You’re busy. We’re busy. We’d love to give you the perfect workout that’ll save you time and give you the most bang for your buck; so we consulted the studies from the American Council on Exercise, which has periodically studied the muscle activation of certain exercises on specific body parts. Here’s what you can learn from science—and why training your body is still something of an art.
So, I should do only these exercises, right?
First things first: “These studies are looking at which exercise in isolation causes the most activity in a particular muscle,” says Jessica Matthews, M.S., exercise science professor at Miramar College in San Diego, CA, and senior advisor for health and fitness education for the American Council on Exercise. “But that doesn’t mean they’re the best exercise.” Your goals are a better guide of what exercises are right for you; if your end-all is bigger muscles and symmetry (say, as a bodybuilder), then, yes, incorporating these into your routine makes a lot of sense. If you’re more interested in increasing your overall fitness, though, you may be better served choosing exercises that improves the body’s function—i.e., how it moves on a daily basis. “And if you’re someone who only has time to train two to three times per week, it’s essential to have a well-rounded routine to train the whole body in one workout.” That said, here are the goods, according to science.
Muscle Building 101: Where to Start
For the front delts
With their multi-directional movement and corresponding muscles to power such movement, the shoulders can’t be properly targeted with just one move. For the most muscle activation in the front delts, ACE found the dumbbell shoulder press was tops. Next up, how to hit the rear and side delts >>>
For the side and rear delts
The side and rear delts got their biggest workout from the 45° incline row and the seated rear lateral raise. “These (and the dumbbell shoulder press) are all great, effective exercises to incorporate into one’s fitness routine,” Matthews says. One that you may want to skip: upright rows. Not only did the research show it was least effective at targeting the delts, the movement pattern may have contributed to painful shoulder impingement. “For those seeking a safer and more effective shoulder exercise, I’d recommend a move like the shoulder press along with an exercise like shrugs to effectively strengthen the traps,” says Matthews.