I received a question, or really a statement, saying one-limb exercises aren’t efficient because they take too much time.
My question would be, are you concerned about time efficiency or mass-building efficiency?
Due to bi-lateral deficit, which means that two-limbed moves have reduced fiber engagement compared to one-limbed exercises, you get more mass stimulation with a one-limbed ideal exercise.
In other words, it takes more sets of the two-limbed version to get the same mass-building bang.
I mentioned that if time is that critical, do the one-limbed exercise in alternate fashion—that is, train a set for your right, then left, then back to right and so on, no rest…
That can work well, but I don’t do that most of the time. I like to train one side all the way through all sets and exercises, then I train the other side. Why? If you do it the other way and alternate…
1) You lose some of the benefit of slow-twitch exhaustion. I prefer Density training, that is using only 20-to-30 seconds between sets. A high-rep set, short rest, then another set with the same weight has been shown to engage more fast-twitch growth fibers on that second set. That’s due to exhausting so much of the slow-twitch pool on the first high-rep sets (for the full explanation of STX and the research, see the new ebook).
2) You spread out the available blood. Of course, this happens on two-limbed movements, as both target muscles work simultaneously. But if you can train a muscle solo, you can pool the blood there for all of your sets, enhancing the pump and burn, or fatigue-product accumulation. Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D. cites research that shows metabolic stress, or the accumulation of exercise-induced metabolites such as lactic acid, is one of the factors for optimal muscle growth.
How much of that matters in the overall mass-building scheme? Hard to quantify it. I do what I do for efficiency of effort. If you’re more concerned with time efficiency, then alternate arms or legs on one-limbed movements.
Bottom line: Do what’s best for you while adhering as much as possible to the efficiency-of-effort factors, exercises and methods.
By sticking to the majority you’ll accelerate hypertrophy.
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
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