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Why poor exercise execution is destroying your results- AND how to FIX IT!

Exercise execution is under valued by most people looking to make changes to their body. We put all of the emphasis on the training programme itself- the exercises- order- sets- reps……. All crucial components, but without good exercise execution, probably over emphasised.

Great exercise execution with a solid programme can lead to truly remarkable results. But, an equally good programme with poor exercise execution can lead to minimal results, and a world of other problems.

So, if you want to make progress, let’s dive in….


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What do we mean by exercise execution?

Simply put, exercise execution is how we perform the exercise to ensure it’s effectiveness. We need to consider not only the main muscles worked, but the individual anatomy of the person, their strengths, weaknesses, injury history, movement habits, mobility, specific range for that muscle group, and more.

The first thing to consider here is the appropriateness of exercise selection.

Let’s take the squat as an example….

Not specific enough? Ok, lets use a high bar pause squat (tempo ecc: pause: con: pause 3:2:X:1). The name itself tells use a LOT about the movement. Now, this can be a great exercise to use in a programme…. But to build your quads? Maybe… maybe not.

Imagine this programme completed by two different people, but the goal of the exercise is to build the quads in this instance. A 30-year-old female, 5ft 5, 55kg with great mobility and the ability to execute an almost upright squat. And a 30-year-old male, 6ft 3, 89kg with poor mobility and limited ankle ROM, meaning his hips shoot back during a squat (without any adjustments).

The female can take the quads through a large ROM, without compromising position or causing additional pain/ discomfort elsewhere. She will get a high quad activation, and limited downsides. Success.

But for the male performing the same exercise for the same reason, it’s a different story. An inability to squat to depth causing increased stress on the lower back and hip extensors can make this exercise a poor choice (if not almost impossible) to do. Low quad activation, and high joint stress makes this selection poor for this individual.

Same exercise- same goal- different results!

The second thing to consider here is what I call focused intention (although I’m sure that’s probably come from someone else..). This is when there is nothing wrong with the exercise selection per se (the individual would be able to perform perfect reps), but they don’t execute correctly through lack of understanding of the technique, or laziness. Now, I’m not criticising here… laziness doesn’t mean you are lazy. It means that when the going gets tough, you compromise technique… it’s our body’s way to minimise stress, so it’s almost unconscious… we speed up reps, we use momentum…. We do whatever we can to REDUCE the stress of the exercise when it gets tough.

But, to progress, we need that physical stress. Avoiding the last 2 reps on a 10 rep set, the the last 4 on 12, and 7 on 15 is NOT progression, it’s impatient and lazy.

Keep perfect form.. work towards targets WITHOUT compromising form (for the most part) and ACTUALLY progress.

Disclaimer: This is not your excuse to be soft in the gym…. Work hard, as without effort and overload, it doesn’t matter! Anyone can do 12 perfect reps with an empty water bottle for a year, but they won’t get stronger or bigger from it.  You need to find your limits, and push them, without ego.





What is the goal?

Anytime you perform an exercise, ask yourself- what’s the goal?

This is key. Sometimes, you’re not trying to feel the muscles on fire. For example, a powerlifter performing a deadlift is looking for the most efficient position to move maximum weight… that’s the goal. A bodybuilder performing a deadlift may be looking to lift big weights, but their goal may be to maximally stress the muscles they’re targeting…. A slightly different movement, for a different purpose. Both are correct.

Regardless, good, focused exercise execution is required- but whether that means holding postures under high load for low reps, or working until you feel every part of your muscle contract and swell with perfect isolation work, that’s comes down to what you want. Is that exercise to get big? To get strong? To get bigger in an area so you can get strong? Or is it to build muscle and strength as much as possible whilst dropping fat?

All exercises in a programme have a goal. Some directly related to the overall programme goal, some indirectly, but good execution is essential for ALL.





Why poor technique leads to half the gains and twice the issues

The point of good exercise execution is to maximally stress the target area, with minimum stress anywhere else. Done well, correct exercise execution allows for more stimulus on the area you want to work, whilst preserving the joint and allowing for sufficient recovery.

Let’s take a chest press as an example. If we can work the chest and protect the shoulder joint, we can overload the muscle with a relatively fast recovery, leading to being able to work it again…. Over time this can lead to huge gains in size and strength. However, poor execution (we often see shoulders protracted and elbows high) can lead to decreased load though the target muscle, less joint stability, higher load through other muscles and increased overall stress on the joint. Over time, this leads to minimal gains in size and/ or strength, and a potential host of other issues with the shoulder complex!





How to fix it.

After reading this, you should now be aware of two pivotal factors with regards to exercise execution. Firstly, some exercises simply won’t be right for what you’re trying to achieve at the minute. Go away and work on technique with that if necessary but swap it for something more appropriate to your goal and anatomy to make short term gains during this phase.

Secondly, even if the selection is perfect, you need to focus and push through difficult sets with great technique to make progress. This is key, and will skyrocket your progress. BUT, make sure you understand the exercise you’re trying to perform in detail, otherwise you could be wasting a lot of time and effort (and even doing some damage)!

Struggling with exercise execution is common. Here at FX, we have the luxury to work 1-1 or in small groups with some of our clients, to really get into the individual detail of movements.

We have also launched our online physique course, detailing through video the key points of essential exercise mechanics for all of the key lifts in the physique programme. In addition, this programme includes:

  • Two live online group coaching sessions per week for you and like-minded people on the plan with similar goals.
  •  A detailed, progressive training programme using our software, with progress photos, progress reports, training calendars, and more.
  • A detailed, individual nutrition programme (with adjustments) to ensure you have all the nutrition support you need to build muscle and shred bodyfat.
  • Access to our bespoke facility as your own personal training facility.
  • Access to our expert team of specialists
  • Weekly live online Q and A’s
  • Access to our Online Physique course
  • Access to our members Site

To apply for any of our programmes, click here. And don’t forget to download our FREE eBook on 6 essentials to building a great physique!

For anything else, shoot me an email at josh@fitness-experience.co.uk.


Josh Kennedy MSc, ASCC, CSCS

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