More Bang for Your Buck

Typically, the machine-based exercises most people do in the gym are single-jointed exercises. This means that the machine isolates a muscle and only allows movement at one joint. If you look at the bicep curl machine, the tricep extension machine, the shoulder press, the leg extension, the leg curl—all of these machines only allow movement at one joint and only work on one muscle at a time.

This single joint isolation is NOT how the body functions in the real world and also does not allow for effective and efficient training in the gym. In the real world the body does not call on individual muscles to perform a task, the body calls on groups of muscles. When you watch people play sports, perform labor-intensive tasks, play with their children, you will see fluid motion of various body parts and muscle groups. We do not move piece by piece like a robot or the tin man from the “Wizard of Oz”.

For this reason, it’s important to train muscle groups and multiple joints at the same time in our exercise program. By doing this we accomplish several things:

1) We train proper movement patterns that will be stored in our nervous system. By doing this, these movements can be called upon more naturally when needed in the real world.

2) The muscles will have better communication with each other (this is like learning a sporting skill) and therefore, you will be less susceptible to injuries during physical activity.

3) Your workouts will be more effective and efficient. Multi-jointed exercises provide the most bang for your buck. While doing these exercises multiple muscles are being used to create the movement. Furthermore, various other muscles are called upon to act as stabilizers of certain joints or as neutralizers of unwanted motion. If this sounds a bit confusing just look at it this way – more muscles are working during a particular exercise, which means more energy and calories are being used to complete the exercise, which is a good thing.

So the next time you are in the gym think about how your body functions when performing activity outside of the gym. You are usually using your legs to create support and also generate power to your upper body which might be swinging a tennis racquet, or pushing a heavy object, or shoveling snow. Now try a couple of these multi-jointed exercises:

1) Split squat and row – stand in a lunge position with your left foot forward and right foot back. Grab a low cable with your right hand. Bend your right knee as if you were going to kneel (split squat) and as you are coming up pull the cable toward your chest (like starting a lawnmower).

2) Squat and dumbbell press – grab a set of dumbbells and hold them just above your shoulders. Perform a squat with feet in a parallel stance. As you’re rising out of the squat press the dumbbells overhead (as if you were putting a heavy object in a cabinet above your head that you picked up off of the floor)

3) Lunge and curl – grab a set of dumbbells and begin to lunge forward alternating legs. You can either perform a dumbbell curl on the way down or on the way up from the lunge. You should perform both types in your exercise routine.

4) Lunge and chest press – using resistance bands or a cable machine set the handles at chest height. Facing away from the resistance lunge forward with your right foot and simultaneously press the band or cable handles in front of you as if you were pushing a large heavy object (like a refrigerator). Perform a set for each foot.