I realized I knew so little and there was so much to learn. After all, up until I started to delve into this subject had someone asked me to train a high school basketball or cricket team for sports specific fitness, I would have most likely advised the team to go hit the weights in the gym doing bodybuilding exercises like bicep curls, leg extensions and other fairly unproductive isolation exercises along with some running around the cricket field to train cardio. This would be just very bad exercise prescription on my part which would barely improve any physical preparedness for these school athletes.  Lets be honest, in college we learn how to treat low back pain, knee pain etc etc but as physios we are often expected to prescribe training protocols to athletes and I know that a lot of us are not fully prepared for this. I also want  to reiterate that even though I have been harping about athletes, using strength training safely on our patients has tremendous benefits.

My hope with this blog post series is to help shed some light on this aspect of our work so we can be more multi faceted physiotherapists. We have just barely scratched the surface here, in the following blog posts in this series I would like to talk about what exercises have the maximum influence on increasing hypertrophy, strength and power and how they can increase athletic performance; training cycles, sports nutrition etc etc, the list is endless. Meanwhile, I hope this blog will stir some discussion which is mutually beneficial to everyone as I would love to hear inputs from other sports physios who are already in the trenches. Leave a comment.

As always my friends

Pursue excellence

Abhijit Minhas PT