Strength Training Explained

Strength Training Explained

Strength Training Explained

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Essentially it is simple, right? Go to the gym, perform exercise A for muscle group 1 and – with time – watch muscle group 1 harden and grow. But what about going to the gym and doing exercise B for muscle group 1? Would the result be better, different, the same? What about exercise C, D, E etc.?

Not that simple after all. Or rather; simple in practice, complex in execution. And the range of exercises available to gym goers runs beyond the gamut of A to Z.

So how do you optimize your training and get the best results? Do you speak to the 120kg gym bros? Do you try everything and hope something just works?

Wrong – You turn to the power of science!

So – let us observe a muscle. It is water, protein and nutrients powered by a contexture of nerves. The trick to understanding the muscle, lies in how it moves under the influence of electricity. Indeed, the greater the electrical activity in a muscle, the greater the muscular stimulation. So, the best exercises are those which elicit the greatest electrical activation within a muscle group.

We measure this electrical activation with a technique called electromyography (EMG). It does not tell the whole story of what the muscle is doing during an exercise, but it gives us enough information to determine a range of optimal exercises.

The Best Chest Exercises

So now we can tackle the initial question. But because there are so many muscle groups, let us focus on a single one for now – the chest.

The chest is almost universally loved by gym goers – and bench press numbers remain the most highly coveted for the general lifter. It is the perfect place for us to start!

We begin by defining the component muscles of the chest – the upper, middle and lower pectoral muscles. Then we can determine the best exercises for the muscle based on EMG results.

The winning exercises:

Upper pectoralis

1.     Dumbbell incline bench press

2.     Guillotine press

3.     JC band press

Mid pectoralis

1.     Guillotine press

2.     Dumbbell bench press

3.     Flat bench dumbbell fly

Lower pectoralis

1.     Guillotine press

2.     Flat bench dumbbell fly

3.     Weighted dip

So why is the barbell bench press not featured in any of the top exercises? Good question – the bench press itself is a compound lift, and it activates not only the pectoral muscles but also the front delts and the triceps. Athletes looking to increase their max bench should consider exercises for developing the front delts and the triceps. The complex nature of the bench press means that it loses out in EMG readings vs more specific, chest isolation exercises. 

The most featured exercise here is the little-known guillotine press. This is an old school lift that is excellent for pectoral development. It is essentially a flat wide grip barbell bench; the elbows are flared and the back remains flat (no arching!) – ideally the athlete should place their feet on the bench. The bar is then lowered to just above the athlete’s neck.  This lift should be performed with a partner as a failed rep means a high probability of injury.

Another interesting result is the pre-eminence of the dumbbell over the barbell for eliciting activation in the pectorals. Serious gym goers should include some dumbbell presses if they want serious chest development. You can find a range of dumbbells on Brand Hubb. Also remember to keep your nutrition on point during your training regime – Gold’s Gym provides a range of solid supplements to keep you going.

More information:

For more information on the readings behind these – and many more exercises – please see this article by Brett Contreras on T-nation. Both Brett and T-nation are excellent resources for strength training. Bookmark the site and give Brett a follow.

Other references are below: 


Interpreting muscle function from EMG: lessons learned from direct measurements of muscle force

Credit: Alex Cheboub – Brand Manager Fitness