To increase your strength and gain muscle mass, focus on multi-joint exercises

Strength exercises are usually considered as multi-joint (several joints intervene) or monoarticular (one joint intervenes).

The debate about which are better to increase strength and muscle mass is very typical among trainers and gym users.

For some the multiarticular exercises are better, for others the monoarticular ones are better, and another great part thinks that the two are necessary to achieve these objectives.

Lack of time to train, one of the biggest problems

The lack of time is the most frequently mentioned barrier to the adoption of exercise and continued adherence .

Phrases like “I do not have time to go to the gym every day” or “I only have 45 minutes a day to train” are very typical and we have a duty as trainers that the training of these people is also effective and meets the objectives that they are marked, provided they are not impossible objectives such as “I want to gain ten kilos of muscle but I am only going to train one day a week.

The search for strategies that reduce commitment time without negatively affecting results could be very important in increasing participation in strength training programs.

Role of the muscles in carrying out the exercises

The monoarticular exercises are performed with the participation of a single jointusing a single muscle or muscle group, such as the known biceps curl or an extension of triceps in a high pulley .

Meanwhile, multi-joint exercises are the result of the use of multiple joints , such as the squat .

As such, multi-joint exercises recruit multiple muscles or muscle groups synchronously, which are generally classified as primary or synergistic muscles.

For example, when performing the bench press exercise, the pectoralis major is often considered the primary or primary muscle (the muscle that performs the dominant action), while the triceps and the anterior deltoids are considered synergistic muscles for this movement ( muscles that help in the realization of the desired movement).

Therefore, it has been suggested that some muscles have a primary role in performing the movement while the synergistic muscles have a secondary role to perhaps stabilize or assist the main muscle .

And here there are two hypotheses :

  • That the synergistic muscles could be fatigued before the primary muscles and, therefore, that a main muscle might not receive enough stimulation from the multiarticular exercises.
  • That the synergistic muscles may not be sufficiently activated during multi-joint exercises due to the greater mastery of the primary muscles.
Some muscles have a primary role while others act as synergists to stabilize or assist the main muscle

Some beliefs regarding monoarticular and multi-joint exercises

Many times it is believed that if we use monoarticular exercises we will gain muscle mass (hypertrophy) before using multiarticular exercises because the latter require longer neurological adaptations.

As a result, many trainers and gym users believe that adding monoarticular exercises to a training program will improve their strength and the size of their muscles.

Many times this recommendation regarding the use of monoarticular exercises is derived from the belief that these exercises recruit a greater number of motor units than multi-joint exercises, as bodybuilders commonly suggest and use .

At the same time are the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) , for which strength training sessions should include both monoarticular and multi-joint exercises.

So, which are better to increase muscle strength and size?

Recently, a review study has reported the short-term effects and long-term adaptations of monoarticular and multiarticular exercises during strength training, with results that will surprise many.

Upper limbs and muscle rest in general

There is no difference between using monoarticular or multi-joint exercises in terms of strength and muscle size increases, so monoarticular exercises do not have any additional effects when they are included in a multiarticular exercise program.

First surprise, right?

Lumbar extensor musculature

The lumbar extensor musculature is made up of several muscles, among which are the thoracic and lumbar spinal erectors, the iliocostal muscle, the thoracic longissimus, the multifidus and the lumbar quadratus.

In this case, monoarticular exercises have shown more benefit than multiarticular exercises if we want to strengthen our lumbar extensor musculature, so performing an isolated lumbar extension exercise on a machine, which requires a particular restraint system, may be a good option .

Muscular imbalances

In this case the monoarticular exercises could be interesting to develop a symmetrical and balanced musculature , since having many times these imbalances can represent an increased risk of injury or pain.

Muscle recovery

Monoarticular exercises result in an increase in muscle fatigue, perceived exertion and pain .

However, this does not seem to be accompanied by further adaptations. So, why do we want to use monoarticular exercises indiscriminately if they cause greater discomfort without giving us better results ?


We are sorry, adding monoarticular exercise to a multiarticular exercise program does not seem to increase gains in muscle size and strength.

Therefore, it is not necessary to include monoarticular exercises in our strength training to obtain equivalent results in terms of activation of our muscles and in terms of long-term adaptations such as increasing our strength and muscle size.

Adding monoarticular exercises to a multiarticular exercise program does not seem to increase gains in muscle size and strength

To encourage those who have become disillusioned

I know that reporting the need to add monoarticular exercises to your training to increase the strength and size of your muscles has been able to surprise and disappoint some, not all are points against.

The results in terms of strength and muscle size could be affected as we perform the exercises with free weight or in a machine .

It should also be considered that many multi-joint exercises can be performed with different positions of the hands that could further affect short-term responses or long-term adaptations in strength and hypertrophy.

In turn, many times the methods used to measure the size of the muscle do not consider non-uniform muscular hypertrophy, that is, they measure at a general level and do not measure that some fibers, especially those with fast contraction, may have increased of size.

Therefore, it is possible to suggest that many times the results are limited to the analyzed region and are not necessarily representative of the response of the entire muscle .

On this basis it can be argued that the performance of monoarticular exercises would be necessary for the complete development of a muscle.

However, another question arises: would this be achieved only with the inclusion of a monoarticular exercise or simply the variation between multiarticular exercises could bring the same adaptations? We do not know yet.

There are limitations as to whether the exercises are performed with free weights or machine, on the position of the hands in the execution of the same and on the methods used to measure muscle size

In conclusion, let’s focus on multi-joint exercises (squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, etc.) to increase our strength and the size of our muscles.

We use monoarticular exercises mainly to strengthen the lumbar extensor muscles and to correct possible imbalances, since they can be a complement to develop a symmetrical and balanced musculature.

These strategies will allow us to go to the gym and select the most appropriate exercises for our goal , without having to perform a large number of exercises and making the most of our time.

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