Saturday, September 25, 2010

Delavier's secret

Frederic Devalvier wrote and illustrated a very popular and excellent book entitled "Strength Training Anatomy." I own the second edition (2006). It's a book filled with suggested weight lifting exercises for arms, shoulders, chest, back, legs, buttocks, and abdomen. Each of these body parts is in a different section, and within each section, he's taken each of a dozen or more exercises and illustrated the proper technique as well as described which muscles are used. For example, the bench press is shown on pages 52-53. Pictured is a man lying on a exercise bench with barbell in hand, ready to lift the bar. The illustration is basically a pencil drawing, but it's really well done. The man is wearing shorts but no shirt, and the skin becomes transparent in the chest, shoulder, and arm regions so that you can see the underlying (and very detailed) muscle groups. The muscles that are worked by the bench press exercise are highlighted in red coloration. All are labelled, including pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, triceps brachii (medial head and long head), brachioradialis, latissiums dorsi, and so on. The pectoralis is a large muscle group with multiple attachment sites at the clavicle, sternum, humerus, and abdomen. Not all the muscle fibers in the pectoralis are worked to the same degree during a standard bench press, so Delavier has a separate picture that shows which fibers are mainly used. In this case, it is the midline fibers that originate under the arms and spread out underneath the nipple to the sternum.

I've used his pictures and notes to choose which exercises to do. For example, my anterior deltoid is in fairly good form but I want greater definition in the middle and lower pectoralis. Therefore, I read through his notes on each page and look for the techniques that will work those specific parts of the muscle. Delavier comes through with this statement: "Lowering the bar to the chondrocostal border of the rib cage isolates the lower part of the pectoralis." Therefore, when I do bench presses, I try to bring the bar down to my solar plexus instead of nipples or arm pits (as shown in the photo, reality is a little different from my perception). If done properly, I should eventually build the muscle at the base of the pectoralis, making it stick out more when viewed from the side. I'm a little vain, I guess.

So how did Delavier figure out which muscles are used during each exercise? I think he could have done it by doing an exercise in excess and then waiting a day to determine which muscles were most sore. For instance, two days ago I did a greater number of bench press repetitions than normal (37 reps @ 90 pounds), and I was sore the next day. I was most sore in the pectoralis region just above and to the side of each nipple (sternocostal head, lateral part--away from the sternum). I was also sore just below each clavicle (clavicular head). My soreness indicates that I was indeed doing the bench press with a wide grip, as that position will work the lateral parts of the muscle. However, since I was sore in the clavicular head and not the inferior groove (lower part of pectoralis near where it links to the abdomen), I will need to remember to move the bar at a different angle so that it moves toward the abdomen as it is lowered. Based on my muscle soreness, I'm still lowering the bar to a point above the top of my sternum.
The picture shows exactly where I'm lowering the where near the solar plexus!

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