Single-joint or multi-joint exercises - which is best?

multi-joint exercises resistance training single-joint training
Woman strength training. Lunge exercise.

Both decrease body fat and build muscle. 

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Whether to do multi-joint or single-joint exercises is another common debate in fitness. Multi-joint exercises are recognized as more functional and use more muscle groups expending more energy, but single-joint exercises are also effective to decrease body fat and increase muscle tone.

One study compared the effects of equal-volume single-joint and multi-joint resistance training on body composition. Participants performed either single-joint exercises like the dumbbell fly, knee extension, knee flexion, pectoralis deck, biceps curl, incline dumbbell fly, abdominal curl, lateral dumbbell raise, at pull over, rear deltoid fly, cable elbow extension, and calf raises or multi-joint exercises like the bench press, deadlift, squat, leg press, military press, lat pulldown, and seated row.

The results of the study showed that when total work volume was equated, both multi-joint and single-joint exercises decreased body fat and increased muscle mass with no difference between them suggesting the decision to use multi-joint or single-joint exercises can be a personal decision (Paoli, 2015).

Bottom line: do what you enjoy. It's the only way you'll keep it up anyway!

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Paoli A, Gentil P, Moro T, Marcolin G, Bianco A. (2015). Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength. Frontiers in Physiology. Dec 22; 8:1105.


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