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Creative Applications Of Secondary Movements

There are two essential workout “modules” in every Primary Pattern Programming workout:

Module 1: The 4 “Primary” movements, corresponding to the 4 primary movement patterns:

  • Squat (Any lower-body, multi-joint, knee/quad-focused exercise)
  • Push (Any upper-body, multi-joint, pec/delt/tricep-focused exercise)
  • Hinge (Any lower-body, multi-joint, hip/posterior-chain-focused exercise)
  • Pull (Any upper-body, multi-joint, lat/rhomboid/bicep-focused exercise)

Ideally, these 4 exercises are performed as a 4-exercise circuit, using loading parameters that are appropriate to your current training goal.

Module 2: 1-2 optional “Secondary” drills for any exercise you feel you need or enjoy, but doesn’t necessarily fit into the 4 primary movements patterns listed above.

In PPP training sessions, the primary exercises provide the structure, while the secondary exercises allow for individual customization, based on your unique circumstances and needs.

In this article, we’ll explore a few hypothetical examples that will illustrate the creative use of secondary exercises to address a handful of common training scenarios. Through these examples, it’s my hope that you’ll develop a broader appreciation of how versatile PPP training can be. Enjoy!

Scenario #1: Arm Specialization

You’re fairly well developed in your chest and back, but need to bring up your arms for aesthetic purposes. Here’s a hypothetical 3-day training week targeted toward that goal:

Day One                      Day Two                     Day Three


Step-Ups                    Safety-bar Squat         Leg Press

Close-Grip Bench        Dips                            Military Press

Deficit Deadlift           Hip Thrust                  45º Back Extension

Incline DB Row            Close-Grip Pulldown    T-Bar Row


Hammer Curl               Incline DB Curl            Low Cable Curl

Lying Tricep Ext.          French Press               Pushdowns

Discussion: Note that the exercises I chose in the push (and to a lesser degree, the pull) categories are fairly arm-intensive, compared to movements like the barbell bench press or the incline DB press. So you’ve got a fair degree of arm stimulation already in place before we even get to the secondary movements. Moving on to the secondaries however, you’ll see that I’ve assigned direct arm drills for all 6 of these options. Also, as an additional consideration, if you’re doing an arm specialization phase, it’s probably wise to reduce your training volume (sufficient to maintain, but not develop these muscles) somewhat for other muscle groups, to allow sufficient time and energy for the specialization work. Finally and needless to say, you might prefer other arm exercise than the ones I’ve listed above — if so, use what works best for you.

Scenario #2: Powerlifting Bench Press Development

You’ve decided to do your first powerlifting meet, but your bench is “impoverished” compared to your squat and pull. Here’s a hypothetical 3-day training week targeted toward that goal:

Day One                      Day Two                     Day Three


Low-Bar Squat            High-Bar Squat           Low-Bar Squat (Light)

Bench Press                Floor Press                 Dips

Deadlift                     RDL                            Deadlift (Light)

Incline DB Row           Pulldowns                   Low Cable Row


Incline DB Press         Ring Pushups              Hammer Incline Press

Wide-Grip Bench       Long-Pause Bench       Close-Grip Bench

Discussion: A few things to note about secondary exercises used in this example:

1) There are a LOT of them. Whether or not you can productively use 9 pressing movements per week is dependent on your individual recovery ability.

2) The secondary exercises here are somewhat reflective of a hypertrophy phase (machine and DB work in particular). If you are closer to competition day and/or require more of a strength emphasis, your exercises should be more specific to the bench technique you’ll use in competition (slight grip modifications, tempo manipulation, etc.)

Scenario #3: Mobility Emphasis

You’ve determined that a few specific mobility issues are limiting your overall progress. Here’s a hypothetical 3-day training week targeted toward that goal:

Day One                                  Day Two                     Day Three


Bulgarian Split Squat              Goblet Squat               Front-Foot-Elevated Split Squat

Close-Grip Bench                    Dips                           DB Seated Press

Deficit Deadlift                      RDL                            45º Back Extension

Incline DB Row                      TRX Row                      Pullups


Get Ups                                 Overhead Squat          Wall Slide

Ankle Mobility                       Hip Flexor Stretch

Discussion: The topic of mobility development is a fairly large discussion, and beyond the scope of this article. Some exerts feel that most people will develop and maintain adequate mobility through properly-performed resistance training drills alone (assuming that they focus on full ROM with these exercises). The point I’d like to convey with the above hypothetical is the use of large ROM movements in the primary category (Bulgarian split squats, RDL’s, etc) along with various mobility drills in the secondary category. Some of those drills are loaded, and others are not. Needless to say, use whatever mobility drills you prefer based on your experiences and history.

The Possibilities Are Endless — Now Go And Make It Your Own!

One of the great features of PPP is its almost limitless flexibility, while at the same time, ensuring that your training is optimized for strength and muscular development purposes. I hope this article helps to inspire some creative thinking on your part, and as always, please leave your questions and comments below!




2 Responses so far.

  1. Colin says:

    Charles – are the Second Module (secondary exercises) performed using the same set/rep scheme as the primary? Also I assume both exercise can be performed in an alternating/paired way if desired?


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