Big versus Small
Big Exercises contain the Small Exercises
It’s quite common to be overwhelmed by the shear number of exercises available to you at the WCFP or any gym. A common question when faced with 100 exercises choices is, “how many exercises should I do to work all my muscles?”. To answer this question, we present training tip #4, Big versus Small. In this tip you’ll discover that many of the small, single joint exercises included in a typical workout program are already contained within the larger multi-joint exercises. Knowing about this will help you make more practical and efficient exercise choices.
What’s a big exercise and what’s a small exercise? A big exercise is one that involves two or more joints actively moving. A small exercise involves only one joint. Count the number of joints that are active during any weight training exercise. In any exercise, you’ll observe muscles actively move at least one joint (i.e. prime mover complex), and often more than one joint, while other muscles and joints away from the main action don’t move but remain statically contracted to stabilize the body’s position and posture (i.e. stabilizer complex).
Here are some examples of small exercises contained within big exercises
Below are examples of small exercises that are contained within big exercises. What do we mean by this? In the examples below, look for joint actions that are common to both the small and big exercise examples. You’ll see that the single-joint exercise “triceps extension” is contained within the multi-joint exercise, the “push-up”. Further down, you can see that the single-joint exercise, “bicep curl” is contained within the multi-joint exercise, the “pull-up”. What’s the takeaway from this knowledge? Spend your time wisely at the fitness park of gym by placing a priority on the big exercises available to you. The main body of your workout should consist of big movements. Leave any small exercises to be tacked onto the end of your workout, if at all. Remember, you’ve already used those same muscles during their involvement during big exercises!
single joint action:
Watch someone perform a standing tricep extension and you’ll see a stabilized, stationary body with action at only one joint, extension (opening) of the elbow joint.
Observing a push-up you’ll see a stationary, stabilized body with action at two joints: the elbow joint opens or extends; and the shoulder joint moves the upper arm towards the centre front of the body.
The push-up exercise includes the same elbow joint opening action as the triceps extension exercise above. The big exercise contains the small exercise.
Worth mentioning here is the added involvement of the core stabilizer muscles during a push-up versus a standing tricep extension.
single joint action:
Observing a standing bicep curl, you’ll see a stationary, stabilized body with action at only one joint: flexion (closing) of the elbow joint.
Performing a pull-up (showing a stretchy band to help) involves significant movement at two joints. The elbow joint and the shoulder joint. Lesser degrees of joint movement can be seen in the wrists, and felt in forearms. The mid-section is statically contracted to stabilize the core, but can be actively involved if you flex you hips each time you pull.
The pull-up exercise includes the same elbow joint flexion action as the biceps curl exercise above. The big exercise contains the small exercise.
The pull-up exercise in all its variations are difficult movements to perform. It’s best to use an appropriately thick loop of stretchy band to offset some body weight.
Take the Big or Small Quiz
Look at each exercise illustration. Determine if it is a big or small exercise by counting the active joints. See how you did below.
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