Welcome back! Last week we took a look at 3 of the most popular lower-body machines, and found out a lot about our bodies in the process! Let’s see if we can keep up the progress by doing the same with some upper-body machines.
1) Arm Curl
Oh how many variations of arm curls you’ll see done at the gym. But if we’re sticking with the strength machine area of the gym, the arm curl is where many spend countless reps and sets, hoping to get a few more inches on their arms. So what muscle is it that so many strive to attain?
The biceps have the important job of flexing our elbow joint. The most familiar movement you probably do with this muscle is picking up your coffee cup to take a sip, even if that doesn’t really require superhuman strength.
Ever spent a long day moving, picking up heavy boxes and mattresses for hours on end, and found your biceps to be exceptionally sore the next day (probably among other things)? This is because not only do your biceps flex your elbow, they also prevent your elbow from straightening back out, or extending. Typically when you’re holding a heavy box in your arms, you’re struggling not to let your arms give out and drop it – your biceps carry the brunt of this effort.
This principle applies not just to the biceps, but every muscle group! So a muscle not only has its primary movement function, it also resists the opposite motion from happening. This gives us a whole new angle on how to work muscles, but we’ll get into that later.
2) Arm Extension
Just like in the last article, this second machine performs the exact opposite function of the first. And just like in the last article, this second machine is often found in combination with the first – since it’s the opposite function you simply have to have the resistance go the opposite direction.
The arm extension extends our elbow joint, straightening the arm out. The triceps, on the back of the arm, serve this important function. Common movements that utilize this muscle group are using your arms to push yourself out of your chair or opening your car hood or trunk (depending on hand placement).
You may think that’s not a lot of examples – and you’d be right. This is because it can be difficult to find movements that primarily only use one muscle group. Most things that you do outside of strength machines at the gym require many muscles working together. If that gives you some pause and makes you wonder what the point of using machines is, then you’re on the right track!
3) Chest Fly
Another extremely popular machine you’ll often find people spending long sets on, straining to get a thick slab of pectoral muscles.
The chest fly is just one machine that targets these powerful muscles. Another popular one is the chest press. These two machines give a good idea of some of what the pectorals do:
Chest Fly – Pulls your arms closer to your body.
Chest Press – Extends your arm away from your body.
Think about the main movement of the chest fly; bringing your arms closer to your body. If you’re sitting up straight at your desk and think about flexing your pectorals, or simply drawing your arms closer to your body, you may notice that your posture becomes more hunched. Think about the typical office worker who is in a hunched position over their computer all day long. Over an extended period of time, this results in tight pectoral muscles. What happens when you have tight pectoral muscles and then go to the gym and do a lot of sets on the chest fly?
No seriously, why does any of this matter?
I’ve posed a few questions in this post, similar to what I did in part 1. If want to really understand what you’re doing in the gym then being able to figure out what to do and why is integral – and a fundamental understanding of how your body moves the way it does is the key. And if you just want to stay in shape, or get bigger muscles and don’t care about the why or how, then you’re liable to get taken advantage of by any of the thousands of fitness products out there claiming to all do the same thing.
Here’s the list of questions I posed from this article, see if you can figure them out!
-Your biceps not only flex your elbow, but they resist elbow extension (straightening out your arm) as well. One way to work the first function would be the biceps curl; how could you work the second?
-If most real-life movements require using several muscle groups together, does using muscle-isolating machines make you stronger?
-Sitting at a computer desk for long periods of time typically results in tight pectorals. Would using the chest fly help or relieve this problem?
Next week I’ll answer these questions, and we’ll move on to our next section of the gym: the cardio center!