To stimulate a maximum amount of growth in your muscles you should select the best exercises for each targeted muscle group. While this may seem obvious, there is actually very little information regarding what are the best exercises. And when we finally find such information it's often based on the personal preferences of the author/coach. Just because a supposed training "authority" advocate a certain lift, doesn't automatically make that exercise effective. To make a good exercise selection we must understand what principles govern muscle recruitment; we must also consider the objective of the exercise. When it comes to building muscle mass we have three categories of movements:
1. Activation exercises: movements aimed at increasing neural activation, making the nervous system more efficient at recruiting the targeted muscle group. The activation exercise itself won't stimulate a lot (if any) muscle growth, but it will make all the subsequent movements more effective. These movements are basically used to "wake-up" the nervous system. Unstable exercises fall into that category.
2. Potentiation exercises: Potentiation means "to make more potent". These exercises are similar in objective to the activation ones in that they increase neural efficiency. However it does so specifically by targeting the fast-twitch fibers (HTMUs) and improving your CNS' capacity to recruit them. Explosive lifts and plyometric drills are the main exercises in that category. Once again, these lifts are not prime muscle-builders (although they are more effective in that regard than activation exercises) but they will increase the efficacy of any subsequent training.
3. Stimulation exercises: These are our bread and butter lifts! The movements that will stimulate the most muscle growth. To be effective, a stimulation exercise must revolve around the target muscle's function; it must make biomechanical sense. It should also include a loaded stretch for the targeted muscle group: a stretched muscle during the eccentric phase is an activated muscle during the concentric phase. An exercise in which the targeted muscle is not put under stretch will not stimulate maximum muscle growth.
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The use of dumbbells gives you a much more comprehensive strengthening effect because the workout engages your stabilizer muscles, in addition to the muscle you may be pin-pointing. Without all of the belts and artificial stabilizers of a machine, you also engage your core muscles, which are your body's natural stabilizers.