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The Most Effective Exercises Make You Say, Oh Sh!t

By September 8, 2010Physical Training

In order activate a muscle; the brain must first generate an electrical impulse called an excitation, which is transmitted down the spinal cord and out a nerve. When the electrical impulse reaches the end of the nerve then a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine is released that initiates muscle contraction. The point to take home here is that it all starts in your head.

Different exercises recruit different degrees of muscle activation.


Not all exercises are created equal. Different exercises recruit different degrees of muscle activation. The greater the perceived risk of pain, injury or death, the greater the number of muscle fibers activated…the greater the Oh Sh!t Factor.

How to Determine the Oh Sh!t Factor.

5 Levels of Effective Exercise

Level I

“Girly Mon” exercises … “yawn”

These are exercises that are all show with very little go. These are single joint exercises performed with DBs, BBs or machines. They are not bad but since they recruit the least amount of muscle they are at the bottom of the list. These exercises are great when you need to hit specific areas and can play a pivotal role when employing advanced training principles such as drop sets, super sets and Slower Tempo training.

Some examples of Level I movements include: DB, BB and machine curls, Tricep extensions, knee extensions, Leg curl machines, calf raise machines, Lateral raises, front raises, and many others.

If you want the best results then the foundation of your training program needs to be primarily Level IV and V exercises.

Level II

“Wonder what I should do after my workout” exercises….“oh, poop”

These exercises do not demand your full attention while performing them since the machine dictates the motion for you. There is less muscle activation and often times more stress on the joints.

These are compound movements on machines..

Machines do have certain benefits such as being able to hit certain muscle groups with greater precision. They do have their place; however, they should not be a mainstay in the program.

Examples: Hammer Strength Press and Row Machines, Squat machines, etc.

Level III

“I don’t need no stinking spot” exercises … “Oh, crap”

Compound movements with cables.

Cable machines are great because they move with your individual body’s natural arc and keep constant tension on the muscle. I love the equipment manufactured by FREE MOTION.

Some examples of Level III movements include seated cable rows, lat pulldowns, cable chest presses, and cable upright rows.

Level IV

“I could drop the weight and bust myself up” exercises … “OH Sh!t”

These are exercises that utilize more than one joint and are performed with dumbbells (hand weights – DB) or barbells (BB).

Since Dumbbells require more balance, there is greater muscle recruitment. Thus, DBs have a greater Oh Sh!t! factor than the same exercises performed with a BB.

Some examples of Level IV Dumbbell movements include DB rows, DB chest presses, DB shoulder press, DB upright rows, DB Romanian Deadlifts.

Level IV Barbell movments include: BB rows, BB bench presses, BB shoulder press, BB upright rows, BB Romanian Deadlifts.

Level V

“I could fall and break my head open” exercises… “OH Sh!t”

These are exercises that utilize more than one joint and are often referred to as compound exercises. Compound exercises performed in a challenging manner produce greater amounts of testosterone and growth hormone than Level I exercises.

Examples: Squats, Sumo Squats, Lunges, Split Squats, Step-ups, Dips, Pull-ups, Push-ups, Inverted rows, Hell raisers, Gymnastic Ring movements such as dips, push-ups, pull-ups and inverted rows.

A Note on Balance training:

Training with balance tools such as stability balls, balance boards and other unstable equipment is a great strategy to employ as part of the IGNITE warm-up. Be careful not to use excessive amounts of weight. Challenge yourself to the point where you struggle to maintain the exercise but do not take it to total fatigue. The risk of injury would certainly exceed the benefit. More and more I am seeing personal trainers taking their clients through circus workouts. Standing on one leg while throwing a medicine ball and singing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. They will tell you it strengthens their core. So do Level V exercises and in addition they create the hormonal environment to burn fat and add lean muscle. If you want to strengthen your core there is no need to train like a clown. Every movement must be tied to the goal. Otherwise, it is waste of time.

Bottom line lesson: Different exercises recruit different degrees of muscle activation.

Be sure that at least 80% of the exercises you perform are Level IV or V exercises. This will create the best results in the shortest amount of time.

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