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Posted to Best TWO Exercises for Arms by Colin Keedy
The best two activities for activating the triceps according to EMG are the bench press and incline dumbbell kickbacks with shoulder retroversion. Anatomy, research, and intensity is what this article is predicated on. Each consideration mattered so much for this group. The anatomy of the tricep is complicated and multivariate. The research is conflicting. And intensity truly dictates the research results of this group.
Understanding the anatomy and function of the triceps brachii group is integral for planning a protocol to develop the group. The long head is connected to the shoulder and elbow joint. Therefore, muscle activity of the long head increases as shoulder flexion or extension increases. Two examples that exemplify this are the overhead tricep extension and the incline bench dumbbell kickbacks [1, 2, 5, 6, 11]. The shoulder is rotated into opposite planes during the two activities but the long head becomes the dominant contributor because of the shoulder rotation . On the other hand, the lateral and medial heads are not connected to the shoulder joint, thereby only contribute to elbow extension. Based on their anatomy, the lateral and medial head are more activated in shoulder angles of 75-100 degrees – think during a horizontal press .
Intensity determines the level of muscle activation – easy activities have less activation. If the push up is not easy for you then it is likely developing the whole upper body region: chest, triceps, and shoulders. If you can rep out 20 push-ups no problem, you will need to start benching to achieve an appropriate level of intensity. This is the main reason the bench press was chosen over the diamond push-ups and other body weight variants. While they are completely acceptable activities, tracking their intensity across different populations is difficult. Push-ups are technically a beginner exercise, but for beginners who are overweight, the push-up is an unrealistic expectation. The bench press fixes this problem by not factoring in body weight. And, it also fixes the problem of being too easy for advanced lifters.
What I can confidently say I’ve learned about tricep brachii EMG from the research is that there is one definitive exercise for long head development. The exercise that is above all else in long head development is the incline dumbbell kickback with shoulder retroversion – quite a mouthful. The exercise actually appeared in multiple studies with different populations and had similarly promising results [1, 2, 5]. The key here is the anatomy, when the shoulder is placed into full extension and the elbow joint is forced to extend under external resistance, it creates the perfect condition to force the long head to do its anatomical job. If anatomy isn’t convincing enough, let the data speak for itself.
The data collected by Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies was adapted by the “Suppversity” blog found the long head to be the best activated by DB kickbacks on an incline bench with shoulders fully extended .
Triceps may be more responsive to heavy training and, in turn, the EMG results are affected by load percentage. The most difficult part of a heavy bench press for most people is the middle of the concentric portion. The phenomenon of the so called “sticking point” is reflected in the research, triceps activity increases as the percentage of 1RM increases [10, 12, 13]. This phenomenon is not seen as drastically in the pec and may have an opposite effect – training with lighter weight during the bench may be more beneficial for developing the pec region. Triceps being responsive to heavy loading is likely due to the fact that they are mainly comprised of fast twitch muscle fibers . What better way to take intensity and progression into account than utilizing the horizontal bench press.
The bench press is one of the three pillars of powerlifting – congrats powerlifting, you’ve taken a spot on every appropriate “Best of” list so far. It can be loaded progressively, with multiple variations, to properly overload the tricep and anterior deltoid. To properly overload the tricep, one must bench at the heavy end of the spectrum. The research on competitive powerlifters had them lifting at 90% of their 6RM and another study had them benching at 80% of their 1RM, both of which having the anterior deltoid and triceps as the dominant muscle groups [12, 13]. Another study had participants benching at 95% of their 1RM, the lateral head had extremely high activation, peaking out at 120% of MVIC . Training anywhere from 2 reps (95% of 1RM) to 5 reps (87% of 1RM) would likely be optimal for tricep focused bench pressing.
Data collected by Petr Stastny et. al displays the lateral head of the triceps brachii to be highly activated during heavy bench press repetitions .
