Written by Jack Boardman
Single Joint OR Multi-Joint Exercises?
As a beginner, or someone in the early stages of weightlifting, you will likely pay little thought to the advantages and disadvantages of single joint and multi-joint exercises. When you’re starting out, without a bit of guidance you probably do the same as everyone else and pick the things you’re strongest at and cause the least discomfort – and it’s a fair bet these work the muscles you can see in front of you in the mirror.
As you advance as a lifter or bodybuilder and delve deeper into the mechanics of the exercises you’re performing you begin to develop a workout that suits you. To that end, if you’re an athlete or a bodybuilder, the differences between single joint and multi-joint lifts can have a considerable impact on what you are trying to achieve in your training.
Single joint exercises use one joint to perform the range of motion. You may also know them as isolating exercises as they focus in on one muscle group. Not sure which of your favourites are single joint exercises? A few of the most commonly used include bicep curls, flies, tricep extensions and leg extensions.
The downsides to these might be obvious, but if you’re going to muscle growth and strength, you’ll probably have noticed how you’re unable to lift as much and that they take a greater toll on your joints. This is because they isolate smaller muscle groups, meaning that often you are placing a greater strain on one muscle. When performing the likes of a straight-arm lateral raise, for example, you’ll be placing a particular burden on your shoulder joint, which is more sensitive than you think.
So when are these good for you? It’s not to say that single joint exercises aren’t good for you, rather that they’re better used as part of a bigger picture – in other words, alongside multi-joint exercises.
Multi-joint exercises use more than one joint and several muscle groups to support throughout the full range of motion. These are synonymous with compound lifts, which are your most valuable exercises when seeking big muscle and strength gains.
Multi-joint exercises burn more calories than single joint because you using more muscles at the same time. It is because they require more muscle groups and joints that you are able to lift heavier volumes while putting less strain on your joints.
Athletes, though this may make them sound more geared towards body builders, by placing emphasis on reps over weight (so as to avoid mass, which you don’t want as a sprinter or footballer) you can build strength and endurance more effectively with multi-joint exercises, whereas single joint, isolating exercises will cause muscle failure sooner – no good when you have an upcoming match.
Single joint movements are also more restrictive, which for athletes will mean you are training in a more rigid fashion when it is the free movement you should be aiming for. Multi-joint exercises adapt more natural movements, such as rowing, deadlifting and pressing.
Other grand advantages of multi-joint exercises include all-over coverage, meaning you are hitting muscles you might not have realised and, because of these other supporting muscles, your targeted muscle will be able to take on greater weight.
This is when single joint exercises come in as the cherry on top. Isolating exercises are the perfect way to hone in the muscle you mean to work. Having developed growth and strength with the multi-joint lift, the single joint will then go in for extra detail. For example, if you’re aiming to work your triceps, you will have done so by pressing on chest or shoulder day. You can then perform a tricep extension exercise at a lower weight but higher reps.