In this article I will discuss the ideas of muscle reshaping and training the many angles of a muscle. Two protocols which have stood the test of time despite being false from the beginning.
One thing that I see many people doing in the gym is picking exercises to lengthen, shorten or otherwise shape their muscles. Muscle shape for the most part is determined by genetics. If you have short biceps muscles there really isn't anything that you can do to change it. You can concentrate your efforts on one head of the biceps or the other to some extent, but not upper or lower. The same is true of every other muscle group in the body. Every muscle has developed its shape due to genetic factors.
Obviously these factors are out of your control. You can change the cross-sectional area of a muscle but little else can be done to reshape it. I can offer you one explanation for this based on the biology of muscle contraction. When a muscle contracts, it does so along its entire length.
Biceps come in different shapes and sizes.
For example; when your biceps muscles contract the fibers selected for that contraction do so along the entire length of the muscle from origin to insertion. Nothing short of this is possible. An individual fiber has only two states, contracted or relaxed. Its called the all or none response and has been proven to be a true, non-theoretical statement. There is no room for argument here, this is fact!
Now this does get little more confusing, since some aspects of the muscle's shape can be transformed. The pectoral muscles, for example, can be reshaped laterally. The reason is because the pecs are fan shaped, which means that the muscle fibers can be recruited in selected bunches nearer to the top or bottom as required by the direction of contraction. A good example of this is to try doing flat benches and then incline benches.
Inclines stress the upper pecs more. As the direction of force is more upwards and therefore the upper fibers of the pecs must be utilized to force the weight against gravity. However, you cannot develop inner pecs verses outer pecs or vise versa. This is because the fibers are organized lengthwise (obviously) from the center of your chest at the sternum to the shoulder joint. Thus the inner pecs cannot be stressed more or less as the fibers either contract along their full length or not at all.
I realize that many will argue against this, stating that you can feel cable crossovers more in your inner pecs when you cross your hands over at the bottom of the movement. This feeling however has nothing to do with growth stimulation. The reason you feel a slight burn or cramp in the center of your chest in this position is simply because more stress is placed on the tendons in this area when your pectoral muscles are contracted in this position. It has nothing to do with muscle fiber stimulation in that area.
How Many Angles Does A Muscle Have?
Another interesting idea is that of training muscles from multiple angles. Where this one come from I'll never understand. The idea of having to train each muscle group with many different exercises in order to stimulate the maximum number of muscle fibers is a preposterous theory. As I just completed saying, a muscle fiber either contracts or it doesn't. The next point is that of how it is decided whether or not a fiber is required to contract. The answer lies in how your nervous system is "wired", for lack of a better term.
If you were to curl say 50 pounds a very specific number of muscle fibers would be recruited in order to move that load, but no more than absolutely necessary for the task. If you add weight and curl 100 pounds, twice the number of muscle fibers would be required and hence recruited. Yet again no more than absolutely necessary. If you were to do a maximum 1 rep curl, nearly all of the muscle fibers would be recruited in order to move that weight. These are the rules.
Does this mean that you must use maximum weights in order to stimulate all of the muscle fibers into to growth? Not really. Muscle grows as a result of nervous system distress. When you are presented with a load which you are ill equipped to handle, your nervous system responds as if you are in danger. The response, after initial recovery, is to grow larger, stronger muscles in order to be better able to handle that load in the future.
However, doing maximum 1 rep exercises is not the most efficient way to do this. Try it using the Intensity Index (described in "Optimizing Intensity", an earlier article by the author) to compare your one rep max to multi rep exercises. Your "I.I." is usually quite low in such attempts. The reason is, although a large number of muscle fibers are required to move the weight, the weight can be moved reasonably easily, on a per fiber stress basis. Also the length of tension time for the muscle is very low. Probably 10 seconds or less. This is insufficient for stimulating maximum hypertrophy.
The answer is to use multiple rep sets which allow you to exhaust many muscle fibers over a longer period of time. The normal rep range is 8-10. This may or may not be the best for you but it is a good place to start. Some new evidence is suggesting that lower rep ranges, in the 3-5 rep area may actually stimulate more hypertrophic response so why not try it out and see for yourself?!
As for the multi set, multi angular approach it really isn't necessary. Once a muscle has been stimulated into growth, further stimulation is unnecessary, and may actually be damaging enough to slow the recovery and growth process. As the great Lee Haney has said, "Stimulate, don't annihilate!" One or two sets per muscle group may very well be enough to stimulate maximum muscle gains. So why do more? Find the minimum amount of training necessary to stimulate growth.
Once youâ€™ve found that you may experiment with slightly increased volume to see what the overall effect is. But hey if you are making gains on minimum volume why do more? Loving training is no excuse for overtraining, so lay off a little.
The long and short of it all is just pick an exercise or two and train! Why waste your time chasing down endless magic formulas and worthless exercises? As the Nike commercials say, "Just Do It!"
High Volume HIT!
Keep life HEAVY!