The triceps group was an interesting one to research. It was surprisingly difficult to find quality research on the group. Either the research didn’t include more than one of the heads of the tricep or the results conflicted with a different study. I believe some of the conflicts came from the populations in the studies – some were only female, some were only male, some were trained, some were untrained, some came from a random book in German that I could only find on Amazon. I feel like the only person I can trust is Contreras , but again he only tested himself and he only tested the long head. At least in his study, he compared multiple exercises and had contrasting levels of resistance. One research study had the close grip bench press as the least effective tricep activity and had the diamond push up as the top exercise . In contrast, a different study said that the standard bench press at 95% of 1RM activated the tricep as much as the chest . Either the bench press is a poor activator of the chest – the data says otherwise, or poor research was conducted. Another problem with Boehler et. a , is she chose 24 collegiate female lacrosse players. Considering EMG is directly related to exercise intensity, I surmise diamond pushups were particularly difficult for that population. On the other hand, when elite powerlifters were analysed during bench press, the triceps group was ahead of the anterior deltoid. Considering the horizontal press is the single best activator of the anterior deltoid – check my article out on shoulders for more information, I’d say that the bench press is good activator of the tricep.
ELECTROMYOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS OF THE TRICEPS BRACHII MUSCLE DURING A VARIETY OF TRICEPS EXERCISES
EMG Series - M. Triceps Brachii: The Best Exercises to Get That Horseshoe Look on Your Triceps
Muscle Fatigue in the Three Heads of the Triceps Brachii During a Controlled Forceful Hand Grip Task with Full Elbow Extension
Using Surface Electromyography
The different role of each head of the triceps brachii muscle in elbow extension
Effect of shoulder position on triceps brachii heads activity in dumbbell elbow extension exercises
ACE Study Identifies Best Triceps Exercises
A systematic review of surface electromyography analyses of the bench press movement task
Inside the Muscles: Best Chest and Triceps Exercises
Effects of Pre-exhaustion on the Patterns of Muscular Activity in the Flat Bench Press
Differences in Muscle Activity During Cable Resistance Training Are Influenced by Variations in Handle Types
The Effects of Bench Press Variations in Competitive Athletes on Muscle Activity and Performance
Effects of Variations of the Bench Press Exercise
A Comparison Of Muscle Activity Between A Free Weight and Machine Bench Press
Whole-muscle and single-fibre contractile properties and myosin heavy chain isoforms in humans
Posted to Supplementation by Colin Keedy
What is Protein
One strand of protein is comprised of hundreds of small amino acids bound by peptide bonds. There are twenty types of amino acids; and, a protein may only be called complete when its string consists of every amino acid . Examples of complete proteins are: red meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy. For vegetarians and vegans, fewer examples exist: peanut butter, quinoa, seaweed, and buckwheat are some of the only options . Complete proteins are important because your body doesn’t create 9 amino acids, which are called the essential amino acids. You must consume these essential amino acids through an external source. Amino acids are necessary to counteract muscle protein breakdown (MPB) and facilitate muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
Balancing MPB and Boosting MPS
Muscle protein synthesis is the process of facilitating skeletal muscle adaptations as a response to physical exercise. The anabolic effects of nutrition are driven by the transfer of amino acids directly into skeletal muscle proteins: what we eat facilitates MPS and regulates, diminishes MPB [1, 2, 6]. The most effective way to increase MPS and diminish MPB following intense physical exercise is to consume essential amino acids; more specifically, the essential amino acid leucine is paramount for proper recovery and growth .
How MPS and MPB are Triggered
The two determinants of MPS are exercise intensity and nutrient availability [1, 6]. MPS increases after a difficult bout of physical exercise – reps at 70 to 90% of one rep max; also, MPB occurs: a negative amount of net protein synthesis, protein degradation and BCAA oxidation . Also, exhaustive endurance running reduces MPS significantly when compared to someone resting; recovery drinks with only glucose or sucrose don’t return MPS to a resting state, yet drinks with leucine only do . Although, resistance exercise is not shown to decrease MPS; it drastically increases MPB, which results in a significant net loss of protein synthesis . It remains negative until dietary protein or leucine are consumed: eat proteins with leucine after a workout to enhance muscle growth. Another way to trigger MPS is nutrient availability, if BCAAs are consumed in the absence of exercise, MPS occurs . Essentially, muscle growth occurs if you make amino acids available.
