Multi-Joint Exercises - Weight Training Movements
To Burn Like a Good Bonfire
Suzuki said, "When you do something, you should burn yourself
completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself."
So should you adopt a similar manner in your workouts, especially
when looking to get the biggest bang for your time. This article
will detail out the benefits of multi-joint exercises and briefly
discuss several types and key points about each one.
For the purposes of this article, a multi-joint exercise will be
defined as any movement in which your body must change the angles
of more than one joint while performing the motion. For example,
if you are performing a set of standing dumbbell curls, the only
joint that should move is your elbow - this would be classified
as an 'isolation' style exercise in which a very specific set of
muscles are being utilized to perform the movement. Compare that
to standing up from a chair - here your body will need to manipulate
the ankles, knees, hips, spine and perhaps shoulders in order to
complete the motion to stand up from a sitting position.
Here are the key rules to remember when utilizing multi-joint exercises
in your workout sessions:
The more joints that are worked, the better the overall effect.
- The more muscle tissue (by volume) that is worked, the better
the overall effect.
- The more joints that are worked, the more your nervous system
will be stimulated (also translating into more movement complexity).
- The more planes of motion utilized at the same time, the more
your nervous system and stabilizer muscles will be stimulated
(again, more complexity).
- The greater the demand on your body, the greater the metabolic
effect as energy is more rapidly consumed to complete the motion.
If you keep these rules of thumb in mind, they will provide you
with a solid framework for incorporating multi-joint movements into
Let's take a look at the key points listed above and translate these
into the direct benefits that you can expect to realize when using
multi-joint exercises. First and foremost, the more joints that
are used in any particular movement, the better the overall effect.
Have you ever seen a gymnast dancing along a balance beam looking
graceful and in control as her body is contorted and suspended in
different poses in space? In order to achieve this level of control,
this gymnast has, among other things, learned to control different
joint movements happening at the same time. As your body must control
different joint angles and stabilization, it becomes like a juggler
- the more balls that are in the air being juggled at the same time,
the harder the task and the greater amount of concentration and
effort must be spent to maintain that state.
Let's look at this from a practical standpoint. If you sit in a
chair and extend your right leg at the knee like a slow kick, your
body will need to use the muscles that surround the knee joint to
control this motion. If you perform the same movement with both
legs at the same time, your body will now need to utilize two separate
but equal joints. If you take both of your feet and place them on
the ground while sitting in a chair and then smoothly stand up from
the chair, you'll be using your ankle, knee, hip, and spine joints
in the least. If you sit back down and this time jump up from the
seated position and try to immediately jump up as high as you can
and clap your hands far above your head, you'll be using almost
every joint in your body for the motion.
of these movements takes the most energy? The last one, and for
two main reasons. First, you'll be using virtually every joint in
your body to perform the task. Your nervous system, which is sending
out little electrical signals telling your muscles whether or not
to contract and by how much, will need to send signals all over
the place at the same time. It's kind of like the I Love Lucy scene
with the conveyor belt at the chocolate factory - if your nervous
system isn't used to that kind of stimulation it gets challenged
and forced to adapt. This is kind of like the 'walking and chewing
gum' idea - if you practice it, you will get better at it as your
body adapts to a higher level of stimulation and control demands.
The second reason that going from a seated position straight into
a jump takes more energy is due to the amount of muscle fibers that
are using energy to contract and move different parts of your body.
Every muscle fiber that is firing because of the signals received
by your nervous system uses a little bit of energy to contract.
The more muscle fibers you have contracting, the more energy that
is being consumed purely on an economy of scale perspective. Not
only are the larger prime movers contracting to help lift your body
into the jump position, but smaller stabilizer muscles are also
working to make sure that the prime movers move your body in the
direction you intended it to go. Every one of those muscle fibers,
whether from stabilizers or from prime movers, is using energy.
So why is it important to develop your nervous system and stabilizer
muscles? For the very same underlying reason why you exercise in
the first place: to obtain a more efficient body. Whether this means
being sleek, toned, muscular, stronger, leaner, etc., it all translates
into a more efficient body. Since we are really all athletes, regardless
of our current state of being, our body relies on its ability to
move under resistance and in control. As your nervous system and
stabilizer muscles develop along side your prime movers, your body
will move into a state of more efficient control, movement, energy
storage and utilization, and balance.
Let's take a look at some great multi-joint exercises that you can
take advantage of. This is a brief discussion of exercises that
use multiple joints at the same time.
Lower Back & Legs: Squats and Deadlifts
Squat and Deadlift exercises both utilize very similar joint activity
- bend the knees and hips and progressively lower and raise a weight
that is either held in the hands or suspended on the shoulders.
Explicit care must be taken to maintain proper 'flat back' posture
by keeping the midsection tight and back in a neutral position during
these lifts. While proper form of the Deadlift will put more strength
emphasis on the lower back, the Squat will primarily demand performance
from the thigh and hip regions.
The Olympic Lifts: Cleans & Snatches
The Clean and Jerk and the Snatch are two Olympic lifts that employ
almost every joint on the body and are consequently very demanding
exercises. When performed correctly, these exercises can trigger
a large adaptive response through massive energy, balance, coordination,
power, and speed demands. These are excellent exercises that are
at the top of the benefit ladder. Always remember to follow safe
exercise form practices when performing these lifts as with any
other multi-joint exercise you may be unfamiliar with and ask for
guidance from a qualified, trained professional.
The Presses: Bench and Military
Bench Pressing and Military Pressing primarily utilize shoulder
and elbow joint movements. Important note: Do not perform a Barbell
Military Press behind the neck, as this can cause great stress and
potential damage in your shoulder joints. With both of these classic
movements, the principal idea is to move some resistance from a
position closer to your body to a position further from your body
by extending your arms. Performing Dumbbell Military Presses while
standing can help bring more nervous system and stabilizer activity
into play during this movement.
Multi-Planar: Jackknife Presses and Lunge Presses
Whenever your body has to manage movement in two separate planes
or two opposite motions in the same plane, your nervous system will
be challenged. The end result benefit of performing exercises like
these: greater coordination and body control. These exercises are
best performed rather slowly to allow your stabilizers a chance
to control the movement instead of letting your prime movers bully
them out of the way and losing balance.
Here are some pictorial descriptions of a Jackknife Press and a
Lunge Press. The Jackknife Press utilizes movement in two different
planes at the same time: the first is the pulling of your knees
up toward your chest while keeping your back in a neutral alignment;
the second is the push-up motion of your arms pressing your body
higher as the knee movement happens.
Jackknife Press Start/Finish
Jackknife Press Halfway
The Lunge Press uses opposite directional movements in the same
plane: as you lower your body down into the lunge, press the dumbbells
held at your shoulders up into the air. Ideally, the dumbbells should
stay in almost the same space so both the lunge and the press parts
of the movements happen simultaneously.
Lunge Press Start/Finish Lunge
Because multi-joint exercises use a large amount of energy and place
a greater demand on stabilizer muscles, it is important to mostly
utilize these exercises earlier in your workout session when you
are most fresh. While there are times where using an isolation exercise
before a multi-joint exercise may be the intention, you can rely
on the fact that the total demand on your body will be the greatest
with multi-joint exercises. All of this means that you will get
your biggest bang for your proverbial buck right here. It also means
that these exercises can be tough, which is one of the reasons that
you won't see many people doing them
just the people that
want the best results. Don't be surprised if these exercises take
your breath away like a quick sprint. Have fun with them, be safe,
and reap the rewards of your hard work.