Programming Faux Pas: Pairing Blunders

Share This:

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch

Beef and Red Wine

The Situation and General Douchebaggery

< ==== Kyra Gracie and My Dreams

All of the above, as different as they are, tend to be pairings that make sense.  When you think of one, it’s hard not to think of the other.

Writing programs, however – whether for a deconditioned weekend warrior, a 14 year old freshman in high school, or an elite athlete –  lends itself to a wide variety of pairings that just don’t make any sense.


The more programs you write, the better you get (obviously); but in addition to that, and probably of more relevance, the more programs you write, you kind of get a “feel” for what works and what’s utter crap.

Speaking personally, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve programmed something which, in theory, looked good on paper, only to scratch it altogether once I witnessed how much of a walking ball of fail it was trying to implement it with my clients or athletes.

Having said that, below are some random, acute programming variables that in my experience, don’t make a lot of sense.  Are they revolutionary?  Hell no.  But, in the end, I hope they at least get people to start thinking more critically about what they program and WHY.

1.  High Reps and Beginners – I get why most trainers and coaches feel that using high(er) rep protocols are the way to go when working with a newbie.  You want to build tissue tolerance and strengthen the soft tissue – namely tendons and ligaments.  Thing is though, oftentimes, once a beginner gets past the 5-8 rep range, technique usually starts to get a little dicey.  And that’s putting it lightly.

I rarely (if ever) go above the five rep range when teaching a beginner how to squat, bench, or deadlift.  Accessory movements (later in the training session) are completely different, and I’ll definitely go with a higher reps then.  But, all told, when I’m teaching someone a more complex and neurally challenging movement like a deadlift for instance, I want to ensure that every rep is perfect.

And the only way I can ensure that is by keeping the reps (and load) low.

I’m sorry, but having a complete beginner who has the movement quality of a pregnant pig perform 15-20 rep sets is not going to accomplish anything remotely beneficial.  All that’s going to do is engrain piss-poor motor patterns, and in all likelihood, result in something bad happening.

What’s more, and this is a REAL pet peeve of mine:  anyone who calls their program a “strength training” program and it includes 20 rep sets of anything is a complete moron.  That’s really all I have to say on that.  Stop it.  Now.

2.  (Front) Squats and (Horizontal) Pulling Exercises – getting a little more detailed, this is one pairing that I see a lot of trainers make.  Lets say I have someone performing some front squats.  While front squats are a fantastic exercise that targets the lower body, what often gets the shaft is the fact that they’re also hammering the upper back as well.

Because the bar is anteriorly loaded in FRONT of the body (and not the back), there’s a pretty signifcant anti-flexion component that forces that upper back muscles and stabilizers to go into overdrive.

Why, then, would you want to pair this exercise with a pulling exercise (like seated rows) which will only fatigue the upper back muscles even more?

Instead, if you’re going to pair this exercise with anything, I’d do one of the following:

  • Push-up variation
  • Filler exercise – some sort of low grade mobility or activation drill that they can do while resting.  Something along the lines of a supine bridge with reach perhaps?

Note:  yes, that’s THE Eric Cressey riding a foam rolling pony to tooltown.

3.  Deadlifts and Any Exercise That Challenges Grip  –  Deadlifts (an exercise that requires a lot of grip strength, and is generally the limiting factor for many trainees) paired with another exercise that requires a tremendous amount of grip strength = not very smart.  Granted, with more advanced trainees there’s a little more wiggle room.  But for a beginner?   Not so much.

Much like the example given above, I’m more prone to pair deadlifts with some sort of filler exercise or maybe some core exercise like Pallof Presses or something like prone plate switches:

To be clear, this isn’t to say that pairing two exercises that challenge the grip is wrong – but, in most cases, it’s just not ideal.

4.  Alicia Keys and Swizz Beats – okay, okay, not an exercise pairing, but something that’s perplexing nonetheless.

I don’t get it:  on one end you have a guy who’s a world reknowned record producer and makes more money in his sleep than most people make in a year.  And on the other, you have a “kind of a big deal” strength coach who drives a Hyundai Elantra and can recite the entire dialogue of The Empire Strikes Back…….in Klingon.

Tomato <—-> Tomahto.  Frankly, I don’t get it.  Seems like a clear cut choice to me.

Have any pairings you feel don’t make sense?  Share them below!

