It is sad but true that a great number of bodybuilders are not extracting the maximum benefit from their workouts.
There can be myriad reasons for this lamentable fact, but I will direct this article to just one aspect of the problem.
Despite the regrettably tenacious misconception that bodybuilding is a relatively "mindless" sport, to make the utmost progress, careful attention must be devoted to what is actually occurring during a workout.
When the average trainee performs his exercises, not enough thought is given to what muscles are actually being stressed. The question, "How could I modify this movement to better affect the muscle group I am working?" is rarely posed.
When a bodybuilder becomes serious about maximizing gains and creating a quality workout, some research is required. The first step is to procure some literature on anatomy, illustrating how the muscles, bones, and connective tissues are arranged. Concentrating on one muscle group at a time, determine where the muscles attach to the various points on the skeleton, which muscles move, which bones, etc.
Note also which muscle groups are a "weak link" in working another group, i.e. the weaker biceps is usually involved in an exercise for the stronger lats, or the triceps are often the limiting factor in a compound chest movement.
After gaining some familiarity with your anatomy, buy or borrow a book on kinesiology (roughly translated, the science of movement). With this you can obtain an overview of how all the bodyparts internet to perform a specific motion.
Armed with all this new information, you should be able to create a mental image of how a particular muscle is worked during a certain exercise. Now is when great strides can be made in modifying your routine to make it more effective.
Think of all the aspects of a movement. Could it be made more direct by changing hand or foot position, using a different bar, or working around a weak link?
As an example, let's consider triceps pushdowns.
As normally performed, the trainee stands almost under the pulley with the cable about parallel with the front of the body. Notice that at full extension it does not take much effort to keep the arms locked out. This is because the structure of the arms is such that the triceps are doing very little actual work in order to keep the arms straightened.
Now, step back from the pulley about 18 inches and do some pushdowns. A little more difficult toward the bottom, was it not?
With this new angle on the cable, the triceps are stressed more at lockout and a much more forceful contraction is possible. Be careful not to bend or lean toward the apparatus as this will nullify the result obtained by stepping back.
Dips, a second example, are excellent proof of my contention that unless a trainee is educated to the point where he or she knows what muscles are doing what work, much effort is wasted. Depending on head and body position, dips can target either the pecs or the triceps more strongly.
To direct a greater portion of the stress to the pecs, the chin should be tucked into the chest and the back should be bowed so that the feet are ahead of the waist. This position aligns the humerus, the bone of the upper arm, with the pectoralis major in such a that a strong, direct contraction can be made.
When the head is held back and the feet are positioned behind the body, the pecs are placed at a mechanical disadvantage. Therefore the triceps are forced to assume a much greater share of the load.
In passing, however, let me note that however the dips are performed, the bodybuilder should always lower himself as far down as safely possible, preferably until the edge of the chest is only a couple of inches from the hands, if his body is up to it.
Great article explaining dip variations by
Christian Thibaudeau, here:
To develop the rudiments of a working knowledge of the muscular system, its structure and function, is not a difficult task. A couple of evenings with an anatomy book will enable you to begin analyzing your exercises movements with a more critical eye.
One begins to realize that a curl is not just a curl. Specific actions are taking place under the skin, and by know what these actions are, the movement can be tailored to be most effective.
Feel how the muscles are working in each exercise.
Experiment with different ways to do the movement.
After a period of time you will develop a sixth sense which will let you know if a muscle is being worked correctly for the result you desire.
There is a second advantage to knowing what the muscles look like and how they function. Many bodybuilders visualize in the mind's eye, a particular muscle as it is being worked. This helps focus the attention on that muscle and leads to a higher intensity set.
A good, proven technique, but it is rather difficult to do the visualization if you have no idea what the view on the inside is!
Note: There are several high level trainers who use body placement, equipment selection, exercise performance and intense concentration to activate and hence develop specific sections of each muscle group.
Charles Glass is a fantastic example of the utilization of these techniques.
Study, learn, and grow, but above all . . .
Enjoy Your Lifting!