Exercises Are Tools: Madness or Genius?

By: Ben Pickard

Exercises are used for improving performance in other disciplines. Only with the addition of ‘the sport of fitness’ (ie. CrossFit) have we begun exercising to be good at … exercising.

So, what is a tool? A tool is anything used to accomplishing a task.

  • Athletes use exercises to run faster, jump higher or become stronger in order to gain an edge.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger used exercises to create the greatest physique of all time and dominate the Olympia stage.
  • Powerlifters use exercises to build upon their main lifts (why do you think it’s called assistance work?).

The L.A. Kings didn’t beat the New Jersey Devils because they were better benchers, nor does any team beat the other because they’re better lifters. You might be screaming “Heresy! Performance in the gym is crucial!”, and I totally agree.. BUT..

Does a 500lb squat make a good football player? No. How about a 405lb clean?

A good football player is measured by how well he plays football. Period.

Numbers can help, but in the end the athlete who performs better at their sport gets drafted, not the one with the highest total.

When strength coach Mike Boyle dropped Barbell Back Squats for Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats with his athletes, people freaked. How the hell can he do that? This is MADNESS! You NEED to squat to get big and strong!

Boyle collected himself, looked back at his team, and responded with “Madness? THIS IS SPARTA!”, kicking the naysayers into a bottomless pit.

Boyle made his decision based on careful thought, deliberation and results.

He knew that the back squat is a tool used to build attributes. It’s not about how much you can squat, but how well you can play (and continue to play) injury free. If Boyle finds a tool for his athletes that produces equal (or better) performance and has less associated risk, why wouldn’t he use the better tool?

Now, I didn’t say gym performance doesn’t matter – it does. The outcome of a sport can be determined by ability in the gym; not because of poundage lifted but because of the specific qualities the athletes develops.

Imagine two football teams with equal skill, but one team having never worked out before. Sure, they’re skilled players, but come game time they’re getting massacred by a bigger, faster team. It would be like Alistair Overeem fighting toddlers.

6’5” and 250lbs of toddler destruction.

What separates these two teams is that one team used tools to develop the necessary qualities that make a player good at football, while the other relied solely on skill. The necessary qualities I’m referring to are those that can be developed under a bar, such as strength, speed & power.

We use tools with our athletes because we know that simply practicing the sport isn’t enough to compete at an elite level. Every position in all sports has unique qualities that must be honed to be the best.

How does this apply to your training?

Good question. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to put on mass? How about build strength? Maybe you want to sculpt your abs so that the second you take off your shirt, every girl at the bar offers to buy you a drink.

Side Note: Don’t take your shirt off at a bar. It has the opposite effect.

I would argue that there’s no better tool than the barbell for building mass, increasing strength, dropping fat and improving power. Sure, there are other specialized tools like bands, chains and Indian clubs, but the barbell is the do-it-all tool that should be a cornerstone of your training (regardless of goals).

Exercise selection alone don’t matter. Though some tools are more bad-ass than others (i.e. Squats, Deadlifts, Klokov Presses, etc.), you need the right tool for the job and you must use it properly.

There are many different tools at your disposal and though the barbell is the most versatile, I don’t want you to get hung up on specific exercises. If I told you I had two identical clients, both able to Deadlift triple bodyweight, but one of them used Romanian Deadlifts to build their Deadlift and one of them used Deficit Deadlifts, would you care? Do you know which is better for building the Deadlift? No, you would think they are both equally strong and that I’m a kick-ass trainer.

The best tool is the one that develops the intended qualities for the individual.

Before I sign off, I will leave you with five questions to make you think about the tools in your toolbox:

  • How many tools do you have?
  • If you only have a few tools, I encourage you to learn more.
  • Which tools are the best for developing what you want?
  • If you can’t identify which ones are best, I encourage you to do a bit of experimentation and see what works for you. If it doesn’t work, drop it.
  • Which tools are your favorites?
  • If you always do your favorite exercises, I encourage you to try things you rarely do. They’ll might develop the missing qualities that are holding you back.
  • Do you actually know how to use your tools?
  • If you don’t know how to use some tools, ask for help – it’s what Warriors S&C is here for!
  • Is what you are doing in the gym help you reach your goal?
  • Maybe your body prefers a High Bar Squat to a Low Bar Squat, maybe you need to get off the treadmill and lift a barbell, or maybe you need to drop squatting altogether and start training a la Mike Boyle (keep a bottomless pit nearby to kick the naysayers into).


If you have anything to add, comment below! What tools are in your toolbox? How are they helping you reach your goals?


Benjamin currently works as a Personal Trainer, but also has experience coaching UW’s Varsity Athletes as a S&C Coach and as the Conditioning Assistant. Ben is a firm believer that positive thinking and squats can cure cancer, and is always striving to find the most harmonious balance of life, work, and training awesomeness. He is inspired by his fellow WS&C Club executives, and is on the never-ending quest for knowledge. He hopes to one day work as a S&C Coach/Personal Trainer and help people become superhuman.



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4 responses to “Exercises Are Tools: Madness or Genius?

  1. mboyle1959

    Nice to read an intelligent post from a young coach.

  2. Thanks, Mike, I really appreciate the feedback!

  3. Sick stuff dude.

    You need to stop doing Klokov presses, Ben, or else you’ll have too many girls buying you drinks at the bar when you take your shirt off.

  4. sam

    great read.
    use of overeem in post: 10 points.

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