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Muscle & Fitness Hers March/April 2008 Excerpt: 3 Steps To A Better Body!

Organize your workouts for optimal muscle-sculpting results with this three-step training plan!

Walk into any gym and you'll find a multitude of equipment, from dumbbells and barbells to cable stations and weight machines.

Regular Hers readers know the difference between them and how to get a good workout using each. But do you know how to organize your training to really maximize the benefits each of these tools offer?

You've probably never given it much thought, but there's an order in which you can use each type of equipment to improve your results. We call it "Three-Step Training," and it can help you gain more strength and develop a better physique in three simple steps.

Steady As She Goes

The whole idea behind Three-Step Training centers on the stabilizer muscles. Rather than specifically training the stabilizers, however, this system minimizes stabilizer fatigue so you can maximize your major muscle strength and development.

In general, stabilizer muscles (such as the rotator cuffs) lie deep under your major muscle groups (in this case, the delts); the former are typically smaller and weaker than the latter. Yet stabilizer muscles play a critical role in securing the joints during various exercises that major body parts perform.

When you reach failure on an exercise, it's often due to stabilizer fatigue and not true fatigue of the major muscle group. When stabilizers are tired, the brain limits nervous system input to the major muscles to prevent an injury from occurring.

Free-weight and cable exercises require more stabilizer muscle involvement than machine exercises. And within the realm of free weights, dumbbell exercises require more stabilizer help than barbell moves. That's because with dumbbells, each arm is allowed to move in all directions at the shoulder joint, whereas with barbell exercises the arms can move in fewer directions because both hands are fixed on the bar.

Are Free Weights Or Machines Better For Results? Are Free Weights Or Machines Better For Results? This is an old question, but one that keeps coming up with new trainers. Should use only use free weights in your quest for muscle growth?
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Among cable exercises, one-arm moves (such as the one-arm seated row for back) call on more stabilizers than two-arm cable exercises (such as the wide-grip seated row). Finally, machines (which include the Smith machine and selectorized weight machines) require very little stabilizer involvement, since they follow a predetermined path that doesn't permit deviation.

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One-Arm Seated Row.
Video: Windows Media - MPEG

Thus, the order of involvement of the stabilizer muscles from most to least goes:

  1. Dumbbells and one-arm cable exercises
  2. Barbells and two-arm cable exercises
  3. Machines

By performing exercises that require more stabilizer involvement earlier in your workout and exercises that require less stabilizer involvement later, you can more effectively train your major muscle groups. This leads to superior gains in strength and development in a shorter amount of time.

For the rest of this feature, which includes a full-body workout, pick up the March/April issue of M&F HERS, on newsstands now.

Jim Stoppani