Grow by stimulating the most muscle fiber possible. Exercises have electromyography (EMG) scores. EMG scores give an indication (through the level of electrical activity) of the degree of muscle activity going on. High levels of EMG are associated with high forces and a greater number of muscle fibers being recruited. An ideal workout would consist of exercises that have high EMG scores. A list of EMG scores for some of the more common exercises is listed at the bottom of this page:
You may notice exercises with higher ratings seem to be the ones that are more difficult to perform. Doesn’t it make sense that exercises that are the most productive are the ones that are the hardest to do?
The other important component to consider when stimulating maximum muscle fiber is the arc of flexion. This consists of three positions (mid-range, stretch, and contracted) that combine to constitute a full range of motion.
Mid-range movements train the bulk of a targeted muscle and typically use heavy weights. They are synergistic, meaning more than one muscle structure works together, with the target muscle as the primary mover. The squat is a mid-range exercise for the quads, and assisting in the movement are the glutes, hamstrings, lower back and calves.
Some of the best mid-range movements for each body part are:
Hamstrings: stiff-legged dead lifts (also a stretch movement)
Lats: wide-grip chins to the front, behind-the-neck pull downs
Delts: dumbbell presses
Chest: bench presses
Biceps: barbell curls or close-grip under grip pull downs
Triceps: lying extensions or close-grip bench presses
Stretch-position movements train targeted muscles at their maximum point of elongation. An example would be incline dumbbell curls for the biceps.
Here’s a list of stretch-position exercises for each muscle group:
Quads: sissy squats
Hamstrings: stiff-legged dead lifts
Calves: donkey calf raises
Abs: cable crunches with low-back support
Chest: dumbbell flyes
Mid-back: close-grip cable rows
Delts: incline one-arm laterals
Biceps: incline dumbbell curls
Triceps: overhead extensions
Contracted-position movements train targeted muscles at the point of complete contraction with resistance. Leg extensions for the quads would be an example.
Here’s a list of contracted-position exercises for each muscle group:
Quads: leg extensions
Hamstrings: leg curls
Calves: standing calf raises
Abs: full-range crunches
Chest: cable flyes or pec deck flyes
Lats: stiff-arm pull downs or pullover machine
Mid-back: bent-arm bent-over rows
Delts: lateral raises
Biceps: concentration curls or double-biceps cable curls
Triceps: one-arm push downs or kickbacks
Use exercises with higher EMG scores, and at least one each of a mid-range, contracted, and stretch movement to stimulate the maximum amount of muscle fiber during a workout. You’ll see the difference next time you step on stage!
Chest Shoulders Back
Incline Barbell Press 95% Barbell Press 90% Barbell Row 92%
Decline Dumbell Press 94% Dumbbell Bent Laterals 85% One Arm Dumbell Row 91%
Incline Dumbbell Press 91% Dumbbell Seated Laterals 83% Chin Ups 91%
Flat Dumbbell Press 87% Cable Bent Laterals 77% T-Bar Row 89%
Flat Barbell Press 85% Incline Dumbbell Laterals 66% Lat Pulldown 86%
Flat Dumbbell Fly 85% Barbell Laterals 63% Seated Rows 83%
Cable Side Laterals 47%
Standing Leg Curl 82% Quads Donkey Calf Raise 80%
Lying Leg Curl 71% Hack Squats 95% Standing 1 Leg Calf Raise 79%
Seated Leg Curl 58% Squats 92% Standing 2 Leg Calf Raise 68%
Stiff-legged Deadlift 56% Leg Press 72% Seated Calf Raise 61%
Barbell Preacher Curls 90% Skullcrushers 92%
Barbell Curls 85% Kickbacks 70%