Most people lack it in the gym.
So, how do you break through the monotony of random workouts?
How do you know which exercises are the ones you should be doing?
Answer: Indicator exercises.
What Are Indicator Exercises?
Indicator exercises (or indicator lifts) are movements you use to gauge your progress overtime. Your goal is to improve these exercises, which will indicate whether or not your program is actually working! If you can lift heavier weights or perform more reps overtime, then you’re doing something right. If not, it may be time to reevaluate your training approach.
Why You Need Indicator Exercises
- They give you direction. No more aimlessly wandering around the gym looking for a machine to use as a seat warmer. You’ll know exactly which exercises you should be doing, because they should only be ones that benefit your indicators!
- Performance-based goals lead to aesthetic-based outcomes. Training to perform better will ultimately make you look and feel better. For example, if you have a goal of doing 10 chin-ups and you train for it, you’ll build a strong back. Progress, however you define it, is a byproduct of aiming to perform better.
- They add intent to your workouts. It’s easy to be lazy and deviate from the plan when you don’t have one. Indicator exercises give you goals to hit every time you step in the gym.
- They increase the intensity of your workouts. You have something clear to train for. That alone, will light a fire under your ass and breed new life into your training.
First, you need to decide what’s important to you. For a powerlifter, their indicator lifts are going to be the squat, bench, and deadlift.
But maybe you want to get better at push-ups and chin-ups? Those are great, too. You don’t need to use the major barbell lifts. On the contrary, most people would find benefit in using joint-friendlier alternatives when setting strength goals in the gym.
At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong way to choose your indicators. But here are some suggestions to help you get the ball rolling.
4 Indicator Exercises You Should Use
Pick 2-3 to prioritize in your program. Ideally, you want to have at least one upper body and one lower body movement. This stops you from deviating too heavily in either direction and allows for a more well-rounded program.
1. Upper Body Push
Exercises involving horizontal pushes (pressing forward) and vertical pushes (pressing overhead). Examples are the push-up, barbell bench press, floor press, and overhead press.
2. Upper Body Pull
Exercises involving horizontal pulls (pulling back) and vertical pulls
(pulling down). Examples are the chin-up and inverted row.
Exercises involving squat patterns by bending at the knees. Examples are the box squat, single leg squat, and split squat.
Exercises involving hinge or deadlift patterns by bending at the
hips. Examples are the kettlebell, trap bar, and barbell deadlift.
How to Know If You’re Making Progress
- Know where you’re starting. How much can you bench for “x” reps right now? How many chin-ups can you do? Set your baseline so you know what to improve on.
- Keep a training log. Track the weights you use and the reps you perform in your workouts. This is how you stick to the plan and keep yourself accountable.
- Lifting heavier weights. Duh.
- Performing more reps/sets. Duh, again.
- Lifting the weight faster/with better technique. If you’re lifting the same weight you did previously, but it’s moving faster and/or with better technique, that’s a huge win.
How to Apply It In Your Program
- Decide what’s important to you and set a goal.
- Pick 2-3 indicator exercises you’ll use to gauge your progress.
- Choose exercises and training methods that will improve your indicators (ex. if you want to increase your bench press, you’ll need a lot of triceps and upper back work).
- Keep track of your progress along the way.