…when thinking about resistance training, start  by thinking about your joints.

I workout in a college gym, which means there are college students exercising there. Which means there are college boys there. Which means that at any given moment, there are at least five of them doing bicep curls. Lots and lots of bicep curls.

We all know why college boys do bicep curls: presumably to attract college girls, right? And that’s fine, but for most of us post-college, we probably have other goals in mind when we hit the gym. Maybe we need to lose a few pounds. Maybe we want to feel more fit, move better, or improve performance. Maybe we want to look lean and mean or just have more energy. Lifting weights is a great method to help achieve any of these goals. Another part of being out of college means likely having a job and other responsibilities to balance, which means you probably have a limited amount of time at the gym, or to exercise in general.

So what does this have to do with bicep curls?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with a bicep curl. It does what it says. It trains the bicep—the big semi-circular muscle in our upper arms that when flexed, is a universal symbol of strength and victory. The bicep curl also trains a few smaller muscles of the upper arm and forearm that attach to your elbow joint, and this is where we get to the key of today’s article: when thinking about resistance training, start by thinking about your joints. Joint Action is a term referring to which joints are moving during a certain exercise, and how they are moving. Start thinking about joint action, and you’ll start to have a better awareness of your body’s movement, and you’ll maximize your time in the gym. Best of all, you don’t have to be an exercise scientist or anatomy guru to do it. Most of us can identify our shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and ankles, and that’s a great place to start.

Back to the curl. The curl is what’s known as a single-joint exercise. One joint is moving—the elbow. This means that muscles attached at the elbow are being worked, in this case, it’s the bicep, the brachialis, and the brachioradialis.

Compare this to a multi-joint exercise such as a rowing motion (the row could be done from a variety of positions—seated, standing, bent, suspended, etc.). During a row, the shoulders and elbows move, thus making it a multi-joint exercise. Now, the major muscles trained are the latissimus dorsi (largest upper body muscle), middle traps, rhomboids, rear deltoids, teres major and finally…(drum-roll please)…the biceps. In this case two (joints) are better than one, especially in terms of number and size of muscles targeted in one exercise, amount of calories required to do the exercise, and functionality—a rowing, or pulling motion is something we do in everyday life.

Multi-joint exercises should be your top priority in any kind of resistance program. Single-joint exercises are fine, but they should be thought of as a supplement to multi-joint exercises. If you have a limited time in the gym, and you want to do the most work you can in a short time, highly prioritize multi-joint exercises.

Being that the largest and strongest muscles in our bodies attach to our hips and shoulders, we want to make sure we get those joints moving as much as possible.

Here’s a list of some essential multi-joint movements:

  • Squats/Lunges/Step-Ups (hips/knees/ankles)
  • Deadlift (hips/knees/ankles—emphasis on hip joint)
  • Row (shoulder/elbow horizontal pull)
  • Pulldowns/pullups (shoulder/elbow vertical pull)
  • Chest press (shoulder/elbow horizontal push)
  • Overhead press (shoulder/elbow vertical push)

And some more advanced compound or complex full-body movements:

  • Squat to Overhead Press
  • Reverse Lunge Cable Row
  • Cable Chops
  • Push Press
  • Clean
  • Clean & Jerk
  • Snatch

Happy Lifting!


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