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

Share This Post:


Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • Jonathan Goodman

    The one mistake that I see a lot of trainees (and trainers alike) make is pairing 2 or more exercises in succession that place a huge stress on grip. I've seen people do a lat pull down just before running over to the barbell bent over row. I'm not saying it should never be done but it's important to take a good and hard look at what your training goals are. My guess is that it's usually not grip endurance

    July 12, 2011 at 7:58 am | Reply to this comment

  • Nia Shanks

    Squats and deadlifts. If I attempted to pair those two together, I would probably severely injure myself, or my client. Sure, something like a goblet squat paired with KB swings could work. But I cringe whenever I see someone recommend a heavy back squat immediately followed (super-setted) by heavy deadlifts.

    July 12, 2011 at 8:03 am | Reply to this comment

  • gabe

    I personally like the Dwight Shrute Lateral Raise while wearing a Neck harness..

    July 12, 2011 at 8:05 am | Reply to this comment

  • Greg R

    Power movements (snatch, clean, med ball work, Box Jumps, etc>) paired with anything but rest or selective mobility / activation)

    July 12, 2011 at 8:05 am | Reply to this comment

  • Bret Contreras

    Good thoughts Tony! And the Alicia Keys comment is hilarious.

    July 12, 2011 at 8:13 am | Reply to this comment

  • Matt

    Ummm, that's not Gina Carano, that's Kyra Gracie. :D

    July 12, 2011 at 8:24 am | Reply to this comment

  • Michael Gray

    People with crappy eating habits and any kind of complicated nutrition plan. People need to master the basics before they need any kind of advanced nutrition protocol. I love when I see a trainer talking to an obese client about carb-cycling.

    July 12, 2011 at 8:49 am | Reply to this comment

  • Damon

    Excellent blog topic - through experience I've learned some of stuff I've tried to program was completely absurd. But nothing was worse than when I saw a trainer at a commercial gym having a client perform a kettlebell squat to upright row paired with behind the neck lat pulldowns.....(sad but true)

    July 12, 2011 at 8:49 am | Reply to this comment

  • Stevo

    Great post tony, especially with regards to high reps and beginners. Regarding your comment about front squats and pulling, do you feel this is primarily true with horizontal pulling only, as opposed to vertical pulling? I remember Cressey wrote that one of his favorite pairings was a front squat with a vertical pull: We've used it with a fair amount of success. Didn't know if you've rethought this particular pairing since that article or if the two of you have different views. Thanks

    July 12, 2011 at 9:16 am | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Stevo: yep, I should have been more clear in my statement. Pairing front squats with a VERTICAL pull is perfectly fine. I went a head and made the change! Thanks for the heads up! @ Matt: my bad. Fixed......;o)

    July 12, 2011 at 9:26 am | Reply to this comment

  • Steve

    I've had clients actually love the program fail...then I have to explain why I am removing it from the program as their face looks like someone ran over their puppy. I almost feel like a parent taking away a dangerous toy. :/

    July 12, 2011 at 9:43 am | Reply to this comment

  • Stevo

    @ Tony: Awesome! Thanks for the quick clarification. And the lead into the post was genius.

    July 12, 2011 at 9:54 am | Reply to this comment

  • Scott

    Tony, a question on the front squat w/ horizontal pull. I've been doing front squats paired with rack pulls with some success. But now that you point it out I have noticed some fatigue in the late sets of front squats. Would you recommend not pairing front squats with any exercise that involves the upper back or just full range horizontal pulling motions? Pairs that I have noticed don't work so well: With full body workouts. If you're hitting heavy squats or deadlifts at the beginning of the workout. I've found its best to stay away from any type of accessory lift that requires the low back to stabilize the athlete throughout the lift. Such as BB rows on a day when heavy squats were performed. Ill always opt for either one arm DB rows or even cable rows take a little pressure off the back.

    July 12, 2011 at 10:06 am | Reply to this comment

  • JB

    Kyra Gracie is actually hotter in person.. hard to believe, but true. Tony, I do have to disagree with you on one point. 20 rep sets: us old guys with beat up joints can use/need high rep light work in the 15-20 rep range either before a main movement or as a "tonic" movement on a different day keep our elbows/knees/shoulders/whatever our particular ailment is from feeling like complete garbage. deadlifts and chins: too much grip required, fatigues the lats which are a major stability component in the deads. Otherwise great article, and one that happens a ton with people who are trainers but don't train.

