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The lexicon of muscle-building, and training - Part 11

The leg extension — straightening your knee while seated — is a single-joint exercise, because it involves movement primarily at only one joint (the knee). The leg extension primarily targets the quadriceps. Compound exercises are often called big, major, or core movements, whereas the single-joint exercises are often labeled small, little, and minor, or supplementary, auxiliary, and accessory movements. In practice, a prudent mixture of single- and multi-joint exercises is usually employed, to produce balanced development.

This is a simplification of exercise categories. Some single-joint exercises work much larger areas of musculature than others, and it's not accurate to call all of them small exercises. And some multi-joint exercises work far greater areas of musculature than others — some of the big exercises aren't so big. Furthermore, single-joint exercises rarely involve only a single joint, as other joints (and bodyparts) get recruited to some degree.

The single-joint and multi-joint labels are used in this book to differentiate between the two groups but, strictly speaking, they are inaccurate labels.

There's a further pair of labels for the two simplified categories — muscle builders, and muscle refiners. The multi-joint exercises are said to be the builders, and the single-joint exercises the refiners. This, too, is a simplification. Both groups of exercises are potential builders, although a given multi-joint exercise typically works more muscle mass than a given single-joint exercise, so the former has the potential to build more overall mass than the latter. Depending on the exercises being compared, a given multi-joint exercise may not build as much muscle as a single-joint exercise in the particular muscle(s) that both train, because the work of the former is dispersed, but the latter is focused.

A multi-joint exercise works multiple muscles simultaneously, through spreading the load and effect over them. The involved muscles share the load and benefits. The body can be trained to good effect using only a handful of compound movements. This has particular value if a trainee is pressed for time, or limited in equipment. Furthermore, when beyond the beginner stage — for specific individual cases and particular periods — there are times when it may be desirable to give exclusive or nearly exclusive priority to multi-joint exercises. For trainees interested in competitive lifting, multi-joint exercises must be used.

Only single-joint exercises can provide meaningful work for some muscles.

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