“What are these ‘ideal exercises‘ of which you speak?”
I get that a lot—maybe not in those exact words; more like, “WTF you talkin’ ‘bout?”
Biomechanics expert and Mr. Universe Doug Brignole lays out 16 factors that exercises should meet to be in the ideal category.
His 400-page book The Physics of Resistance Exercise goes into great detail and explains each…
I’ve narrowed it down to my top five in Old Man, Young Muscle that specifically affect optimal, or ideal, muscle-fiber activation, the cornerstone of bodybuilding efficiency in the gym:
1) Bi-lateral deficit: you’re weaker on two-limb exercises, so training one arm or leg at a time produces more fiber activation.
2) Range of motion: moving from near full stretch to a full-contracted position activates more muscle fibers than partial reps.
3) Resistance curve: a muscle is strongest near stretch and weakest at contraction, so resistance should be most when the muscle is elongated and tail off to near zero at contraction.
4) Direction of resistance: you should be pulling the working limb directly toward the target muscle’s origin.
5) Non-target muscle activation: you should minimize the involvement or loading of non-target muscles.
Understanding these concepts and applying them to exercises in order to determine their rank on the ideal scale was the biggest key to me re-muscling my physique with 35-minute workouts three days a week.
Once I began emphasizing the exercises that checked off all or most of those five factors, my results took off at age 60-plus…
And if you’re new here, I only had a 50-pound PowerBlock dumbbell set, an adjustable bench, and a doorway chinning bar, so I had to be creative to get close to a few of the ideal moves.
For example, Brignole says that one-arm cable pull-ins are best for lats.
Since I did not have cables during my transformation, I did chin-bar one-arm lat pulls.
Both have flaws but are very close to ideal. With the cable, the resistance curve is not quite right—it’s a bit difficult at contraction where resistance should tail off…
With my chin-bar version, the resistance curve is about right—it gets easier as the body moves up to near vertical; however, the direction of resistance is hard to get just right.
To achieve optimal lat activation, you should twist your torso toward the bar as you pull, which is somewhat awkward.
Still, either of these exercises is better than pulldowns or chins. On those, the resistance is coming from overhead, not toward the lats’ origin on the spine…
Plus, you’re using two arms at once, so there is bi-lateral deficit; and the resistance curve is wrong—much too difficult at contraction.
I’m not saying that you can’t do pulldowns. I often do a form of pulldown and a chest-supported row, which I explain in the new ebook.
What I am saying is that you should emphasize the ideal exercise and use other non-ideals as add-on moves…
That’s how you get muscle growth to accelerate without wasting time. Glad I finally figured that out after 45 years of training. Sheesh!
New: Get the ideal exercise for each muscle, the best add-on moves for ultimate mass, complete 35-minute workouts, exercise start/finish photos, and details on building muscle fast and efficiently in Old Man, Young Muscle.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
Former Editor in Chief, Iron Man Magazine
Muscle Growth Key: Anabolic Swelling
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Most guys in the gym use specialization to build bigger “visible” muscles like arms, forearms, or calves, but little do they know that they’re wasting countless sets and reps…
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