The exercise shuffle

As soon as a particular exercise or combination stops working for you, it’s time to shuffle exercises without re-inventing the wheel.

As soon as a particular exercise or combination stops working for you, it’s time to shuffle exercises without re-inventing the wheel.

Thanks to a certain tongue-in-cheek afro-sporting modern dance music phenomenon, fitness might not be the first thing that springs to mind when we talk about ‘the shuffle’ these days.

To stimulate the most fibres in a given muscle you often need more than just one exercise
- Matthew Muscat Inglott

The shuffle we shall discuss today actually helps answer many popular exercise queries and is more of a basic principle of exercise theory than quirky dance step.

You can shuffle a deck of cards and leave everything to chance, or shuffle your exercise choices and take total control of your fitness goals.

How often should I change my programme? Which exercises are best for this body part? How many days a week should I train? If you have ever found yourself asking any of these questions, then it might be time to shuffle.

So how often should you change your programme? We’ve tackled this topic several times before, but today we will look at one of the simplest solutions available. Sometimes while the structure of a programme may be sound, you might see your results or enthusiasm taper off fairly quickly.

Don’t be hasty, however, because sometimes all you need is a change of exercises. For example if your programme is based on pre-exhaust, or super-setting, which are both styles of training to which many different exercises can be applied, you certainly won’t need a complete overhaul.

If your chest workout consists of dumbbell flies immediately followed by flat barbell bench presses (a classic pre-exhaust cycle), then simply switch to alternatives like cable cross-overs followed by incline dumbbell chest presses and you have transformed the sequence without compromising the structure.

If your programme has been working well for you and you still fancy a change, instead of asking your instructor or trainer for an entirely new workout just for the sake of mixing things up, simply ask for alternative exercises within the same plan.

An entirely new workout might after all prove less effective than the one you followed in the first place.

This brings us to our next point: our everlasting search for the ultimate exercise for a given body part. You might read articles that claim to convey the single greatest known exercise for the biceps or chest, but this train of thought often tends to become counterproductive if aesthetics and muscle growth are your goals.

To stimulate the most fibres in a given muscle you often need more than just one exercise, which is why bodybuilders often use up to four different moves for each muscle, targeting it from different angles, different ranges of motion, and exploiting different types of muscular contractions.

This is best achieved by avoiding sticking to any one exercise or indeed any one combination of exercises. As soon as a particular exercise or combination stops working for you, it’s time to shuffle exercises without re-inventing the wheel.

If your biceps workout consisted of barbell curls, seated dumbbell curls, and concentration curls, then a similar sequence might look like this; standing hammer curls, seated dumbbell curls on an incline bench, and cable curls using a high pulley.

And finally, shuffling up can also prove the best solution for the training frequency dilemma; namely how many days per week we should train.

Shuffling is useful particularly if you are a fan of full-body workouts like regular circuit training, crossfit style workouts, or even the super fusion circuit we discussed here several weeks ago. Full-body workouts are becoming increasingly popular because they represent among the most time-efficient and productive ways to work out.

Since circuits are usually constructed out of compound multi-joint exercises, performing the same routine everyday can quickly lead to overtraining, cessation of progress and injury.

Performing the routine three times per week with a rest day slotted between each workout is a little better.

However, an ideal solution for the majority of fitness goals is a combination of working out three times per week and shuffling exercises.

Let’s suppose your circuit consists of a leg exercise, an upper body pushing exercise, an upper body pulling exercise and a core exercise. This is a wonderful combination and lends itself to infinite possibilities.

While one session that targets almost every muscle in the body could look like this: squats, flat barbell bench press, bent-over barbell row, sit-ups; your next workout could remain true to the very same plan, but consist of an entirely different sequence. Consider deadlifts, standing dumbbell shoulder press, pull-ups, and leg raises. This becomes a totally different workout, yet remains identical in principle.

You could continue to vary your routine each time you train, drawing on an endless supply of moves in each category. Leg exercises could include squats, deadlifts, lunges, leg presses, leg extensions, or leg curls, to name a few.

Upper body pushing exercises could include any form of chest or shoulder pressing performed in a decline, flat or incline position with dumbbells, barbells, machines, or even with bodyweight or bodyweight inspired apparatus like suspension trainers.

Upper body pulling exercises similarly include any rowing movements performed with free weights or machines, or pull-up movements to a bar using a variety of grips and hand spacings. Core exercises perhaps constitute the most inexhaustible category of all.

One of the best online resources for new exercises is the ‘exercise and muscle directory’ at

So next time you fancy a change, log on or consult your instructor/trainer, and just ask for the shuffle.

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