A Better Approach for the Novice Athlete Than “I saw it on Instagram”

Yeah, there are a lot of fit-looking people who like to post sexy-looking fitness moves all over social media, and most of them don’t come with a don’t try this at home unless disclaimer.

Coach to flailing client: “What are you doing?”

Client: “I don’t know really. I just saw it on Instagram.”

(Collective sigh among coaches all around).

Yeah, there are a lot of fit-looking people who like to post sexy-looking fitness moves all over social media, and most of them don’t come with a don’t try this at home unless disclaimer.

The result: It’s kind of like what would happen if a first-year engineering student enrolling in 400-level courses in college. It just wouldn’t go well.

In the case of fitness, the inappropriate movement selection that happens in mass doses – not just because of social media, but because of a lack of awareness on the part of fitness enthusiasts and even coaches – means that too many people are pursuing movements and bad exercise programs that are doing them more damage than good.

It comes down to this: Exercise selection needs to be individualized, and should take into account the individual’s strengths, weaknesses and limitations.

Whether you’re a coach or a client, we’re going to make that really simple for you through OPEX Fitness’ pattern-based approach to exercise selection.

Pattern-based approach? Huh? What does that mean?

Basically, as OPEX CEO Carl Hardwick, explains in this course, you can plug all exercises into six categories, or movement patterns. These include: Squat, bend, lunge, push, pull and core.

Some context: In short, we do each of the above movements pretty much everyday. Sitting down and standing up is the squat pattern, while bending over to tie your shoes is the bend pattern.

Walking up stairs, or even just walking, is effectively the lunge pattern, while putting something away in the cupboard is a push, closing a door or starting a boat motor is a pull, and basically everything you do requires the core (if you have ever injured your core, you probably know how hard doing anything becomes).

From there, exercise selection comes down to figuring out which types of squat, bend, lunge, push, pull and core movements are appropriate for the individual.

Practically speaking: If you or your client can’t pass a shoulder flexion test – the person needs to compensate by extending their spine or bending their arm when they put their arm overhead – then this person shouldn’t be doing overhead movements with load, like a shoulder press, a push press or a snatch. Instead, something like a landmine press is likely more appropriate.

Or, if the person can step forward into a lunge and stand back up again without assistance, or severely rounding their spine (or some other compensatory pattern), then chances are loaded reverse lunges aren’t the best call.

Sidenote: Although we’re laying out principles, exercise selection is still going to be more of an art than a pure science, and the answers truly come down to each individual.

This is why it’s important to either self-assess, or if you’re a coach to put your clients through an assessment before blindly deciding what movements are right for that person.

Take this assessment (or put your clients through this assessment) before beginning a training program. It takes a look at each movement pattern and will go a long way in providing information useful to make exercise selection decisions.

The Six Patterns: 1. Squat

Some squat movements include: air squat, goblet squat, back squat, front squat, zercher squat, overhead squat, wall ball shot, thruster, single leg squats.

Practical tip from Hardwick for the novice athlete: A goblet squat, with its built in counter balance, with a prescribed tempo to control and slow the speed of the movement (three seconds to lower and three seconds to stand, for example) is generally a great place to start.

Second, higher volume repetitions are going to help the novice athlete develop and improve the squat pattern.

The Six Patterns: 2. Bend (hinge)

Some bend movements include: good morning, deadlift, kettlebell swing, RDLs, single leg RDLs.

Practical tip from Hardwick for the novice athlete: A single leg RDL to a target-such as a 20 inch box-is a good option for a novice athlete who has limited balance and strength on their single leg.

The Six Patterns: 3. Lunge

Some lunge movements include: walking lunges, reverse lunges, farmer carry lunges, overhead lunges, step-ups, lateral step-ups.

Practical tip from Hardwick for the novice athlete: If an individual cannot pass a simple lunge test, meaning they can’t step into a lunge, get their knee to the ground and stand back up again without compensation or assisting themselves with their hands-an assisted split squat is a good tool.

This can be as simple as lowering slowly into a split squat while holding onto a dowel, and then using the dowel to assist themselves up with their arms.

The Six Patterns: 4. Push

Some push movements include: scapular protraction in a plank, push-ups, bench press, floor press, landmine press, shoulder press, push press, jerk, burpees, dips, ring dips, handstand push-ups.

Practical tip from Hardwick for the novice athlete: If the individual cannot pass a plank hold test – meaning they cannot hold a plank for 60 seconds in the front plank – then a simple scapular protraction in a plank position is a great way to build pushing strength.

This will help develop control and strength in the plank position before beginning to build pushing strength.

The Six Patterns: 5. Pull

Some pull movements include: banded pull apart, ring rows, pull-ups, chin-ups, muscle-ups, bent over row, lat pulldowns, Pendlay row.

Practical tip from Hardwick for the novice athlete: Spending time in the top of a ring row hold for as long as possible (rest and repeat three times) is a great way to build both scapular retraction and help them build muscular endurance in the pull pattern.

The Six Patterns: 6. Core

Again, everything uses the core, but some movements that tend to be core dominant include: planks, side planks, sit-ups, tuck-ups, v-sits, barbell rollouts, dragon flags, toes to bar.

Practical tip from Hardwick for the novice athlete: Planks, planks, planks. The novice athlete should build strength in both front and side planks, as this will translate into being able to engage the core in everything we do, both in the gym and in life.

Keep planking until the individual can hold each side plank for two minutes a side.


The bottom line: Randomly selecting exercises that look cool on Instagram is not the secret sauce to success. Taking a deliberate, calculated, individualized approach is.

So take the time to figure out what you (or your clients) actually need for long-term success.