Exercise Classification

Updated: May 22

Joe Kenn | VP of Education & Performance

The Next Step of the Exercise Pool

The exercise pool has been established. The movements you have chosen have been placed into the three specific movement categories, Total Body, Lower Body, and Upper Body. The movements that you have chosen per category have been placed in specific sub categories. This helps bring order to your library. The next step is to classify these exercises into a 4 distinct “levels” to help when you are working on choice and order of exercises for a specific strength training program.


Exercise Classification After the pool has been completed, the next step is to classify the exercises. Each exercise is classified as a foundation, supplemental, major assistance, or secondary assistance exercise. This is extremely helpful in ordering the exercises in proper sequences for the Tier System, as well as prioritizing exercises per category.

  1. Foundation Movements

  2. Supplement Movements

  3. Major Assistance Movements

  4. Secondary Assistance Movements


Foundation Exercises

Foundation exercises are primarily multi-joint barbell exercises. Preferably, one exercise per movement category should be a foundation exercise. These exercises are usually evaluated for repetition maximums. Generally, foundation exercises are chosen based on the fact that they will give the best indication of overall strength development for the specific movement category. In the case of improving athletic ability the same exercises may be used for multiple sports. *Foundation exercises should remain the same throughout multiple annual plans so the coach can chart individual and team improvement. In the case of changing foundation exercises make sure you establish a sound justification for making the switch and clearly evaluate the positives versus negatives in how it will benefit both individual and team improvement.

Foundation exercises are those exercises upon which the rest of the program is going to be built. Foundation exercises are those exercises that the program planner believes will emphasize the development of the particular movement category it is associated with in the most efficient manner. In a nutshell, foundation exercises are those exercises that you ask yourself the question, if you could only train one exercise per movement category for a particular sport, what would it be?

Although I recommend one foundation exercise per movement category, if you chose to test two exercises from the same movement category, you must determine which one will be the primary and which one is the secondary foundation exercise. When choosing to implement two foundation exercises for a category, one exercise should give the best indication of overall strength for that specific category. Testing two movements per category in a given testing period is not recommended. The exercise chosen as the primary foundation exercise should represent the priority emphasis of a specific training session. The secondary foundation exercise should be prescribed for a different training session. The order at which it is placed is determined by the program designer

Examples of Primary and Secondary Foundation Choices



Supplemental Exercises

Supplemental exercises have taken on new meaning in our training theory. Referred to as “special” exercises by the Westside Barbell Club, these exercises are still utilized to add variety and compliment the corresponding foundation exercise. They have also taken an identity of their own. In sports where maximum strength is of great importance, supplemental exercises are utilized as secondary test movements throughout the annual plan. This is done to continuously improve strength. When these exercises are used in this manner they are rotated bi-monthly. Utilizing supplemental exercises in this mode allows for challenging and competitive training sessions among individuals and their teammates. Supplemental exercises are extremely important as they enhance the athletes overall strength by training similar muscle actions as the foundation exercises in slightly different movement planes and angles. These exercises are primarily multiple joint barbell exercises. Depending on the type of training template used, they may be either Tier 1 or Tier 2 exercises. Foundation and Supplemental exercises are also known as the “BIG” exercises. These exercises are implemented for the purpose of increasing the athlete’s strength level.


Major Assistance Exercises

Major assistance exercises can benefit the athlete in two different ways. Major assistance exercises assist in the development of the muscle or muscle groups that are used in the execution of the foundation and supplemental exercises. Also, since some of the exercises work as stabilizers and the antagonistic muscle groups of the prime mover exercises, they help avoid muscular imbalances that can lead to injury. These exercises are those that primarily allow independent movement actions of the limbs. This is an extremely important factor when using strength training as a building block for improving athletic ability. These types of exercises help in the development of mobility and help maintain or improve the athlete’s flexibility. They can also aid in the improvement of balance, coordination, and proprioception. These movements, in terms of athletic development, cannot be overlooked. They serve as a true compliment to the foundation and supplemental exercise of the program. Major Assistance exercises also house the gymnastic movements, i.e. bodyweight exercises. A lost art in most training scenarios utilizing movements that are primarily bodyweight oriented are purely functional exercises.

Secondary Assistance Exercises

Secondary assistance exercises are single joint exercises and act as stabilizing exercises for the foundation and supplemental exercises. These exercises apply direct resistance to a specific muscle group. They are primarily used in the auxiliary program and pre/post work out routines. They may also be implemented individually for those athletes who may either be in a rehabilitation or prehabilitation process. They can also be used to strengthen weaker muscle groups that may affect performance.


As a bonus to this week’s blog and 60 Second Strength Coach, we will be hosting an Instagram Live Discussion on the EXERCISE CLASSIFICATION on Thursday, April 16TH at 3pm EST on the Dynamic Fitness and Strength Instagram Page. During this 30-minute program, I will review the last three weeks and introduce our classification system.

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