Selecting Weight Training Exercises For Your Workout Routine

At this point you should know what weight training frequency is most ideal for you and have selected a workout schedule that suits that frequency.

You should have also figured out how many reps to do per set for your goal, and planned how much volume (total amount of sets, reps and exercises) you’re going to do each workout for each muscle group.

With all of that out of the way, the last big step in creating your weight training routine is exercise selection.

So, here’s a question. Which weight training exercises should you use in your workout routine?

It’s really not that complicated of a question, but it’s one a lot of people spend a lot of time trying to answer. There’s just so many different exercises to choose from, it can make things a little confusing if you don’t fully understand what you’re looking for.

So, let’s clear up all of that confusion right now.

The 4 Different Ways To Categorize Weight Training Exercises

The way I see it, there are 4 different ways weight training exercises can be categorized. And, each different way brings up a whole new set of important details that you will need to know to ensure your workout routine has the best exercise selection possible.

Let’s now go through those categories one-by-one and see how each will affect your selection process.

1. Free Weight Exercises, Body Weight Exercises, and Machines

One of the simplest ways to categorize an exercise is by the type of equipment it requires.

Meaning, is it done using free weights, your own body weight, or some type of machine. Depending on your exact goal and weight training experience level, one may be more ideal for you than the other.

2. Compound Exercises and Isolation Exercises

Another simple way to categorize weight training exercises is by how it trains your body.

Specifically, does it target more than 1 major muscle group at a time (compound), or does it target just one muscle group by itself (isolation)?

Once again, depending on your exact goal, one type of exercise is definitely more ideal for you than the other. Plus, the more muscle groups an exercise targets, the more attention you need to pay to how it affects your planned amount of volume/frequency for those additional muscle groups.

3. The Different Movement Patterns

Now here’s something a lot of people are going to be unfamiliar with, and it’s a big part of the reason why injuries occur so frequently among people who workout regularly.

Selecting weight training exercises based on their specific movement pattern (horizontal push or pull, vertical push or pull, etc.) isn’t just useful for the effectiveness of your workout routine, it’s a flat out requirement if you want to avoid imbalances and injuries.

4. Body Parts and Muscle Groups

And last but not least, we have the most common way of categorizing weight training exercises, which is simply by which muscle group/body part that exercise targets.

This is unfortunately the only category most people pay any significant attention to (it is useful for obvious reasons), but for the best results possible, it really needs to be used in conjunction with the other 3 I just mentioned.

Let’s Begin The Exercise Selection Process…

So, without further ado, let’s go through each category in detail and figure out exactly which weight training exercises are best for you, your body, your experience level, and your goal. Let’s start here…

Free Weight Exercises vs Body Weight Exercises vs Machines

(This article is part of a completely free guide to creating the best workout routine possible for your exact goal. It starts here: The Ultimate Weight Training Workout Routine)

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Jay is the science-based writer and researcher behind everything you've seen here. He has 15+ years of experience helping thousands of men and women lose fat, gain muscle, and build their "goal body." His work has been featured by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, CNET, Business Week and more, referenced in studies, used in textbooks, quoted in publications, and adapted by coaches, trainers, and diet professionals at every level.