Continuing from my previous article, I wish to bring to your attention the next best thing. The importance of understanding your muscles and their intricate functions. It will make a lot more sense why you are doing certain exercises and why they are performed a certain way when you understand where, how and why the muscles are the way they are.
Before we get to that, know and appreciate what you have! We may attain greatness and physical achievements but truly only through the mercy of Allah ().
Doing back flips, performing 800lbs [362.9kg] dead-lifts like Ronnie Coleman, sprinting like a wild cheetah, none of this is by our own sole efforts but by what Allah () has blessed us with. The more I learn about the human body, the more it makes me think of our countless blessings and the more it increases my iman (faith). Most people take all we have for granted until they find themselves in some sort of hardship which forces them to think and only then know and appreciate what they have. We should keep our iman (faith) strong and be constantly in remembrance of Allah () .
We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. But is it not sufficient concerning your Lord that He is, over all things, a Witness? (Qur’an 41:53)
The body itself declares dhikr — remembrance of Allah () — and glorifies Allah (). The human body has approximately 640 muscles give or take. Without muscles we would be an immobile doll. Muscles are responsible for all our movements, moving our bones and joints. Every single muscle has an important but unique role. Imagine if for every action you had to perform calculations for the exact coordinates, trajectory and velocity while having to encode signals, send signals, wait for feedback signals to differentiate and relate responses to our tactile feedback, relate again to our thoughts and other related processes just to move a finger. Think about how we use our muscles with so little thought. These sort of tasks are what scientists and engineers try to emulate in their primitive engineering constructs, yet all of that is already within us and done automatically for us! Allahu Akbar!
Then which of the blessings of your Lord will you both (jinn and mankind) deny (Qur’an – Repeated 31 times through Surah 55 Ar-Rahman)
The human body like all of creation is truly a miracle from Allah (). As I type this very article, my fingers move on their own, signals from my brain are activating my forearm flexors, tiny finger movements are expressing my thoughts.
Different muscles, different functions
For our bodybuilding and fitness goals we must understand what muscles we have, where they are and what they generally do. You don’t have to learn about every single tiny muscle, it’s almost impossible and unnecessary unless you’re specializing in some anatomical related science — but you have to know and understand the big bulk of them. Going into the gym and swinging weights mindlessly by mimicking what others do without understanding why they are doing and what they are doing it for is not very wise.
Targeting and isolating any given muscle depends on the angle, positioning and movement of your arms and body in relation to the opposing object and force. I will try not to get into specific exercise details in this article beyond the theoretical understanding so that in later articles inshAllah when I explore specific exercises and routines you will understand what we are trying to achieve. For now we’ll stick to theory in order to prepare you for what’s to come.
Muscles serve a variety of functions. Some engage during pulling and rowing movements such as biceps, back and rear deltoids, some engage while pushing such as triceps, front deltoids, chest, and there are many others minor muscles that most people can’t identify but are important for stabilizing and rotating.
Making it simpler for you
I initially spent a lot of time verbally explaining each muscle’s actual function… which to even write was over whelming. I scratched that and went a different route to make it simpler for everyone. Generally the terminology used in anatomy for rotations, up, down and side way movements revolve around words like: abductions, adductions, flexion, extensions, which most definitely would confuse people without visual understanding. I found some nice anatomical videos visually showcasing what’s going on with each muscle.
I can’t stress enough the value of acquiring anatomical knowledge for any kind of sports, athleticism and fitness goals – especially for bodybuilding. It is extremely valuable knowledge because:
- If you understand the intricacy of muscular engagement and function you will be able to truly understand how to isolate and engage muscles.
- You will be able to maximize avoiding injuries and if you have injuries understand how to best isolate and rehab your injuries.
- You will be able to train specific muscles for your specific athletic needs of your sport or activity. What is needed for American Football, Basketball, Tennis and Martial Arts differs. Understanding the required and engaged muscles in these sports will educate you in being able to improve your performance by employing resistance training specific to your needs.
