We think of muscles as parts. But skeletal muscles themselves consist of many thousands of tiny parts called fibers. Crucially, fibers—which are one to four inches long—rarely run the length of any muscle you train. Therefore, an exercise that stresses fibers near a muscle’s top won’t activate fibers near the bottom. Diverse angles of attack are necessary to stimulate as many fibers as possible and goad them toward growth, and no methodology hits your muscles in more ways each workout than small-angle training.
Over the past four decades, Charles Glass has established himself as bodybuilding’s preeminent trainer with what is popularly called angle training. This is a constantly morphing assault using subtle changes in the positioning of bodies and equipment. But what if you took that and cranked it up to 11? What if no two sequential sets were ever alike, and your overriding mission was to hit fibers from as many angles as possible? Welcome to small-angle training.
With small-angle training, each set of an exercise is performed differently in a sequence of typically four to six sets. You might change the grip, the stance, the angle of a bench, or the positioning of equipment, like the height of a cable pulley. Ideally, this is a progression from harder to easier, such as dumbbell chest presses that go from a high incline to a low incline to flat to a low decline to a high decline. In that way, you can use the same weight as you progress, and with adequate rest between sets, you can get the same or more reps each time.
Let’s go over a small-angle progression for pulldowns. Start with a wide grip. The next set use a shoulder-width grip. Then switch to a parallel grip on a medium-length bar. Finally, clip on a V-handle for your final set. The changes in hand and arm position will work the upper back in a subtly distinct way each set and activate more fibers than four sets performed the same way.
What follows are some of the best small-angle methods for diversely attacking each body part.
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