    July 12, 2011 at 10:20 am | Reply to this comment

  • Mike A

    Squats and push press variation

    July 12, 2011 at 10:35 am | Reply to this comment

  • JW

    No more than 8 reps? What about this awesome crossfit WOD I just made up? (For time) 1. Run 10 miles 2. Punch yourself in the face 15 times 3. 50 clean and jerks at 500 lbs 4. Run over right arm with car

    July 12, 2011 at 10:54 am | Reply to this comment

  • Marshall Roy

    Great post, Tony. And it was a pleasure meeting you this weekend at PEAK. It drives me nuts to see people pair up exercises with wildly different loading requirements. For instance, I sometimes see people perform a DB row into a triceps kickback. Aside from triceps kickbacks being about as useful as a kickstand on a submarine, it forces you to use much less weight on the row than you should be able to handle. So the row (the "better" exercise to begin with) is not really effective. @JW ROFL!

    July 12, 2011 at 11:58 am | Reply to this comment

  • Natalie

    British people and turkey tips. THEY JUST DON'T GET IT!!! **sigh**

    July 12, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jon

    Watching a personal trainer superset bench press and push ups. And then wondering why their client is struggling with the push ups.

    July 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Mike

    Great post Tony. It doesn't often happen but I think I laughed harder at JW's comment than I did while reading your post though.

    July 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ JW: hahahahahahahahahaha. LOL. ROTFLMAO. @ JB: I hear you man. I TOTALLY understand where you're coming from. I just think that will BEGINNERS, high rep training is pretty pointless.

    July 12, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Ben Mays

    Hi tony just wondered if you could shed some light, you said pairing a deadlift with another grip exercise is not a good idea. do you think its ok to do it with athletes (thinking of MMA in particular) where grip strength is a key component do you think its ok to programme an exercise such as plate rows etc.

    July 13, 2011 at 6:16 am | Reply to this comment

  • Stephane

    Sit ups and back extensions. (sit ups and anything really!) Although I don't really have a problem with back extensions when they're performed properly, way too often the individual cranks them out using solely their lower back. Couple that with a ton of sit ups and you have effectively mobilized your lumbar spine!

    July 13, 2011 at 6:18 am | Reply to this comment

  • JB

    Tony, I think we're eye to eye on those rep ranges for beginners, just wanted clarity as your statement seemed pretty absolute. Ben, I'm not Tony, but for my guys (even the BJJ and MMA athletes who need grip strength) I want them to deadlift with their grip as strong as possible because I don't want grip to be a limiting factor in their deadlift. To put it another way: if their posterior chain is as strong as possible and their grip is 10% less strong they're going to win more fights than if their grip is as strong as possible and their posterior chain is 10% weaker.

    July 13, 2011 at 7:51 am | Reply to this comment

  • Danny

    Salad and copious amounts of dressing

    July 13, 2011 at 8:07 am | Reply to this comment

  • xiaochen

    the candy colored Birkins are a large hit for Hermes Outlet and Sunglasses Hut thus it's solely natural that they'd build on this idea and incorporate it in their alternative successful styles. Take this Hermés thus Kelly Flash, the electrical rubis color lines the within of the bag, little doubt increasing its popularity and covet-ability. but because the Hermés thus Kelly Flash includes a contrasting lining , however conjointly the distinctive characteristic of the 2 tone being applied to the stitching, below the straps and handles, it makes it an ideal candidate for the employment of those ever-so-popular bright pop colors. No surprise it's known as The thus Kelly.

    March 24, 2012 at 2:02 am | Reply to this comment

  • huchunhua

    Customers can easily choose what type of glasses, brand, color, and size you want. We offer a variety of sunglasses for men and women. Best sellers are bvlgari bv 6029b 102_8g palladium rimless, gray gradient lenses sunglasses,  Louis Vuitton Sunglasses for men ,chloe sunglasses for women .popular brand of sunglasses are bebe,burberry,calvin Klein sunglasses offer a secure online shopping for sunglasses.

    April 25, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply to this comment

  • chy12

    And, to combat frauds for profits,armani outlet, originators,jean diesel,armani , investors and even the FBI have twisted their focus towards investigating fraud for profit scams. This type of fraud involves many parties and tends to move with huge dollar losses. But,burberry pas cher, the fraud committed over housing can prove to be a very damaging one especially for borrowers and communities over the long term. 

    April 28, 2012 at 12:18 am | Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment