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The Secret of Muscle Movement

Incline Chest Press - All Pulling Muscles
Incline Chest Press

I'm going to tell you something that just might fundamentally change the way you exercise. It's a simple thing that once you learn; it'll force you to look at how your muscles work in a completely new way. Here goes.

All muscles are designed to pull. It's a basic law of human anatomy that every muscle in our bodies are capable of working just one way, and that's by pulling.

The muscle-tendon unit can actively only shorten or contract. That means no matter what action you're getting your body to accomplish, it's some combination of pulling forces that's allowing it to happen.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Hold out your hand. Now close your fingers in to make a fist. It was a combination of several muscles all pulling together to make that happen. Now spread your fingers back out. An entirely different set of muscles all pulled together to allow that to happen.

It's a tough concept to accept. When my teacher first told me that, I spent the next 5 minutes trying to prove her wrong. I moved my arms, waved my legs and in general tried every combination of movement I could think of to show her that there are muscles capable of pushing.

All I succeeded in doing was making the people around me believe I was going into an epileptic fit.

What that means for your workouts is this. Any exercise you're trying to accomplish is only possible through various muscles pulling together. Knowing that, and paying attention to how you position your body to maximize that pulling action can make all the difference between an effective workout and one where you risk injury.

Here's what you do.

Start by figuring out what muscles you're really exercising. Let's take a typical exercise, the Incline Chest Press using a Barbell. The most common way to think of that exercise is that your chest and arms are pushing the weight away from your body. But that's not really what's going on at all.

The pressing movement is really your triceps pulling to extend your elbows, while the pectorals (chest) and deltoids (part of the shoulder) are pulling to bring your arms closer together. Combine the two pulling movements; extending your elbows with bringing your arms closer together; and you have the basic movement for a chest press.

If you simply were to concentrate on your chest and "pressing" the weight, you're not paying attention to the real muscles responsible for the movement. You might be ignoring the importance of your shoulders and triceps.

Once you've identified the actual muscles you're going to work, the next step is to make sure you position your body so that at no time during the exercise will you compromise form.

Try the movement slowly without any weights. Pay attention to the individual muscles and how they'll be pulling the weight through the range of motion. Practice with very light weights to make sure you aren't cheating. Remember that any time you move out of proper alignment, you risk putting too much strain on a muscle and "pulling" it so much it'll cause injury.

At this point it can help to learn just a little bit about anatomy. If you don't have the benefit of a personal trainer guiding your workout, get a book that explains the muscles involved in each of your exercises. You don't have to learn it all before your next workout, but take to time to memorize one new muscle a day. Learn the name, identify it on your body, see what direction it pulls in and then make a note what exercises you do to work it.

If you discover a muscle you're not exercising, add it to a future routine. For the muscles you are working, pay closer attention to how they move.

Over time you'll learn more about your body, get more of your muscles properly worked out and avoid injury by paying attention to what's actually doing the work.

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9/2/2007