Exercise Selection

The following are exercises that I approve of for most individuals. You may need to alter an exercise to meet your needs. If an exercise causes joint pain or discomfort change it. Limit the range of motion or lighten the load to reduce abnormal joint pain.

Chest             Flat, Incline, or Decline Presses (Barbell, Dumbbell, or Machines)

Upperback     Pull-downs, pull-ups, dumbbell rows, cable rows, machine rows

Lower back    Back extensions, Top range of motion Deadlifts (if you can perform safely). Due to back injuries, I only perform the back extension on an irregular basis.

Hamstrings   Same as lower back. 

Biceps           Standing dumbbell curls, Incline curls, some machine type curls

Triceps          Close grip presses, pushdowns, triceps extensions dumbbell, dips

Calves           Calf presses, Standing calf raises

Quads           Squats (dumbbell or barbell), dumbbell lunges, horizontal leg press, some 45 deg leg press. As I have progressed in my years of training the most common exercises we prescribe are dumbbell lunges and a horizontal leg press. I do not like the idea of putting a bar on a client’s back due to several issues long term.

Feel free to use these exercises to form the basis of your strength training program. Find exercises that recruit the desired muscle groups and that do not cause joint irritation. One of the best ways to reduce joint discomfort is to lighten the load and or limit the range of motion.

Stay Strong,


Youth Strength Training

I am excited to start our new youth (12 years and above) strength training program. I can think of no other population that stands to benefit more from safe, progressive, and practical strength training.

Today I wanted to share our first version of our Spring 2021 program.

This program consists of exercise on Tuesday and Thursday.

Workout time should be about 20-25 minutes.

Workout for Both Days

  • Flat Chest Press
  • Pull-ups (if a young athlete cannot complete a pull-up we want them to do holds at the top of the pullup for up to 30 s. Once 30 s is achieved the athlete can likely complete full pullups).
  • Pushups (goal is to complete 20 pushups in one set). After the athlete can complete 20 pushups we may progress to the parallel bar dip exercise.
  • Standing Dumbbell Curls
  • Walking Lunges
  • One Legged Standing Calf Raises

This program is completed in a circuit fashion with one exercise followed by the next with about 45-second rest intervals between exercises.

The resistance used allows for 8-15 repetitions per set.

Complete 2 cycles through this program twice per week.

Record all the weight and repetitions completed each day.

Our goal for youth athletes is to at least double their strength in 6 months.

So if a young person can complete 2 pull-ups on day one we want them to be able to complete at least 4-8 pull-ups following the 6 months of strength training.

If a youngster is completing walking lunges with 20 lb dumbells in each hand for 10 steps per leg on day one we want them to be able to use 40 lbs after 6 months.

Basic, progressive, linear strength training is the key.

Focus, focus, focus.

Stay Strong,


Example Week of Exercise

Today I wanted to put together a weekly plan of exercise. The plan includes 4 days of organized exercise and 2 days of extra movement. This is just an example and you can adapt things as you see fit. The 4 days of exercise will require less than 30 minutes of exercise.

Day 1

Resistance Exercise as described on these posts or something similar. Chose one of these two strategies and follow it for 8-12 weeks for the resistance training.

My Current Resistance Training Program – Strength Training For Health and Human Performance (drthomasfitness.com)

Exercise Selection and Routine – Strength Training For Health and Human Performance (drthomasfitness.com)

Day 2

Cardiovascular Exercise following a higher intensity progressive plan similar to this one.

Cardiovascular Exercise – Strength Training For Health and Human Performance (drthomasfitness.com)

Day 3

Resistance Exercise as described in the Day 1 links above.

Day 4

Cardiovascular exercise as described in the Day 2 link.

Day 5

10,000 steps total for the day. Wear a Fitbit or other fitness tracker to track steps.

Day 6

Same as day 5

Day 7


Day 8 : Repeat Day 1

Total Exercise time is under 2 hours not counting the 10,000 step requirement on day 6 and 7.

This is not the only plan to follow but is a great start.

Stay Strong,


Cardiovascular Exercise

Today I wanted to talk about ways to implement more activity in your weekly plan. Resistance training should be completed at least 1 or 2 days per week. I have covered ways to set up that in prior posts.

On the days you are not strength training you should perform some other form of exercise. The plan I would probably follow includes:

Two days of cardiovascular exercise that is progressive.

My choice is to use the elliptical but you can use any mode of cardiovascular exercise you like.

Warm up with some low intensity movement for 3-5 minutes.

Then, complete 15 minutes of exercise at a level that is challenging. I prefer the interval training program on the elliptical.

Record the distance covered in that 15 minutes.

Each time you perform that mode of exercise try to improve the distance covered for the same time (15 minutes) with the same program and intensity.

Therefore, your cardiovascular training program is progressive. Over weeks and months, your intensity should increase as you are working harder but not longer.

Once you can complete 20% greater distance increase the intensity level by one category on that machine.

The key here is accurate record-keeping providing data on the distance covered, time, and intensity of each workout.

The data you will have over weeks of exercise will be motivational as you see your improvements.

