Types of Training: Picking Effective Exercises

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People have various reasons for becoming interested in using exercise to progressively change some part of their physique or ability.  But it will make a big difference in how effective you are if you choose the right sort of exercise.


There are a lot of different things that people will train for.  Each of the different things has its own type of training.  Having some understanding of what those types of training are and why they’re being selected helps immensely if you have a do-it-yourself approach with your exercise routine.  Even if you’re getting guidance, it’s still nice to see the lay of the land.


Most fitness training is targeted toward changing ability, but there is one significant branch of training which has had a huge impact on popular views of fitness that is not concerned with ability and is primarily oriented towards physique.  



Bodybuilding is a competitive sport in which success is measured by muscle size and definition.


Bodybuilding is the branch of training primarily responsible for the existence of gym machines which allow a person to isolate muscles, for instance sitting down and doing leg extension to work the quadriceps group.  Most other types of training would not use this approach, instead the trainee would be standing and moving multiple joints simultaneously.  


While most people I’ve talked to have some amount of interest in their physique, their primary interest is in their health and function, so this approach doesn’t serve their needs.  On the other hand, isolating specific muscles is very useful in both rehabilitation and as a starting point in training for a severely deconditioned individual.




There are two related sports that focus on measuring and competing with maximum strength.  These are Weightlifting (an Olympic Sport) and Powerlifting.  The goal is to lift the heaviest weight possible.  There are rules about how the weight is lifted.  Sometimes it is not just the heaviest weight, but also the speed at which it is lifted.  These sports provide excellent guidance on how to develop strength, though most people I know would not be interested in only developing maximal lifting strength.

There is another type of maximal strength training called Strongman training in which people move unconventional objects.


Other Types of Training


Other types of training include Strength Training, Endurance Training, Cardio-metabolic Training and Mobility Training.  These have more flexible definitions in terms of what they are and what you do.  They aren’t competitive sports with defined rules like the preceding examples, rather these are different domains of fitness.  So one individual in one workout could do bits of each of these types of training, or focus on different training outcomes on different days of the week, which is another common approach.  These are the types of training that most people I know would be interested in.


Strength Training


Strength training itself has several branches, usually named after a type of equipment (Kettlebell training, bodyweight training) or a type of ideology (Parkour, Crossfit).  These types of training have a greater variety of more complex strength building exercises and less of an emphasis on maximal or competitive strength.




This is similar to cardio training.  The main idea is to increase the heart and respiratory rate.  This type of training usually uses the large muscle groups at sub maximal levels of exertion that can be sustained for longer periods of time.  This type of training to date has received the most scientific attention for measuring health effects, so it is more often talked about in magazines and on health websites.


Mobility Training


This doesn’t seem to be a distinct branch of training at this time.  I think we’ll hear this talked about a lot more in the near future.  It’s largely conflated with what people think of as flexibility training such as stretching or yoga.  The detail the subject deserves is beyond the scope of this overview.  However, an important point to bear in mind is that mobility is dependent upon your body’s ability to control motion at a joint.  If a joint is moving beyond the range of what the body can control at a rate of speed or under a load that could cause damage (very little speed or load is needed to cause damage in severely weakened tissues) then it will trigger a stretch reflex or cause muscle inhibition.  This means that having greater strength with which to control your motion will increase your mobility.


Endurance Training


This is an interesting domain of fitness that is better trained for according to the next section, because we have to ask ourselves, “Endurance for what?”

There are two primary types of endurance.  Endurance in muscles, which is a product of the muscle fiber type that has been developed by the training stimulus, and endurance in the cardio-respiratory system, which is a product of how intensely you train and for what length of time.


Sport Specific Training.  


All those athletes doing all those different types of sports, like sprinting, football, ballet, have training programs that focus on making them better at a specific ability.  They have to focus on two parts of their sport.  One part is physical ability, like strength, endurance, balance and what not.  The other is their skill, which would be more in the realm of motor control, coordination and memorization.  Skill without the strength and endurance to back it up won’t get them very far.  Strength without skill would make them generally fit, but not a sprinter, pole vaulter, figure skater, etc.


What type of training does the non-competitive person who just wants to live a good life and engage in their desired hobbies and recreational activities need to do?  


Actually, they would pick Sport Specific Training, except instead of training for figure skating or football we would train for our lives.  So, for me that would be training that makes me more able to garden, backpack, do trail work, skate ski (a type of Nordic skiing), go for the occasional bike ride, and any other goals I dream up that I think would be fun to see myself do.  I’d pick the training program in the same way that the gymnast’s or ski jumpers coach would pick their exercises.  Which ones build the strength, endurance, balance, motor control, and mobility that I need?  It is possible to train for things like gardening, washing the dog, mopping the floor or going up and down stairs.


We can consider life a sport that requires mobility, endurance and strength, and use the same tactics that Olympic athletes and their coaches use, on a scale that suits our aspirations.


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