Levels of MPS and MPB as Markers of Training Intensity
Recent research has developed methods of tracking exercise intensity by MPS and MPB responses; they are reliable methods considering both phenomenon are of finite duration . The shift in MPB and MPS following a workout is a direct result of the workout intensity: the more intense the workout the larger the shift. Because of the linear timeline, appropriate timing when consuming essential amino acids is critical; consuming a quality protein source less than 30 minutes after a workout is shown to be most effective [1, 2]. And, quality protein should be consumed 48 hours thereafter .
Proteins and Their Leucine Content
A constituent of protein, leucine affects protein metabolism by regulating the translation initiation of protein synthesis, modulating insulin signalling, and providing a nitrogen donor for muscle production of alanine and glutamine . Amounts of leucine vary according to the protein source: an 8 ounce T-bone steak yields 4.3 grams, 8 ounces of chicken breast yields 5.2 grams, a can of tuna yields 3.3 grams, one ounce of chicken liver yields .62 grams, 8 ounces of pork yields around 4.8 grams, one scoop of Optimum Nutrition’s Whey Protein has 2.5 grams, two tablespoons of peanut butter has .48 grams, 1 whole egg (61 grams) has .588 grams, 1 cup of great northern beans yields around 1.1 grams, 1 cup of whole milk has about .64 grams, and 1 cup of quinoa yields .48 grams . The most cost effective source of leucine in the aforementioned list is the whey protein; on top of that, whey has been shown to be as effective as steak, chicken, and pork in fostering lean muscle development. You receive 29 servings of 24 grams of protein with 2.5 grams leucine for about 25 dollars. Standalone BCAAs may be purchased yet are more expensive per serving than protein powders.
There are 9 essential amino acids that must be ingested to grow muscle.
Complete proteins contain all 20 amino acids.
Eating complete proteins without training will cause MPS to increase.
Finding the proper weight and rep range is important to maximize the MPS response.
Although all essential amino acids are important, leucine seems to be the primary determinant in diminishing MPB and increasing MPS following a difficult bout of physical exercise.
MPS and MPB are reliable trackers of exercise intensity.
Protein powders with BCAAs may be the most cost effective way to consume leucine, at around 1 dollar per serving.
Atherton PJ, Smith K. Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise. The Journal of Physiology. 2012;590(Pt 5):1049-1057. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2011.225003.
Leucine Regulates Translation Initiation of Protein Synthesis in Skeletal Muscle after Exercise; Layne E. Norton and Donald K. Layman
Tipton, Kevin & R. Wolfe, Robert. (2001). Exercise, Protein Metabolism, and Muscle Growth. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism. 11. 109-32. 10.1123/ijsnem.11.1.109.
Posted to The Best Two Exercises for Legs by Colin Keedy
Best Two Exercises, Simplified
For the true adductors, I chose the barbell squat and the seated hip adduction machine. These two exercises really have no competition in terms of EMG. The copenhagen adduction is the only thing that challenges the seated hip adduction machine, but the exercise can’t easily be made more difficult, so it was disqualified. The choices for these exercises were no brainers, but finding research on the adductor group was quite difficult.
The barbell squat is a cornerstone exercise that can make total body composition changes. It’s a loaded version of a fundamental activity. The squat is likely the second most important exercise to do, behind the deadlift. Yet, combining the squat and deadlift creates a perfect blend of exercises and the only problem with doing them often is the demand they place on the lower back. They are both also extremely technically demanding and the squat requires a high amount of coordination. A technically sound squat involves the participant keeping the barbell over their center of gravity, having spinal neutrality, sitting low enough so that the crease of the hip is below the knee, using the whole foot as a base of support, moving the barbell in a straight line, keeping knees over feet, and keeping the neck as neutral as the spine.