I myself have a pectoral injury which I have been working around. With proper knowledge of pectoral and deltoid muscles I am able to apply the best isolation movements while avoiding pain and rehabbing myself slowly.
So let’s get started bismillah!
The ‘pecs’ or chest is physiologically broken down into the Pectoralis major and Pectoralis minor – a triangle shaped tiny muscle under the major. In bodybuilding speak it is often broken down and understood as upper, middle, lower and inner chest. It is an extremely beautiful muscle that serves so much intricate function. I decided to select anatomical videos that showcase this and give you a better understanding of how the muscles are attached and how they function:
The above video clearly outlines for us that the chest is not just for caressing one’s ego or impressing people 😉 It shows how a single muscle is so important and if anything minor goes wrong like an injury, how we could become dysfunctional… For us Muslims there’s nothing wrong with building a nice and beautiful big chest, but we must remind ourselves to remain humble and always to say alhamdulillah every time we admire our progress and achievements.
First and foremost lets get one thing out of the way, targeting the inner chest is impossible. Anyone telling you about any number of special exercises to target the inner chest are selling you a ‘bro science’ lie. The only way the inner chest will ever grow is when your overall chest becomes denser. I think it becomes quite obvious after watching the above anatomical video how the inner chest is not an ‘inner chest muscle’.
So with that out of the way let’s take a look at what we can target and how these common exercises target the different parts of the chest.
The overall and middle chest :
- Pressing dumbbells or a barbell or a smith machine in a flat/horizontal bench position.
- Performing flat dumbbell fly
- Doing flat floor pushups
- Performing a chest cable fly adjusted at a middle position
- Medium position seated peck deck or vertical pressing machine
- Pressing dumbbells or a barbell or a smith machine at an incline bench position
- Performing incline dumbbell fly
- Doing a decline floor pushup where your legs are raised upon a platform
- Performing wall pushup where you lean towards the wall (mostly a beginner exercise)
- Performing a chest cable fly adjusted at a low position
- Low position seated peck deck or vertical pressing machine
- Pressing dumbbells or a barbell or a smith machine at a decline bench position
- Performing decline dumbbell fly
- Doing an incline floor pushup where your arms and chest are on a raised platform
- Performing a chest cable fly adjusted at a high position
- High position seated peck deck or vertical pressing machine
Note 1: As you might have observed above, pushup angle positioning is inverse to bench pressing. A pushup is like a reverse bench press with your body weight.
Note 2: Remember to take into account your height. Using standing or seated cable, pressing and peck deck machines too low or too high of an angle may be beyond the isolating zone of your chest. Everyone’s position is slightly different.
The triceps or ‘triceps brachii’ make up 2/3rds of the arm. These three muscles are responsible for extensions of the arm and pushing movements. Comprised of the largest long (inner) head, the lateral (outer) head and the medial head near the elbow/funny-bone nerve.
The large long (inner) head is the only triceps head connected to both the shoulder and the elbow. The lateral (outer) head is what gives the horse shoe shape and the medial is somewhat small and under the long inner head.
Click image to play
Isolating any one of them independently comes under debate and scrutiny as they all engage in extension and pushing movements regardless. It more so comes down to which movement engages all three better or more rather than which movement isolates one of them. In other words arguing that you can isolate them independently is fantasy.
Deep extension movements such as skull crushers and overhead extensions raise the arm above the head and will engage all three while stretching the long head fully thus having a good range of motion activating them all in the best manner. Fully extending the long triceps head through this movement is guaranteed as it puts the long head into a deep stretch (the rest of the triceps attaching on the humerus are not as stretched), which causes the muscle to come under much much more tension when exercised.
As far as a list of exercises there are quite a few.
