Program Design – Movement Selection

Today I want to talk about program design! Programming is simply your plan of attack when you walk into the gym, your garage or living room to workout. Most people love to talk about exercise selection, set, rep schemes, and how many days to show up in the gym; while those are important, I want to focus on a bigger and more basic picture.


There are some basic movements that we should all be able to do as humans whether for athletic performance or everyday life. It would be remiss of me to say that I came up with this idea but Dan John (well known strength, discus, and football coach) preaches this constantly and I completely agree with him. Dan John is constantly looking for the simplest approach and I appreciate that. It is not necessary to kill yourself doing 30 different exercises, especially if you are a beginner. Just walking in the gym is frightening enough. Choosing to do a smaller number of exercises gives you the opportunity to master the movements, allowing greater strength gains and lowering the risk for injury. If you want to learn more about Dan John you can go to his website at or you can even read several of his articles over at tnation


The next logical step that I should take is to tell you what exercises to do, right? Well, not quite. Instead I would tell you and challenge you to work these movements, not exercises, into your routine programming. They are:


  • Upper body Horizontal Push
  • Upper Body Horizontal Pull
  • Upper Body Vertical Push
  • Upper Body Vertical Pull
  • Squat
  • Hinge
  • Carry


This might seem like a lot but you don’t have to do it all in one day. One of my favorites splits looks something like this.



  • Horizontal Push
  • Horizontal Pull
  • Squat


  • Vertical Push
  • Vertical Pull
  • Hinge
  • Carry



This is a list of exercises that fit into each of these movement categories. Unsure of how to do them? Searching on YouTube always yields results, even if they aren’t always the best explanations, it will get you started.  Technique WOD by Barbell Shrugged is a great resource. Hopefully I will be able to do exercise tutorials in the future but I need to focus on being a consistent writer first!


Horizontal Push Horizontal Pull Squat Vertical Push Vertical Pull Hinge Carry
Bench Press Bent Over Row Barbell Back Squat Barbell Military Press Chin Up


Deadlift Farmers Walk
Push-Up Inverted Row Air Squat Pike Press Pull-Up Kettlebell Swing Waiters carry
Incline Bench Press Leverage Machine Row Goblet Squat Seated Barbell Press Neutral Grip Chin-Up Romanian Deadlift Sandbag carry
Dumbbell Bench Press Seated Cable Row Front Squat Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press Leverage Machine High Row Back Extension Bear Hug Carry



Hopefully this helps you think about your training and the organization it requires. Excellent programming is not easy and while there are many general rules and guidelines it is also extremely personal. Experiment on yourself. The gym is a lab, and for goodness sakes, live like a human and do some basic human movements!


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