The ratio between risk and reward in fitness

Exercise selection can be cumbersome at times. An expanded library of knowledge often results in further confusion and complacency, leaving individuals pondering what the best exercise is for each particular body part.

As I’ve mentioned in previous writings, I do not break down exercises by body part, instead I categorize them by the movement they are achieving. Taking things one step further, I then categorize workouts by their risk vs. reward ratio, and applicability to the desired result.

No one exercise essential

It’s imperative to consider one’s injury history, sport profile and quality of movement before prescribing any exercise or program.

Among the most common population I work with, Alpine ski racers, I’ve grown accustomed to tailoring programs based on the unique individual.

A large number of these athletes are plagued with lower back issues and limb asymmetries, yet they desire to increase their absolute lower body strength. One might do their research and conclude that the barbell back squat is paramount to increasing lower body strength.

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However, in the case of an Alpine ski racer with a poor back, this may not be the case. Perhaps this can be achieved with sled pull variations, belt squats, hex-bar deadlifts or anything else of the sort that does not load the spine.

It is essential to understand that there are many routes to achieving certain physical qualities.


Although certain movements are proven effective to increase specific physical qualities, that does not mean they are right for everybody. A prime example is the barbell snatch.

Besides the fact that it is a highly technical movement requiring hours of repetition to even move an amount of appreciable weight, the consequences for misconducting this movement can be disastrous. Unless the goal is to become a competitive Olympic weightlifter, the barbell snatch could be used to increase power output and rate of force development.

That is the pro, the con however is that an enormous amount of time is exerted trying to learn it and/or a possible shoulder, back or hip injury occurs due to poor technique.

Fortunately, safer exercises such as broad jumps, hang cleans, and plyometric push ups can provide similar stimuli. I am neither for nor against any particular movement, however it must be understood what the movement is seeking to achieve and if it’s worth the investment.


The last key to any successful exercise selection is the relevance it has for sport or the desired outcome. Youth athletes I train (specifically males) often wonder why we rarely do curls or any other direct arm work.

Simply put, they do not enhance the athletic qualities we are seeking, and we have a finite amount of time together to improve.

Low-level exercises such as the bicep curl are not inherently bad, however they do not enhance a track athlete’s ability to run faster or snowboarder’s ability to land a double back-flip.

I am wasting both the athlete’s and my own time by prescribing exercises that require little to no supervision or relevance to the goal.

I hope this article assists you with your selection of exercise and to analyze what is truly relevant in order to improve. Thanks again for reading and have a great week.

Jimmy Pritchard has a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength and conditioning at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or

via:: Vail Daily