Direct tricep work exercises
- Overhead rope extension
- Overhead dumbell triceps extensions
- Overhead French Press with ez curl bar or dumbell
- Skull crushers with standard or ez curl barbell
- Diamond pushups (close hands forming diamond)
- Tricep dips with arms on bench behind you
- Tricep dips with close grip on dip bars
- Close grip bench press
- Dumbbell kickbacks
- Rope or bar cable press downs
Secondary activation of triceps
- Overhead shoulder/military press with dumbell or barbell (secondary
- Push press with barbell
- Bench press
- Pushups of any kind
Note 1: Humerus is the elbow to shoulder length arm bone
Note 2: Strengthening triceps will translate to stronger compound movements involving shoulder pressing and bench pressing. Triceps engage all the time you do any kind of pressing movement.
Note 3: For medial head people will often do cable rope or bar press downs. They don’t engage long head as much like the overhead extension type exercises. Near a mirror if watching yourself performing press downs you will notice how the medial horse shoe shaped tricep engages with this exercise. Bottom line is it just doesn’t engage all three as well but doesn’t necessarily ‘isolate’ only the medial, they all still engage.
Note 4: Like most exercises, more weight means more growth down the line. There is nothing better than the close grip bench press and skull crushers for overall triceps size growth. Ropes are good, but raw pressing of heavy weight goes farther than any rope work can achieve. With heavy exercises make sure to have a spotter.
Like a broad chest, having nice big round bulky shoulders has through many cultures represented a perception of a man’s strength and vigor. It is why certain uniforms and armors were designed in many cultures to mimic, represent and exaggerate big shoulders.
Click image to play
Deltoids are a muscle that a lot of people try to focus on as it’s something they can see on themselves, unfortunately they end up with muscle imbalance by doing it wrong and only focusing on the front anterior deltoids.
The deltoids are broken down into three heads, the front anterior deltoids, the side lateral deltoids and the rear posterior deltoids. It is very important to develop shoulders in a balanced manner. Some people such as myself naturally grow front deltoids effortlessly but neglect or have poor response with side lateral and rear posterior deltoids growth. Imbalance in growth will result in poor posture, potential for injury and an awkward pulled in appearance.
I myself focus heavily on rear posterior deltoids and side lateral deltoids work as they are harder to grow for most people. Isolating the rear posterior deltoids will pull you backwards and give off a broad wide appearance. Isolating side lateral deltoids will make you wider and give off rounder shoulders. The front anterior deltoids will make you large from the front but an imbalance will make you tucked in. So keep this in mind when trying to develop shoulders. Too much front anterior deltoids work is a bad direction to go through.
Front anterior deltoids exercises:
- Front dumbell or barbell raises
- Standing or seated dumbbell or barbell shoulder press, military press, swimmer’s press
- Barbell push press
- Front cable raises
- Arnold press
Side lateral deltoids exercises:
- Lateral dumbell raises
- Lateral cable raises
- Upright row with barbell or smith machine
- Lever lateral raise machine
- Arnold press
Rear posterior deltoids exercises:
- Bentover dumbell raises
- Barbell rear raise
- Reverse cable fly
- Reverse peck-deck
- Any sort of back pulling or rowing exercises
- Rope face pulls
Note 1: I listed some of the most common and easy to use exercises, there are of course more.
Note 2: I would advise people to stay clear of behind the neck presses and upright rows. They are very sensitive exercises that for most people are a recipe for tearing the shoulders, rotators and other shoulder related injuries. Shoulders are very prone to injuries so work hard but always play safe.
Note 3: To avoid injury always warm up and start light for 2-3 sets before going into heavy real deal sets
Closing notes and credits
I would like to first give credit and thanks to Dr. Nabil Ebrahim for his anatomical YouTube videos found on his YouTube channel.
I hope that by viewing this article and starting to learn more about the human body you will become further curious to learn more and appreciate the mercy and might of Allah () in creating the human body. I also hope it will help you and benefit you inshAllah in bettering your understanding of how these muscles function and which exercises are used and why. The more knowledgeable you become the better it will translate for your over goals.
Until the next installment of this article series inshAllah
Assalamu Alaikum wa rahmatullah