Stay Strong,


P.S. Engage in this plan only after you have been medically cleared to engage in high-intensity exercise.


I hope everyone is having a great week. Last week I discussed the concept of progression and I believe this is the most important concept of exercise especially resistance exercise.

If you want to improve your fitness levels and strength progression is the foundation. The simplest way to do this is to measure your performance on just one set per exercise.

Take the example of the pull-up exercise. If today you perform a set of pullups and can only complete one repetition you now have a baseline. Every day you perform the pullup exercise your goal is to increase the number of repetitions completed. This is a very simple example of progression but many people lose sight of this concept. Even advanced trainees get caught up in doing many sets and exercises that they lose sight of progression. Also, measuring progression becomes more difficult the more sets and or variables you add.

Most need to follow a simple linear progressive plan for many months. In the example above your goal may be to complete 8 pull-ups after 6 months of consistent exercise. This would be an 8 fold improvement in performance. Is that possible? Absolutely. I have witnessed this type of progression over and over.

Advanced trainees will likely need more variation but the Large majority are so far from that status that we must stay laser-focused on progressive and linear exercise.

I hope this helps. Stay focused.

Stay strong,



Your number one priority when you engage in strength training is to improve muscular strength through all major muscle groups. This means overtime you should increase strength in the basic exercises.

Chest Press

Pullup, pulldown, or row

Walking lunges or leg press

Calf Raises

These are the basic exercises that engage the major muscle groups of the body safely.

If you are an athlete focus on doubling your strength in these movements over the next six months.

If you double your strength your athletic performance will improve whether that be run faster, jump higher, or throw a ball harder. Of course, assuming you are doing some sport-specific training that includes biomechanical training of technique and form.

In the weight room, your focus must be on getting stronger on these basic exercises.

For athletes, your goal should be to do 20 pullups with your bodyweight and chest press your body weight for at least 10 reps and advanced athletes will need greater strength.

For walking lunges your goal should be to hold your body weight in your hands and complete 6-10 reps per leg. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs you will need to work at holding 75 lb dumbbells in each hand while performing a lunge.

Get to these strength levels and then we can talk about performing other exercises or focusing on other things.

Be intentional when it comes to strength training!

Stay Strong,


My Current Resistance Training Program

Today I wanted to take some time to show you my current resistance training program. Keep in mind I have been strength training regularly for 30 years. My goals are to continue to improve my strength and fitness levels. At this point in my exercise career improving in performance is difficult.

I strength two days per week. I have tried combining the following program into just one day of training but found that program wiped me out. The following program takes me about 15-20 minutes per day to complete. This program balances my work and rest ratios and allows plenty of time for recovery.

Day 1 usually Wednesday

Upper Body

Flat Chest Press 1-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions

Pullups 1-3 sets of as many as possible (usually 15-20 reps)

Dumbbell Lateral Raises 1-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions

Dumbbell Curls, usually seated both arms at the same time 1-3 sets of 6-10 repetitions per set

Bar Dips 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions

Day 2 usually Friday

Lower Body

Leg Press or Walking Lunges 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions (Leg press) 6-10 reps per leg (lunges)

Back Extensions 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions per set

Standing Calf Raises 1 legged 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions per set

Barbell Shrugs 1-3 sets of 6-10 repetitions per set

Sometimes I add in a few sets of crunches

I usually follow the approach of completing 1 set for all exercises for 3 weeks followed by an increase in the number of sets to 2 sets for all exercises for 2-3 weeks, followed by another block of an increase in sets per exercise to 3 sets.

Basically, this looks like:

3 weeks of 1 set per exercise

2-3 weeks of 2 sets per exercise

2-3 weeks of 3 sets per exercise

Then a reduction in volume back to 1 set per exercise for 3 weeks.

None of this is set in stone and I adapt my training to how I feel but I never sacrifice training volume for intensity. Meaning that if I am working less hard per set by completing 3 sets I reduce the number of sets to 1 or 2.

This is what works for me right now and if you are not an advanced trainee you will probably be better served to perform 2-3 sets per exercise.

You may also complete this workout in one day. I have just found that I do better splitting the program in half.

There are times that I complete two total-body sessions per week following the same format and the same exercises.

Understand that I have arrived at this after years of training and experimentation. You can learn from these principles and know that more exercise is probably not the answer but rather a laser-focused approach to strength training with no wasted effort.

Stay Strong,


Perceived Exertion and Progression

I had a great conversation today with a friend and the topic of perceived exertion came up. I hope everyone has had a chance to read some of the content I wrote the last few weeks on basic resistance exercise. The first step is to follow a resistance training program that is practical and effective. See the following link.

The second step is to train progressively. This means that over time you must either increase the number of repetitions per set with a given load or increase the load. During the initial weeks of commencing a resistance training routine, your focus is to establish a baseline of resistance and repetitions per set. After a few resistance training sessions, you must begin pushing yourself on each set. Each set should be taken to or very close to volitional fatigue. Meaning that you complete the maximum number of repetitions you can per set. Of course, this advice is for an orthopedically sound individual that has no underlying injuries.

