The 3 Point Checklist to Maximize Any Exercise


By Kyle Arsenault CSCS


It’s been months in the making.

Your perfect vacation begins tomorrow. After a long week of full time hustle, you arrive home and have to complete the last task before the early morning takeoff to paradise…you have to pack.

Throwing the open suitcase on the bed, you begin to make your way through your home grabbing everything you think will need to have a great trip. Your clothes, toothbrush, sandles, shoes, etc…everything!

And to ensure you will get a night full of restful sleep and sweet dreams (so you don’t have to try and force yourself back to sleep as quickly as possible in order to re-enter the dream), you look over the checklist you compiled throughout the week for the trip.

This way you know that you will have everything you need to maximize the FUN FACTOR during your trip, and you will be able to sleep soundly knowing you won’t forget something…a good night’s rest is crucial to begin a great vacation.

After checking off the items on your list, you remove the packed suitcase, tear back the covers and slip yourself into bed. With a smile on your face, you drift off to the world of Zs excited to wake up and be on your way!

As this short story demonstrates, the use of a checklist provides for maximal results. In this case, the individual will better be able to relax knowing that they have everything they need for a great trip. This same approach should be taken with your training to ensure maximal progress. Specifically, you should use a checklist with the way you perform every exercise! And the good thing, the checklist I’m about to share only has three main points.

All too often, athletes (competitive or recreational) simply exercise instead of train. When training you have a specific focus, and this provides for better results.

The 3 point checklist below should be applied to every exercise in order to maximize your time and effort, keep you healthy and produce the greatest results possible. These 3 points are the big three that I constantly reinforce with all my athletes on every exercise. Of course, there are other points to consider on certain exercises, but hit these three and you are well on your way. Here are the big three for your training checklist…

□ Core Engaged

With every single exercise performed, you must first make sure the core is properly engaged (braced) in order to maintain optimal alignment which will facilitate optimal movement. When you are aligned properly (posture/stability) and you moving well (form/dynamic stability) you will more efficiently transfer force. Efficient transfer of force will place the training demand on the right structures (muscles, tendons, connective tissue, etc.) and will promote growth and strength gain. Also the stress placed on passive structures (ligaments, joint capsules, boney prominences, etc.) will be decreased and limit the risk of overuse injuries. Making sure the core is engaged throughout an exercise will help to maximize performance measures (power, strength, endurance, etc.) as well as keep you from experiencing unnecessary pain (hip pain, back pain, knee pain, etc.).

□ Hips Engaged / “Glutes On”

The proper stabilization of the hip (both static and dynamic) is imperative to maximize training efforts and to stave of injury. The main stabilizers and movers of the hip are the glutes. When holding static positions or moving through patterns (squat, lunge, deadlift, single leg, etc.), the glutes should be the primary workers. The glutes will better keep the hips centrated (in proper joint position), pelvis neutral (at the proper tilt and rotation) as well as provide for a more powerful movement (think of how big the gluteus maximus is).

Got Glutes?…Extra points if you can find the speedo!

□ Scapula Engaged / “Shoulder Blades On”

As with the hips, if the shoulder blades (scapula) and shoulder (glenohumarl joint) are not in proper position and stabilized (again, both statically and dynamically), you are not going to maximize force transfer and are more likely to suffer from overuse injuries. Acquiring and keeping good shoulder blade position will promote greater transfer of force from the lower body through the upper body and arm , as well as keep the shoulder from getting cranky (as long as you follow the other checkpoints).

Now that you know the checklist, here are a couple examples of how you can, and should, apply the checklist to exercises. I have underlined the 3 points.

The Deadlift

When performing the deadlift, in order to transfer as much force as possible from the body to the bar, you must engage (brace) your core throughout. Also, this keeps the lower back from performing too much of the work. This will better allow you to stave off back injury as well as keep the hips in proper position. Once the core is engaged and the hips are in proper position, you should use your glutes as the main drivers for the movement (hip hinge). If you are not using your glutes you are likely to be using too much hamstring, adductor (groin), quads and lower back. These compensations cause overuse injuries and limits performance. Lastly, your shoulder blades should be stabilized in the “back/set position” to prevent any rounding/slumping during the exercise.

The Inverted Row

As with the deadlift, when the core is engaged you are able to better transfer force from the body to the implement (in this case the handles instead of a bar). Also like the deadlift, engaging the core prevents the back from executing too much work and possibly becoming a source of pain. And for the glutes…when the glutes are engaged, the hip is kept in better alignment and better reinforces the “inverted plank position” that should be observed during the proper execution of this exercise (no bowing or hip sag). And lastly, the shoulder blades should be driving the movement in order to maximize force transfer and to keep your shoulder (glenohumeral joint) from falling into vulnerable positions. Focusing on starting and finishing the movement with the shoulder blades (bringing them together and tipping back) will keep the shoulders healthy and provide for maximal results.

Going through this 3 point checklist (core, glutes, shoulder blades) before starting any exercise will allow you to enhance performance and results of every training session. Not only will you better be able to transfer force, which is the name of the game, but more importantly, you will be less likely to fall into poor movement patterns that lead to unwanted overuse injuries.

I’ve made the list, checked it way beyond twice, and found that the results are more than nice…try it out and pass it on to friends and family to keep them healthy and enhancing performance!

One Response to The 3 Point Checklist to Maximize Any Exercise

  1. Mark says:

    Thanks Kyle – well said. The mental checklist has worked for me – especially for the dead lift you highlight. I’m back to increasing weight with the right posture and core engagement!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: