learn hero

Falsehoods of Fitness

Falsehoods of Fitness: Isolating 'parts' of a muscle (Episode 3)

This is a controversial one.

Full Transcript

So what we're talking about today is isolating parts of a muscle. Get this topic all the time. I can understand where it came from, I understand why this is a thing that people talk about and I'm gonna explain why it's not a thing.

I'm sure I will upset many individuals who have based their life off of training people to isolate parts of the muscle, but you know, sorry, it's not a thing.

So, speaking of upsetting people. Last night's post that I made on Instagram and on Facebook was about pull ups and I'll get to this first ‘cause it actually dove tails right into this conversation.

Hey Paul, how you doing? Oh, David Fish is on too, awesome, hey David.

Pull ups and how they can damage shoulder joints

So, when we talk about pull ups, now the research shows that there's more damage in the shoulder joint with pull ups than there are with rows. Now, keep in mind how research works. Also, Zack Salazar had a lot of problems with what I said and he's a really smart dude. So I really wanna explain from his perspective, really why I believe this is a problem.

When a study is done – and this is something about scientific studies where sometimes the press will run away with the wrong idea of what a study found. Or they'll look at some piece of data in the study and not really fully understand the conclusion. Or maybe not wanna understand the conclusion and kind of intentionally misread it.

When a study happens, what they do is they take one group and they do one thing. They take another group and they do another thing. And then they compare the data. What were the outcomes?

So they have a group of people who have consistently doing one or the other, you know, one thing. And they have another group doing the other thing. So one group doing bent over rows, another group doing pull ups, and who had more inflammation in the joint? Often we don't have, or let's say there's no biomechanics specialist, or let's say these individuals are unsupervised in the study. And they go and, often, they do their own thing.

Well here's the problem when you do a pull up. So, if I were to do a pull up I would be about right here at the top position. The problem is when you lock out, what happens is you have the opportunity to pull your shoulder back, and sometimes people kip. So they rock their body forward and then use the momentum to bounce off kind of the tendons and ligaments in here and pull themselves back up. And the swing of their body to gets ‘em moving forward, so they just kind of pop back into position.

Well, your tendons and ligaments are not rubber bands. They're tissue that you need functioning for the rest of your life. And also, keep in mind this joint right here, this has the greatest range of motion of any joint in the human body. So don't fuck it up. You really have a lot of opportunity to screw up your shoulder in your life.

So what I'm trying to do is encourage people to go the lower risk road and still get the same or even greater gains. And so when I recommend the bent over row, or when somebody says, “Hey should I throw in pull ups?” I go, “Yeah, yeah, pull ups are okay.”

But what you wanna make sure is that you're doing something that is gonna have the greatest reward and the lowest risk. So, you can apply the same thing to investing, right? Anything you do in life, you want a very high reward and a very low risk. So when you do bent over row, especially with variable resistance with X3, you're exhausting different ranges of motion as you go through the diminishing range and protocol and thereby stimulating a great amount of muscular growth.

Now, I believe that relatively exhausts the questions on this. I will go back to questions afterward. I saw you guys were smiling about something, did I miss a good question? Is there a question? No? Okay.

  • No, Keith says, “Nice work on this topic.”

  • Ah, thanks Keith.

Falsehood of Fitness: Isolating a part of a muscle

So let's talk about the falsehood of fitness of isolating a part of a muscle. So I'm gonna go with an obvious outrageous example first, and then I'm gonna talk about one that almost everybody seems to be a fan of. And then I'm gonna talk about the clinical research on the subject.

So all the time we hear people talking about how, let's say, one particular physique star or athlete will have an incredibly tall peak on their bicep, right? You'll see him do that and it just like, wow they have a really tall peak. And then, so they're like, “Hey I'm gonna write a program! See if the people on Instagram, they can see that.” Yeah.

What the question is: So somebody has an amazing bicep and they say, “Well, here's my routine, here's how I did it.” And people think, okay so what this guy did is how to build a bicep of that shape.

And so, like Robby Robinson for example, who was a bodybuilder in the, I think even the 60s, 70s and 80s. He's still in shape – animal, awesome guy and a cool guy. I met him. So what he would talk about is outward rotation while he does bicep work. And that's how you build the peak ‘cause it really focuses on the outer head. And having some training in physiology and biomechanics, your bicep shortens, like the muscle shortens.

If that muscle is shortening, and it's doing so in a way that your body recognizes, especially in a multi-joint format or a stabilization and single joint format – like if you're activating your biceps via a bicep curl, there's all kinds of stabilization going on. You do pick up things with your bicep in a single joint manner and have stabilization going through your whole body to attenuate the forward, the sagittal abrupt loading. And so there's all kinds of effect there and hence the growth hormone effect that we've seen.

The shape of a muscle is like your fingerprint

Okay, so what would happen was that Robby Robinson, he had amazing biceps and so people wanted to know what his bicep routine was. But here's the problem with that. The shape of a muscle is like your fingerprint, right? Thumbprint. It was that way always, so because the guy had an amazing shape of bicep, whatever he did to make the muscle larger made it seem like he did that so that his bicep would grow in a certain shape.

And the same thing with Arnold Schwarzenegger. How many, probably millions of people, follow Arnold Schwarzenegger's program because he had a bicep which looked like an apple. Like the tendon was over here and it was really tall. So you would just go, oh whatever he did shaped it like that. No, no, no, he was born with that. And a monument to this is there's a lot of people who try to replicate that shape. And if they weren't born with a bicep of that shape, they didn't get that.

Now here's another example: when people who have big separation from upper to lower pectorals. Some people do and some people don't. They end up writing a program about separating upper pectorals, except you can't. That's not how the muscle fires.

Electromyography study

So here's a great study. And very strong evidence. Now I've said before, electromyography is not everything, but it does show activity. So the idea you can isolate a part of a muscle. This is where electromyography will be a good test. So we would see based on how much of a part of a muscle is contracting. So if we can do an exercise like an incline bench press, so you know you're pushing upward, or downward for a decline or for a straight bar you're maybe getting a balance of both.

So they tested these different protocols with bench press with 15 young men who were doing repetitions and they put electrodes all over the pectorals. And what they tried to do is they did an incline and a decline. Because what had been said was a decline is more for lower pectorals, and the incline is more for upper pectorals.

Now by the way, this came out in 1997, and this has been a standard thing. This is a very famous study by Stephen Glass and Ty Armstrong, two researchers. And was published in the National Strength Conditioning Association journal, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. So, top world journal. Great paper, went through peer review.

And so what they discovered was there was no significant difference in activity between upper and lower pecs no matter what they did. So hence this is a falsehood of fitness, and this shit just doesn't seem to want to go away. Like I've tried to tell people this, you can't isolate a part of a muscle. And I think people just don't like that answer.

And so we're all victims at times of confirmation bias. Just look at how people research political issues. They search for something that will give them the answer they want, not the answer that is.

When somebody says I wanna grow my upper pectorals, there are trainers out there who truly believe they're helping people develop their upper pectorals. And so here's one thing to point out, if I push down and I look at what my pectoral looks like, it looks thicker on the bottom. And if I push up like this, it looks like my pectoral is thicker at the top. So it looks like it's more contracted, but it isn't. Like these things shorten.

And one of the most ludicrous things I've seen recently is building the inner pectoral, which is, you know, not a thing. I mean, that's not even muscle, that's connective tissue. Like it's where the muscle comes into the sternum, so that's not a thing.

Now if you do make your pectorals bigger, you will have a thicker inner chest. But you'll have a thicker chest and whatever shape, what you were born with, like a thumbprint, is how it's gonna look.

Now some people have no idea what the shape of a muscle is. And if they're carrying around a significant amount of body fat and they have an underdeveloped muscle under there, so you know, what are you gonna look like when you're totally lean? Well, there's only one way to find out and that's get totally lean.

Fantastic study again, Glass and Armstrong, 1997 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. I said I would only bore you guys with one reference, one piece of academic research per one of these videos and I did that. Let's open it up for questions.