ISSA Chapter 13: Exercise Selection and Technique
ISSA Chapter 13: Exercise Selection and Technique 5

Chapter Goals:

  • Discuss the three different styles of learning.
  • Know the verbal and nonverbal forms of communication and how someone can use both.
  • Explain exercise cueing and the importance of exercise and fitness.
  • Find the fundamental movement categories that classify human movement.
  • Know the exercises that apply to each category of fundamental movement.
  • Know the prime movers for main exercises.


Exercise selection is one of the main acute training variables the trainer will consider when building exercise programming.

Selecting exercises can find the factors like potential intensity, training outcome, and enjoyment of the program.

When looking into what exercises to choose for the program, the trainer must consider these things:

  • the desired target muscle groups or movement patterns
  • the muscle groups or movement patterns to avoid that can prevent injury or overuse
  • skill and comfort level of the client with specific movements
  • the availability of equipment, space, and tools

For most programs, there is an excess of different exercises trainers may choose from.

Well-rounded exercises may be divided into how they are done and the fundamental human movements they incorporate.

Well-rounded programs will use exercises that promote health, mobility, strength, and musculoskeletal function.

Common Exercise Injuries and Injury Prevention

Understanding the need for proper exercise techniques is important for trainers to master.

Know some of the main reasons seen for injury occurring during exercise:

  • Misuse of some acute variables of training. This could be speed, rest, load, and more. The acute variables can be used in the program in a way that the body cannot handle. An easy example is doing a bench press with too much weight.
  • Improper training progression is when the acute training variables are implemented out of order. An example would be a new client doing jump squats without proper training and progressing their ability to squat with both feet flat on the floor.
  • Poor mobility or flexibility. Both of these aspects impact every pattern of movement. Whether the client has joints that are stiff, poor range of motion at the joints, or low pliability, the client may see altered arthrokinematics.
  • Poor exercise form or technique. A client may have movement dysfunction that leads to injury when they perform exercises incorrectly. This may include moving without good stabilization, like abdominal bracing or making compensations where other muscles take over for the action of the prime mover.
  • Poor preparation for movement, meaning that perhaps warming up is skipped, and the body is not ready for the right movement patterns.
  • Insufficient energy and exhaustion. The body may be fatigued, not fully recovered, or simply exhausted. Injury can definitely result from this.

Exercise Progression and Regression

Progressions are modifications to acute training variables that increase the challenge from a movement pattern.

Regressions are modifications to acute training variables that decrease the challenge of a movement pattern.

Increasing the tempo adds the challenge of generating speed and controlling the body when moving at greater speed through a movement.

Decreasing tempo can be a regression to allow someone to master techniques, but can be a progression also if time under tension becomes the focus.

Increasing the range of motion of exercises can increase the challenge since a load is traveling for a greater distance, which will require more work and higher levels of control.

An increase in movement complexity can increase the challenge, like pairing two movements together in the reverse lunge with rotation.

Key Communication Principles

Just like we have many ways to design an effective workout, there are many ways to teach and communicate with clients.

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal means something not involving words or speech.

Nonverbal communication has three total components:

  • Body language is communication of a nonverbal variety that relies on gestures or body movement.
  • Spatial relations relate to how objects are located relative to one another in space.
  • Paralanguage means components of speech like tone, pitch, facial expressions, cadence, and hesitation noises.

Posture is a key component of body language and can be an indicator of self-esteem, openness, and kinesthetic awareness.

Proxemics is the study of what is communicated by the way a person uses personal space.

The Importance of Listening

One of the best skills that a trainer can learn, is the ability to listen well to their clients.

Exclusive PTP CPT Offers

Gold Standard Cert
Save 25%
Most Popular Cert
3 Certs for 1
Best Study Materials
See MVP discount
A Good Option
50% off
A Good Option
50% off
Best CPT for you?
Get Free Trial

Active listening is paraphrasing in one’s own words what someone has just said.

Empathetic listening is also a useful skill. This is defined as the ability to understand how the clients feel and empathize with them.

Verbal Communication

The intro of language to communication is not a requirement, but instead a luxury.

Paralanguage makes up the vocal parts of speech aside from the actual meaning of the words.

This paralanguage aspect includes the parts of speech like pitch, articulation, tempo, and volume.

Changes in pitch occurs from the tightening or loosening of the vocal cords.

Articulation is the ability to pronounce distinctly, like through the use of enunciation. This can be extremely valuable in understanding cues.

Tempo is the speed at which words are spoken. If words are too slow or too fast, this can pose a problem.

The volume of your voice is important and it serves to convey emotions and energy levels to the client.

Learning can come in three forms: auditory, kinesthetic, and visual.

Visual learners are people who learn by seeing the information. Auditory learners are ones who learn best through hearing information. Kinesthetic learners learn best through movement and hands-on activities.

Language Choices

Personal trainers need to be selective with the words they choose and consciously construct the phrasing of their instructions, keeping in mind that literal and implied word meanings are not the same.

Use of clear and active language rather than passive or too descriptive language is needed for trainers.

Use of excessive jargon is best avoided as these instructions are ambiguous and difficult for clients to understand.


To cue is to give a reminder or direction to help someone.

Cueing is essential, and it deals with the ability for client movement and overall success.

Visual Cueing

Visual learners tend to learn best by seeing what is taught through physical demonstration.

To best serve people who learn visually, movements need to be as clear and concise as possible.

Visual cueing is a good way to teach for most people, but for visual learners, it is a necessity.

