With hundreds of potential exercises to choose from it can be both bewildering and puzzling for those new to the iron game, and veterans alike, to know which exercise is best for a particular muscle group. Thanks to EMG (Electromyography) we now have a better understanding on which exercises most effectively stimulate a particular muscle group.
To briefly explain; EMG involves electrodes being placed on the skin which measure the electronical activity within the muscle. While it does have its limitations, EMG is a fairly accurate method of indicating by how much the body (via the central nervous system) is trying to produce force within the muscle being measured.
By taking EMG readings during various exercises we can paint an illustrative picture of the level of activity and excitement taking place within the muscle and this can indicate how effective the particular exercise is at stimulating the muscle.
You can find the results of the EMG study1 below, with the exercises which showed the most activation ranked in order. The percentage value indicates the proportion of fibres activated, with a 100% reading meaning full activation.
While we hope the above information offers a welcome insight into the level of muscle engagement particular exercises may induce, we would always accompany it with the caveat that for maximum development it’s always wise to regularly change and rotate the exercises you perform. Sticking to only a few exercises per muscle group will severely limit potential progress and may lead to muscle imbalances, injury and stagnation.