The first step in planning a successful routine is to evaluate your personal bodybuilding goals. If your primary concern is fat loss without muscle gain, you should probably concentrate on aerobic exercise which stresses the major muscle groups and reduce your caloric intake. A good example would be using a rowing machine and one of the exercise bikes with the handles you push - this will work most of your muscles, hopefully enough that your body won't cannibalize them for fuel (which would reduce your basal metabolic rate andmake you even fatter).
If you want to build muscle, that is if you are a bodybuilder, you need to determine exactly what you want to develop. As I explained in "First Concerns", you probably don't want bigger obliques, thicker abdominals, much thicker lower pecs, etc. You should also seriously consider working legs and back even if you feel you dont' need to. There is some evidence that working the largest muscle groups of the body facilitates growth of all the other groups. Besides that, people with stick legs and flat backs look bad.
Once you have written down a list of what you need to develop (which will probably include upper pec, lats, inner back, delts (front and rear), lower quads, hamstrings, calves, triceps, biceps, and forearms), you need to figure out what exercises work those muscles best for you.
There are several criterion you will want to use to pick your exercises. Any intelligent trainer will want to maximally stress the target muscles with the least work in the safest manner. There are a large number of options in today's gym environment, which is advantageous to the experienced trainer, but can be bewildering to the beginner, especially if that beginner has been brainwashed by the muscle magazines.
Many people will write and say that certain exercises are shaping movements, and that some movements will work, say, the lower part of the bicep, or the bicep peak. I can't count how many times I've read that flyes work the outer part of the pec, or that preacher curls stress the lower bicep.
The fact is that a muscle either contracts or it doesn't, and it contracts length wise. In other words, force generated near the shoulder insertion of the bicep has just as much effect on the torque generated at the elbow as does the force generated closer to the elbow insertion. Very few muscles can be worked one part at a time. The pec major, for example, has multiple insertion points on the sternum. You can shift the emphasis to a higher or lower section of the muscle be varying the angle of stress - in other words, by benching (or flyeing or whatever) on an incline or decline. The traps seem to be activated differently by different movements as well. The lower traps (which are really low on your ribcage) don't get stressed by regular shrugs.
Some muscles are actually compound muscle groups. The triceps has three sections (hence triceps), not all of which are worked by every tricep exercise. Read "Muscle Meets Magnet" for more info. The quadriceps (guess how many sections?) are not worked equally by all movements. Some exercises place more stress near the knee, others closer to the hip. The biceps can look different if the brachialis is developed, but the existence of a peak is basically genetic. But you can't work a "part" of the bicep, the inside or outside of the pec, the thickness as opposed to width of the lats, or the belly of a muscle instead of its attachments. Muscles just don't work that way.
I can't count how often I've read that compound (multi-joint) exercises are necessary for muscle growth. You know: bench presses, squats, deadlifts. I believe it starts with the testosterone high people get from lifting large weights. You can overhead press a lot more than you can lateral raise properly. The fact is that the muscle has no idea what the rest of you is doing - it is either contracting intensely or it isn't. Isolation movements make measuring progress easier, and they make concentration easier. It is hard to really feel a muscle when 200 of them are working, such as when you squat.
It also doesn't matter how much weight the movement allows you to lift. For example, people can dumbbell bench more than they handle in the flye. Does that make the bench more effective? No. The stress (force) on the muscle is higher with the flye, due to the longer lever involved (the straightened arm versus the bent arm). It makes no difference how much weight is in your hand - your pec doesn't care. You only need half as much weight with flyes, and often get a better burn in the target muscle.
There is, to be fair, some evidence (mostly anecdotal) that some compound movements involving the largest muscle groups (the hip and back muscles), such as the squat and deadlift, might facilitate the release of testosterone, which improves overall development. If you think that is true, then squat and deadlift. I find it hard to believe that one set of heavy squats would cause such a different reaction from sets of leg extensions, seated rows, and incline presses taken to failure. I do intend to add in deadlifts and/or squats one day, when I stop growing on isolation movements. It hasn't happened yet.
Everyone loves free weights. I have a theory as to why: people find it much easier to cheat with free weights, so they can get a hard set in more easily. It is harder to train legitimately to failure than to do cheat reps at the end of a near failure set. There is also the fact that many machines don't feel "right" for many people - they are often poorly designed.
To justify their appreciation of free weights people have made up all kinds of ridiculous things which show the superiority of free weights. They say that free weights work the stabilizer msucles, which machines don't. That may be true, but the work given to those stabilizers should be truly minimal. If it isn't, then your form must be truly bad. If stabilizing the body provided an intense workout for a muscle group, the overhead press would be the only exercise anybody would do, and they would develop huge msucles everywhere. It isn't because they wouldn't.
You don't need machines to get a good workout, but they can help. Test out the machines available to you and see if they work your muscles harder than the free weight exercises you were doing.
Certain movement should be avoided because they are inherently unsafe. Resistance training is very safe if done properly. I have only injured myself doing stupid things (like not using collars on bars). However, there are some movements which are simply too stressful to the body to be worth the risk of injury. Even if they were extremely productive, which they are not, they would prevent continuos progress - you can't lift if you're in the hospital.
Explosive movements are lifts which require the use of momentum for their completion. Power cleans, and all the Olympic lifts, require that you swing the weight through portions of the movement. This is very hazardous for your body. Momentum greatly increases the potential forces at your joints, which is asking for injury.
Some movements work through a range of motion where the joint involved is unstable. For example, behind the neck presses and pulldowns fully externally rotate the shoulder, which is not a safe position for that joint. The knee should not be bent much more than 90 degrees, so don't do butt-to-the-floor squats or heel-to-ass leg presses. For a more detailed explanation of why this is bad, see sports physiology textbooks.
Hopefully you now have a list of your favorite exercises, which will vwork all the muscles you want to work, without duplication. Place then in an order, making sure that you aren't working an auxiliary muscle for a compount movement by itself before you use that compound movement. For example, don't do incline curls before bent rows or tricep extensions before incline presses. If you have more than 12 or so exercises you need to split them up. See if you can drop some - if you can't, do them over two days instead of one.
In my next article I wil discuss number of reps, sets, and form.
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