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Single-joint vs. Multi-joint Exercises


Single-joint vs. Multi-joint Exercises
Posted on: 2013-11-18 20:30:50 Ft.

Are single-joint exercises necessary? Apparently not for beginners. Keep reading to find out why.

Resistant exercises can be categorized as single-joint or multi-joint exercises. Single-joint exercises (e.g., triceps extension and single-arm biceps curls) recruit one primary muscle to perform the movement. Whereas multi-joint exercises utilize several muscles at a time.

During an exercise, the muscle that is primarily responsible for the movement is called the “prime mover”. For example, during a single-joint exercise, like single-arm biceps curls, the prime mover is the biceps. Likewise, when performing a multi-joint exercise, such as bench press, the pecs are the prime mover. However, during multi-joint exercises there are other muscles, which join in to help perform the lift. For example, when bench pressing the triceps and delts work with the pecs to move the bar. Similarly, when doing lat pulldowns the biceps have to contract to help perform the exercise. These muscles, which help the prime mover perform an exercise, are termed “synergists”.

With the above in mind, some believe that the synergists do not get worked hard enough during multi-joint exercises to build and strengthen the muscle and, therefore, require one to perform single-joint exercises to properly target and stimulate them. That being said, a 2012 study has put this theory to the test.

The researchers split 29 untrained men into two groups. One group performed 3 sets of 8-12 reps on bench press and lat pulldowns twice a week for 10 weeks. The second group performed the same training protocols as the first group but added 3 sets of 8-12 reps of triceps extensions and single-arm biceps curls to each workout.

Before the trial began, the researchers measured the men’s arm size, muscle thickness and strength. They also took these measurements after the trial. The results showed that both groups increase their arm’s size, muscle thickness and strength. However, there was no significant difference between the groups. In other words, the men who performed both multi-joint and single-joint exercises didn’t make any better gains.1

Just remember that the men used in this study were beginners and this doesn’t necessarily apply to those who have been training for some time. However, it’s definitely something to keep in mind, especially if you’re new to the iron game.  

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1. Gentil P et al. (2012) Effect of adding single-joint exercises to a multi-joint exercise resistance-training program on strength and hypertrophy in untrained subjects. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 38:341-344.