What are the Role of Muscle in Exercise

Hi everyone,

What are the Role of Muscle in Exercise


Ramya asked this question a few days back:

First, the breathing technique while lifting weights is, breathe out while lifting and breathe in while dropping. Is this right? I am always confused and bug my trainer everytime.

Second: I got thinking after reading the bench press thing. If we do the 3-day-split with weights, like chest and triceps on one day, back and biceps on another, and shoulder and legs on the third, is it balancing enough?

Third: I wanted to ask u this ever since I read Rujuta’s new book. She says not to combine aerobic and anaerobic activity. But what about circuit training?! I do burpees in between weights many times in a circuit!! I tell u, that book confused me to no

Answer to first question is exhale when you go antigravity and inhale in the opposite direction. This applies to lifting. This breathing pattern facilitates the lift. So in a push up, it is inhale as you go down and exhale as you come up.  But  when I compare this with the breathing pattern in chaturadandaasana then I find It  opposite to the push up. basically the breathing pattern in yoga is different from that of lifting. I will ask this from some of my teacher and write on this difference soon.

Answer to the second question is that a good workout plan is that which works all the pushing as well as pulling muscles around a joint. While doing any exercise there are various muscles that come into action to make that exercise a perfect exercise. For example: When anyone who has never done a plank before, looks at someone doing a plank. Then this is what he would think of the person doing a plank.

1. She is balancing herself on her arms and toes. And when she goes into a push up from this position then she is working her biceps and may be chest muscles.

How are Muscles Engaged in Exercises

Hardly will he understand that while doing a push up the girl has also engaged her core muscles (gluteus, abs, traps, lats, hams, quads, erector spinae etc) to stay stabilized in a plank. The point that I am trying to make is that while doing any exercise there are a lot of muscles engaged to make it a proper exercise. And I am writing on this topic today because I believe that once we understand this proper engagement of muscles then we might consciously engage our muscles better in all the exercises that we do.

Let me first share What are the Role of Muscle in Exercise then I will relate it to how to plan a workout.

1. Agonist: Any exercise basically involves the movement of some muscles around a joint. The agonist in any exercise/ movement is the muscle(s) that provides the major force to complete the movement. Let us study one simple exercise/movement i.e bicep curl.

In the bicep curl which produces flexion (bending) at the elbow joint, the biceps muscle is the agonist. So while going up or down in a bicep curl it is the biceps muscles that are the agonist as they the major force to complete the movement. Because of this agonists are known as the ‘prime movers’.


Now imagine that you were doing bicep curls with a very heavy weight in your hand. And imagine that there was no tricep muscle in your arm then wouldn’t that weight just fall down under gravity, injuring your elbow joint? On the other due to the presence of the antagonist tricep muscle wouldn’t there be sufficient amount of tension to help control the movement as the weight lowers?

So presence of antagonist (tricep) muscles helps to ensure that gravity doesn’t accelerate the movement causing damage to the elbow joint at the bottom of the movement.

Also when we curl up our biceps muscles then if there was no tricep muscles to lengthen at the back of our arm. Then how would bicep muscles contract? Basically it is both the agonist and antagonist muscles together support the curling motion around the elbow joint. One by contracting and the other by lengthening.


There a lot of other muscles around the joint that are also involved in the movement or the exercise. These also help the prime mover or act in synergy with the prime mover to produce a stable movement across a joint.

The synergist in a movement is the muscle(s) that stabilises a joint around which movement is occurring, which in turn helps the agonist function effectively. Synergist muscles also help to create the movement. In the bicep curl the synergist muscles are the brachioradialis and brachialis which assist the biceps to create the movement and stabilize the elbow joint.


In the push up and plank in the example above. The core muscles are the stabilizer muscles. They keep the hip joint fixed in one place so that we can produce motion only at the shoulder joint for a push up. When we do not engage our core then we know how do push ups and planks will feel like. In that case, it is rather our bums that will flip flop instead of our chest. Infact without engaging the core it is really heavy on the spine to do the push ups. Unless the core is engaged we will neither be able to develop the force to balance ourselves in the plank without hurting the spine. Nor will we able to create enough strength for a stable up and down movement in a push up.

So stabilizers are the muscles of the body that act to stabilize one joint so a desired movement can be performed in another joint. These muscles usually aren’t directly involved in a movement, but work to keep you steady so that the primary muscles can do their job. For example, if you were doing a chest press on an exercise ball, the primary muscles working include the chest and arms, but the abs, back and legs (core) work isometrically to stabilize your body.

In a bicep curl, stabilizer is the rotator cuff muscles. Which are the muscles around our shoulder blades. If there muscles are not engaged than the shoulder blades wont let a controlled arm curl to happen.

What are the Role of Muscle in Exercise

Now when you plan your workout then first chose a joint and think of all the possible ways of motions around that joint using different muscles. All ways of motion involves different antagonist, agonist, synergist and stabilizer muscles.

On a particular day workout all agonist and antagonist pair in any movement. For example in a chest press. The agonist and antagonist pairs are pects and lats. So never workout one and leave the other. Both of them are associated with a shoulder joint. One has a pushing action(pects) and one has a pulling action(lats). So workout both of them equally. If you to do chest press than do rowing or pullups for lats as well ( In rowing or pull ups exercises lats become the prime mover(agonist) and the peacts becomes the antagonist. And take care of engaging the stabilizer muscles. Pair bicep curls with tricep curls etc.

Similarly do for other muscles around any joint.

So much jargon today :| . All of these muscles working together in any exercise make these exercise a body changing and muscle building exercise. Please tell me if you got it? I thoroughly love reading and writing on muscles and then use whatever I learn in my yoga or antigravity practice. How about you?

Loads of Love

4 thoughts on “What are the Role of Muscle in Exercise

  1. Chitra

    I didn’t understand it now. ;-)
    Will read it again when time permits. And even I needed these details about muscles and all. Thanks for this

    1. Nidhi

      I know it’s a very technical article.. it needs a really concentrated read but once you understand it.. you will literally start looking at exrevises with a more open mind.. :)

  2. Ramya

    Nidhi, this is a wonderful article. Then the right way to workout would be to do lat pulls in the same session as we would do the chest press.. Bicep curls and tricep extension… Flies and seated rows… Is that right? That completely busts the conventional “chest day, back day” notion!
    Also, what about the shoulder? I mean what would be the balancing workout for a shoulder press or a lateral raise?
    I saw this article on my phone and decided to read it once I open my laptop as it requires concentration :) And BTW, I uninstalled fb on my phone. I am trying to lead a “fb free” life :P It’s a long story which I wanna tell u in detail. More on that when we chat :)

    1. Nidhi

      Thanks for giving it time Ramya..Let me share a full chart next.. very good decision.. no fb on phone.. I too got to share something with you..pinged you on fb. Loll. reply when you get time :)


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