Okay, so today I was doing some research online and my goal was to do another article on working the upper chest. This was inspired by an excellent post over on John Romaniello’s blog. John put up an outstanding post about 3 creative exercises to work the heck out of your upper pecs (click to read that article). I was going to add in my 2 cents and expand upon this article, but something else happened. John mentioned that one of his friends, Bret Contreras, did EMG testing for various chest exercises to find out which exercises targeted parts of the chest best. The results were surprising!
[I went to see Iron Man 2 this past weekend with my girlfriend and saw the previews for the A-Team. Bradley Cooper plays "Face" and it looks like he got in pretty darn good shape for that role. I have a feeling people are going to ask how to get in the Bradley Cooper look in the near future. Anyway, all the characters look cast well and I'm excited for this movie.]
I Went Over to the Dark Side to Find This Research
Okay, so I like to joke that TMuscle.com and Bodybuilding.com are the “dark side”. To be honest there is a ton of great info on these sites, but the forums are a bit out of control and they push the roided’ out look pretty hard. I typically stay away from these sites, but John Romaniello peaked my curiosity with his chest workout post…darn you John! His friend Bret put up two fascinating articles over on Tmuscle (formerly T-nation). One article was a study to find out the best chest and tricep exercises and another was for the best shoulder and trap exercises.
Bret Measured Electrical Activity of Muscles During Exercise
Here is how he describes what he was measuring:
EMG measures the electrical activity of muscles during exercise. While EMG doesn’t directly measure muscular tension, the two should be very similar (although slightly off-set), as the electrical activity that EMG measures is simply a measurement of the nervous system’s signal to the muscles. Increased EMG activity is indicative of the nervous system’s attempt to produce more muscular force. (That’s a good thing, by the way.) I used a Myotrace 400 from Noraxon to measure the EMG of every exercise.
Measuring Isometric Contractions as a Baseline
Before electrical activity of each exercise was examined, Bret measured how hard a muscle could contract isometrically. Subjects could simply flex their muscles as hard as possible or push against an immovable object. The goal was to flex the target muscle hard and get an EMG measurement. This measurement is called Maximum Voluntary Contraction…or MVC for short. All EMG readings for an exercise are compared to your MVC as a percentage. So if barbell curls got the same reading as simply flexing your bicep, your activation percentage is 100. If the EMG reading for your biceps for barbell curls was half of your MVC reading, your activation percentage would be 50.
Measuring “Peak” Activation & “Mean” Activation for Each Exercise
Peak activation is simply the highest recorded electrical activity of a muscle on a lift. Mean activation is the average electrical activity during a lift. When you perform a barbell bench press, for instance the average activation (“Mean” activation) reading might be 110 (10% higher than your MVC reading), but your maximum reading (“Peak” activation) during that lift might be 150 (50% higher than your MVC reading). I hope this isn’t getting too confusing. It took me a couple of times reading to get a full understanding of what this meant.
So Can Resistant Bands Work Better Than Free Weights?
I won’t make a bold statement like that (makes for a good title though). I will tell you this…I was extremely surprised how favorably resistance band exercises compared to free weights. Let me show you the exercises that came out on top for pecs and delts.
Mean – Mid Pulley Crossover, Band Push Up, JC Band Press
Peak – DB Incline Press, Guillotine Press, JC Band Press
Mean – DB Bench Press, Floor Press, Fly
Peak – Guillotine Press, DB Bench Press, Fly
Mean – Weighted Dip, Blast Strap Push Up, Guillotine Press
Peak – Guillotine Press, Fly, Weighted Dip
Mean – Seated Behind Neck Press, Seated Military Press, Incline Press
Peak – Seated Behind Neck Press, Standing DB Military Press, Incline Press
Mean – Band Face Pull, Lateral Raise, Seated Behind Neck Press
Peak – Band Face Pull, Lateral Raise, Cable Lateral Raise
Mean – Band Face Pull, Bent Over Rear Delt Raise, Prone Rear Delt Raise
Peak – Band Face Pull, Bent Over Rear Delt Raise, Hanging Row
So I Am Going to Add Resistance Bands Into My Routine
I have had good intentions for a long time to add in some resistance band work, but just thought they were more about convenience and not as effective as lifting weights. Two exercises in particular that interest me are the “JC Band Press” (for upper pecs) and “Band Face Pulls” (for rear and side delts). I guess I have put off using resistance bands because the type of resistance feels a little odd to me. It is obvious that I need to drop this excuse and add in some resistance band work. Here’s an awesome video that Bret made showing the top 50 resistance band exercises…
[I love Youtube! Seriously, this short video is outstanding and valuable. To see the full post about this video head on over to this post on his blog: Top 50 JC Band Exercises.]
What Are Your Thoughts on Resistance Bands?
I would love to hear some opinions on this. To me the feeling is completely different than lifting weights. I haven’t really given them a fair shake. I have talked about them in my newsletter a bit, but never took the plunge and implemented them into my routine. I look forward to hearing some different viewpoints on the subject.
Note: Here are the links to the guest posts Bret did on Tmuscle: Inside the Muscles: Best Chest and Triceps Exercises , Inside the Muscles: Best Shoulders and Trap Exercises