I am a huge proponent of multiple muscled exercises, compound exercises and generally all functional-type training which requires the body to move as it does in daily life and sports. What should generally be avoided however, is when the exercise resembles a “three-ring circus” performer’s routine more than a functionally sound, well-designed exercise that concentrates on providing the client with results.
While our society may encourage “multi-tasking”, we know as fitness professionals that attempting to perform too many movement patterns simultaneously may lead to ineffective exercise and frustration for our clientele and this includes patterns that are properly broken down, from simple to complex. Consequently, a balance must be struck between specific, isolation-type exercises which we all need to perform, combined with multiple muscled exercises which utilize several muscle groups simultaneously (i.e. a squat or lunge) and compound exercises which require the use of the total body (i.e. full body extensions).
All of the above have value, and while there are circumstances when training specific athletes may require a “three-ring circus” approach due to the demands of their sport, in general it is suggested that programs include a comprehensive balance. For example, perhaps in a ten-station circuit, four stations focus upon isolated exercises concentrating on specific parts of the body (i.e. lats, pectorals and triceps). And, three stations feature multiple-muscled exercises including squats, lunges, or deadlifts. The remainder may highlight compound exercises such as full body extensions or hip abduction/squats with biceps curls and perhaps a specific corset core exercise such as a V-sit rotation with a medicine ball. *Of course, this depends upon the format and purpose of the program.
Not only does the body need to “have a moment” to concentrate on one movement pattern at a time, the mind needs to be “free” to train hard without having to “over-think” every pattern and just do it. We know that distracted exercise and training does not, in general, provide the results that focused exercise and training does; however, there is value in “going for it” without getting lost in the minutia.
So, to address all of the needs of each client, the programs should be balanced challenging every major muscle group and training their bodies for movement patterns that simulate the demands that individual experiences whether an elite or recreational athlete or someone that simply wants to be able to perform their activities of daily living (i.e. ADL).
We have addressed the “mastering the fundamental movement pattern first” concept of training many times in the content of this column; however, the “three ring circus” applies to an overload of too many movement patterns performed at once so that there is a significant level of diminishing returns. Always knowing and understanding the purpose of the exercise with a scientific foundation, is crucial to achieving positive results.
Consequently, if you are asked to perform a front lunge, side lunge, back lunge in sequence while you rotate your torso and press your arms overhead, perhaps choose one component of the pattern, such as the lunge series and master it. It is not always appropriate to continue progressing a pattern regardless how advanced, skilled and fit a client may be due to the effectiveness of the pattern declining and becoming a “three-ring circus” performance.