The seated hip adduction machine is a simple machine. It’s not a complex barbell movement and doesn’t require any balance. Functional trainers might poo poo this, but it’s quite a capable strengthening and injury preventative exercise. One consideration is not overstretching the groin while doing the activity. Opening your legs to create a 90 degree angle will suffice for most people.
Boring Sciency Stuff
The adductor group is the area commonly referred to as the groin muscles. It’s comprised of the adductor magnus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, gracilis, pectineus and obturator externus. There are numerous functions of the muscle group, some of which don’t involve hip adduction. The pectineus is a hip flexor and the obturator externus is a hip extensor – sometimes considered apart of the gluteal region. I am disqualifying the pectineus and obturator externus because they’re not hip adductors, but they will make an appearance in the hip flexor portion of this series. The adductor brevis won’t be considered because there is no research on the EMG of the muscle. And the gracilis will be seen as a supplementary adductor to the AL – the gracilis is highly activated at a hip flexion angle of 70 degrees, which is likely the hip angle a participant would have during the seated hip adduction machine .
The barbell squat was an obvious choice for the AM considering it’s a powerlift, bipedal exercise, extremely effective activator of the quadricep group and magnus. The adductor magnus is the largest of the groin muscles and the second largest muscle in the body. The adductor magnus is special, as it connects at two key points: the medial and posterior portion of the thigh. The primary function of the adductor magnus is hip extension with flexed hips and has a secondary role during leg of adduction. This is elucidated by research evaluating the emg of a single leg machine hack squat: the AM had an extremely high EMG compared to the AL . No research could be found on the lunge or barbell hip thrust. One study evaluated the adductors during the deadlift and sumo deadlift but didn’t delineate between the specific adductor muscles and the results concluded relatively low adductor activation . Based on the function of the AM, the deadlift would be a submaximal way to develop the magnus considering the hips would likely never reach full flexion. Another article evaluated the AM during the barbell squat, it had promising conclusions but stands alone. The most difficult part of the squat is when the hips are at their highest point of flexion. Therefore, the AM may be considered the primary muscle of the squat, as the EMG of the AM is equal to the VL. Unless you’ve strained your groin, you likely don’t understand how important the AM is during the squat.
The data, collected by Zink et. al, analysed muscle groups during the squat while either wearing a weight belt (Down WB and Up WB) or not wearing a weight belt ( Down NW and Up NWB). The primary muscles of the squat seem to be the VL, AM, and ES, as they were activated highly during descent and ascent.
The second choice for the adductors is focused on adductor longus (AL) activation. The seated hip adduction machine has the highest activation of the dominant and non-dominant AL. Although in the same region, the function, size and joint connection of the AL is different than the AM. The only function of the AL is to adduct the hips and It’s much smaller than the AM. Because it has one function and is much smaller than the AM, the AL is injured often in sports. Most research on the AL is centered around soccer and groin rehabilitation. Considering the torque of the soccer instep requires a great deal of groin strength, it’s no wonder protocols have been developed to rehabilitate and prevent groin injuries specifically for soccer players. The unifunctional AL should be a consideration for all athletes who employ explosive diagonal or side to side motions. The hip adduction machine had high AL activation and was relatively equal between both legs. The reason isometric adduction wasn’t considered is exactly because it’s isometric. The adduction machine has the benefit of progressive overload – while the copenhagen adduction and isometric adduction don’t – and, more importantly, employs the stretch shortening cycle. The exercise also doesn’t involve the lower back so it can safely be paired with any of the other activities discussed in this series. M
The data, collected by Serner et. Al, evaluated the EMG of multiple exercises targeting the adductors . The research doesn’t show the hip adductor machine to have the highest peak, but it was chosen for its ability to progressively overload and the equivalent emg between legs.