For an advanced trainee, you may want to stop a set 1-2 repetitions short of failure. I would take more days of recovery if progression does not occur or if you find you cannot exert maximal effort. Ensuring optimal recovery is one reason I suggest resistance training just one or two days per week. Resistance exercise is a high-intensity exercise where progression is the foundation.

Exercise Selection and Routine

As I mentioned yesterday exercise selection is the most important component of exercise prescription.  I published two studies one in 2016 and one in 2019 and both of those studies demonstrated improvements in lean tissue mass (muscle mass) and strength from a handful of basic exercises (Thomas & Burns, 2016; Thomas et al., 2019).  These exercises were chosen because they are exercises I had implemented in my practice of fitness consulting, safe for most trainees, recruit a lot of muscle mass, and the learning curve is low.  


Flat Chest Press (machine, dumbbell, or barbell)

Pulldowns, Pullups, or Rows

Walking Lunges or Leg Press

Standing Calf Raises

Bicep Curl

Tricep Extension, Parallel Bar Dips, or Close Grip Presses

Set up your exercise program by completing 1-5 sets of 8-15 repetitions per exercise 1-5 days per week. I realize this exercise prescription provides a large range of possibilities.  Perhaps the best approach to perform this program 1-2 days per week and after a few months, reassess if or when training frequency/volume should be increased.  


Record all training data including weight and repetitions completed per set.  

Record data in a notebook or software such as google sheets that you can access from anywhere.

Over time your training should be progressive.

Stay Strong,



Thomas, M.H., Burns, S.P., Ferguson, R.H., & Allen, N.B. (2018).  Early timeline of lean tissue mass and strength improvements in trained men following a high volume/frequency resistance training program. International Journal of Exercise Science, 12(4), 1094-1109. 

Thomas, M. H., & Burns, S. P. (2016). Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A comparison of high-frequency strength training to lower frequency strength training. International Journal of Exercise Science, 9(2), 159-167.



I have spent over 30 years being a student of resistance training and applying knowledge within the laboratory of my own body.  I have altered every training variable possible to improve strength, muscle mass, and health.  

After all of this research, I have found that what worked early in my exercise career is just about the same advice I would give today.  The only difference is today I have greater confidence in my recommendations that experience brings.  Training programs recommended here are backed by my own experiences, the 30 years of training of clients, and support from research.

Just about every training study that assesses outcomes such as muscle mass, strength, and power results in similar improvements in those outcomes as a result of the program. The phrase you will see in the literature is, “these results demonstrate no significant difference between groups” for whatever variable researchers are examining.  One might say we can perform any exercise routine and achieve benefits and that is true to an extent.  Perhaps researchers are asking the wrong questions. Finding a safe, practical approach to exercise is a more appropriate question. The approach we should implement is one that maximizes the benefits of resistance training while limiting injury potential.

Exercise Selection and Volume

Many exercise programs consist of way too much training volume along with dangerous exercise selection. These two issues are so rampant in the exercise world today that both the general population and exercise professionals are confused at best. My goal here is to educate you on effective exercise prescription providing you with a laser-focused program that mitigates your chance of injury and overuse.  All routines I will write about are routines I have followed.  Of course, you should use your own judgment before following any program, and certainly, you need to be medically cleared to exercise. I will cover the importance of appropriate exercise selection more in upcoming blog posts. This topic is the most important element to consider regarding exercise prescription.

Youth Exercise

The thoughts of the beginning of my resistance training journey lead me to a current state of thinking about the purpose of this writing. I have three boys and two of them are involved in sports. Most coaches are encouraging young athletes to engage in a conditioning program and rightfully so. However, safe, prudent strength exercise programming information is in limited supply. I can think of no other population that I want to serve than our youth. Therefore, the main purpose here is to distribute evidence-based, practical, and safe strength training information appropriate for youth.  If only I had been able to find a mentor or resource to form the basis of my training. Such a mentor would have shortened my time to success and reduced my chance of injury. Yes, I have experienced some major injuries over my 35 years of resistance training and some of what I will share will be information related to what I would have done differently.

Be Careful Who You Listen To

I have observed coaches recommending exercises that offer minimum benefits but expose athletes to extreme risk of musculoskeletal injury. The thing about some musculoskeletal injuries is that they are permanent, affecting a youngster long after their athletic career.  Resistance training should improve performance and be designed with the concept of individual differences at the forefront. Strength and conditioning programs are often written with ego and “routine” as the driving force. For example, the dogma that all athletes must perform barbell squats, deadlifts, and power cleans regardless of orthopedic status or biomechanical traits is a recipe for injury. Young athletes report pain and discomfort only to feel the pressure from coaches or a tribe to continue with such a risky exercise. Resistance training exercise should not cause pain within joints but rather stress the muscles surrounding a joint. Frankly, some exercises are just not suitable for certain body types based mainly on the biomechanics and or physiological makeup of the individual. I will dive deeper into these topics in future posts. Until then…

Stay strong,