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Change exercise angle for stimulus

Pete’s World

Published: November 21, 2022

Just when you thought you were getting all this resistance science stuff dialed in, I come along and hit you with another little something to think about.
But hey, that’s my job.
So what I’m springing on you today isn’t like a brand new cutting edge principle.
Nope, it’s actually a principle that’s well researched, and a principle that’s critical to consider when you’re choosing your resistance exercises.
Yet this principle’s very often overlooked even by seasoned gym rats.
The principle I’m talking about involves exercise angles. And if you’re not taking this into consideration, well, you could quite possibly be missing out on some pretty significant muscular gains.
Now here’s what’s so key about exercise angles.
By changing the angle at which your bones move, your muscles must respond accordingly.
Thus, if you change those exercise angles strategically you can put more stress on the muscles - sometimes on specific areas of the muscles.
And those strategically added stresses can lead to a higher proportion of muscle fibers being recruited and/or the intensity at which they’re recruited.
After all, it’s those stresses which cause fiber damage, which leads to the subsequent rebuilding of muscle tissue, which leads to bigger, stronger muscles.
Okay, so by changing the angle of an exercise you’re changing how those muscles move the applied weight through space.
And what’s really cool about this is that even small changes in angle, like just a couple of degrees, can alter the tension and the range of motion of the involved muscles - thereby leading to additional stresses.
So let’s take a look at how changing the angle of several key exercises can actually provide you with yet another training criterion to add with to your selection of exercise parameters.
Changing squat angle is actually easy. In this case you simply use five or ten pound weight plates or a piece/s of lumber (plywood or the like) under your heels and boom, angle changed. This challenges your neuromuscular system in a way that suddenly more muscle fibers have to be called upon to participate in the exercise. And remember: The more fibers you recruit and the tougher the stresses on those recruited fibers, the more the muscle building effect.
Okay, so you can also move your squat stance around, say from a normal shoulder-width stance to a wider stance. Do that and you’re changing the angels at which those femurs and hips move the weight on the bar. Now not only is this wider stance squat easier on the knees, but it also recruits more of the gluteal muscles than does a normal stance squat. So if you want to really target the glutes in addition to the quads, well, the wide stance approach is the way to go.
An angle change here is nearly the same as the squat except for one thing, you elevate the toes rather than the heels. Thus, the hamstrings must stretch more, thereby incurring more stress - and more of a muscle building effect.
Now everyone is familiar with the flat bench, but how about the incline bench and decline bench? Indeed, by changing the angles of this exercise you shift the muscular activation patterns. For instance, the incline bench press uses the same muscle groups as the flat bench press, but significantly increases activation in the upper pec muscles, whereas the decline bench places less emphasis on the shoulder muscles and more emphasis on the pectoral muscles than the standard flat bench.
Biceps Curls
Take the standard dumbbell and standing barbell curling exercises. It’s common knowledge that close gripping will target the long head of the biceps, while wide griping will target the short head. But change the angle, with for instance a reverse curl exercise, and well, now those forearms are more highly involved in the lift. Change that grip - and the angle - yet again to a hammer curl position, and now the short biceps head and the forearms are primarily movers.
As you can see, by changing the angle at a resistance’s - weight’s - pushing or pulling point you can change the location of your bones, muscles and tendons. And by forcing those muscles to function differently, that’s a sure-fire way to stimulate muscle fibers into getting bigger and stronger.
Yup, something new to consider––exercise angle.