Exclusive PTP CPT Offers

Gold Standard Cert
Save 25%
Most Popular Cert
3 Certs for 1
Best Study Materials
See MVP discount
A Good Option
50% off
A Good Option
50% off
Best CPT for you?
Get Free Trial

Verbal Cueing

Some things to consider while refining verbal cues are:

  • Trainers need to avoid instructing too much or feeling the need to narrate every moment.
  • Trainers need to avoid using language which is too specific and technical.
  • Trainers need to watch to see if clients are responding to verbal cues.

Kinesthetic Cueing

Kinesthetic learners absorb instruction best through hands-on style learning and actually going through the movement themselves.

Movement Categories

There are six fundamental movements that are the basis for most exercise selections in programming.

The movement categories are:

  • Hinge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Squat
  • Lunge
  • Locomotion
  • and sometimes core or isolation and activation


The hip hinge is a forward and backward movement of the upper body while the hip remains at the same level and moves back and forth for a counterweight movement of the head and ribcage.

The prime mover of the hip extension is the gluteus maximus, with a bit of the hamstring complex.

Let’s look at some of the primary exercises to dive into with these movements.

The barbell deadlift has the prime movers of the hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes.

The dumbbell romanian deadlift has the prime movers of the hamstrings and glutes.

The kettlebell swing has the prime movers of the hamstrings and glutes.

The dumbbell single-leg RDL has the main movers of the hamstrings and glutes.


Pushing movements are set as upper body exercises where the arms move away from the body. It can be vertically or horizontally, or all things in between these two.

The main joints which are involved in pushing are the shoulder and elbow joints.

The push-up is a bodyweight movement that works the pectoralis major as the prime mover.

The standing cable press also has the prime mover as the chest muscle, the pectoralis major, as well as the barbell bench press and dumbbell chest press movements.

The dumbbell seated overhead press and its variations work the deltoid as the prime mover.

Other moves like machine-assisted dips work the triceps almost exclusively.


These are upper body movements where the arms move closer to the body. Just as with pushing, this can happen horizontally, vertically, or something in between.

The barbell bent-over row, standing single-arm cable row, seated cable row, lat pulldown, and pull-up all work the prime mover of the latissimus dorsi.

The upright row works as the prime mover of the deltoids.


This is a level-change movement where a person goes from standing to a lower position by bending at the knees, hips, and ankles.

The main joints involved are the tibiofemoral joint, talocrural joint, and hip joint.

The primary movers for these exercises will be the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and calf muscles.

Mobility and flexibility are important in the calves, adductors, glutes, and hip flexors.

The main moves are the goblet squat, barbell back squat, dumbbell split squat, seated leg press, and angled leg press.


This is a step and return movement. Like the squat it is subject to some form of level change.

During lunge in the sagittal plane, the prime mover is the gluteus maximus, quads, and calf muscles.

The lateral side musculature starts to come into play more as the moves go diagonal and to the side.

The main movements will be the dumbbell forward lunge, reverse lunge, step-up, lateral lunge, and reverse lunge with rotation.


This means that a movement goes from one place to another.

This includes the common categories of walking, running, skipping, swimming, and crawling.

Bipedal locomotion is a form of locomotion in which someone moves from one place to another using the legs.

The man movements for locomotion are farmers carries, suitcase carries, dumbbell walking lunge, monster band walks, and lateral band walks.


These exercises aim to help train the muscles of the pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen.

Posture and stability are the primary issues that are likely and will require training of the core.

Typical core exercises are the plank, glute bridge, abdominal crunch, and back extension.

Isolation and Activation

Isolation exercises are single-joint exercises that primarily activate an individual muscle or muscle group.

Activation exercises are ones that bring additional blood flow and activate the nervous control of a muscle. It is often part of a specific warm-up or part of corrective programming.

ISSA Chapter 13: Exercise Selection and Technique 6
ISSA Chapter 13: Exercise Selection and Technique 7
ISSA Chapter 13: Exercise Selection and Technique 8

Tyler Read

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT. Tyler holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Sonoma State University and is a certified personal trainer (CPT) with NASM (National Academy of sports medicine), and has over 15 years of experience working as a personal trainer. He is a published author of running start, and a frequent contributing author on Healthline and Eat this, not that.

PTPioneer Editorial Integrity

All content published on PTPioneer is checked and reviewed extensively by our staff of experienced personal trainers, nutrition coaches, and other Fitness Experts. This is to make sure that the content you are reading is fact-checked for accuracy, contains up-to-date information, and is relevant. We only add trustworthy citations that you can find at the bottom of each article. You can read more about our editorial integrity here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get The Sectret Cheat Sheet For The ISSA Exam


Before you spend your money on the wrong personal trainer, nutrition, or other fitness certification. 

Which Certification Is Best For You?


Find the best Cert for you

Get The Sectret Cheat Sheet For The CSCS Exam


Get The Sectret Cheat Sheet For The ACSM Exam


Get The Sectret Cheat Sheet For The ISSA Nutritionist Exam


Get The Sectret Cheat Sheet For The NCSF CPT Exam


Get The Sectret Cheat Sheet For The NASM CNC Exam


Get The Sectret Cheat Sheet For The NASM PES Exam


Get The Sectret Cheat Sheet For The NASM CES Exam


Get the top 5 Tips for Passing the ACE CPT


Get the top 5 Tips for Passing the NASM CPT


Get The Sectret Cheat Sheet For The NSCA CPT Exam


Get The Sectret Cheat Sheet For The ACE Exam


Get The Sectret Cheat Sheet For The NASM Exam

Scroll to Top