There are a lot of different movements that one can do in the gym. Countless variations of exercises fall into the categories of a squat, a lunge, pushing, pulling, a hip hinge, a carry, or a twist. Even professional bodybuilders at the highest level have to simplify their programming and choose the best exercises for their goals, but how do they narrow it down?
On June 21, 2022, fourth-place finisher at the 2021 Mr. Olympia contest Hunter Labrada took to his YouTube channel to explain his process for exercise selection in another episode of his “Tuesday Tip” series. Check out the video below:
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How Hunter Labrada Chooses Exercises
When deciding which exercises to add to his training sessions, Labrada has narrowed the process down to looking for three key elements: bracing and stability, the resistance profile of a movement, and how an exercise aligns with the joint.
Bracing and Stability
The first of those three filters, so to speak, is bracing and stability. Or rather, what kind of bracing and stability does the exercise in question offer? Labrada uses the analogy “you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe” to support his position that a stable platform is necessary to generate output.
The first lens I look through is how can I make the exercise as stable as possible.
Labrada is conscious about wasting energy having to stabilize a movement that isn’t targeting that stabilization. For example, when performing a standing cable flye, the core bracing is needed to stabilize the torso while the cables push through each rep. A better alternative would be to sit on a weight bench and remove the need for that bracing so all the output can be on contracting the pecs (i.e., the target muscles).
The second lens is an exercise’s resistance profile. This is calibrating how much resistance there is at each point throughout the range of motion and where that resistance is coming from — is it from the handle, the apparatus, the joint, etc.
In a perfect world, the resistance profile will match the strength profile of the muscle.
Labrada simplifies that further by saying that ideally, for single-joint movements, the “load is lightest when the muscle is shortest and heaviest when the muscle is longest.” Some tools often used for multi-joint exercises are chains or resistance bands — anything that influences the amount of resistance during a rep.
For these reasons, Labrada trains more frequently on cable machines rather than with free weights. Of note, dumbbells have the same resistance profile throughout the range of motion, while cables are closer to Labrada’s ideal resistance profile.
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The third lens when picking exercises is joint alignment. Labrada has a massive physique, as do most competitive bodybuilders in the Men’s Open division. Joint alignment is all the more important when putting on such large amounts of mass because the angles of the joints change. Neglecting proper joint alignment risks soreness, tendonitis, and even injury.
An example of better joint alignment is in a triceps pushdown. For larger athletes, the triceps rope may not be wide enough to offer proper scapular retraction during the movement, forcing the shoulders to round forward. Instead, Labrada would perform a single-arm triceps pushdown or cable crosses to better line up his structure.
Labrada is set to compete next at the 2022 Mr. Olympia contest on Dec. 16-18, 2022, in Las Vegas, NV. His current physique in the off-season looks impressive. We’ll see if his choice of exercises with good bracing and stability, ideal resistance profiles, and proper joint alignment can help him dethrone two-time reigning Mr. Olympia Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay.
Featured image: @hunterlabrada on Instagram