Training specificity performing single-joint vs. multi-joint resistance exercises among physically active females: A randomized controlled trial

PLoS One. 2020 May 29;15(5):e0233540. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0233540. eCollection 2020.


Resistance-training of the lower limbs can be performed using exercises moving one (single-joint exercises) or several joints (multi-joint exercises). This study compared the effects of training one multi-joint exercise (leg press) or two single-joint exercises (leg extension and kickback) on dynamic and isometric strength and the transferability of dynamic strength between exercises. Fifty-three physically active women were randomized to a multi-joint (MJ) training group (age = 21.95±0.82 years, mass = 64.85±5.76 kg, height = 167.35±2.47 cm; n = 20), single-joint (SJ) training group (age = 22.56±1.66 years, mass = 64.85±5.76 kg, height = 165.94±2.84 cm; n = 18), or a control (CON) group (age = 21.27±0.68 years, mass = 68.43±4.86 kg, height = 168.63±2.84 cm; n = 15). The training groups participated in an 8-week supervised single- or multi-joint lower limb training consisting of 18 sessions. Pre- and post-training, six repetitions maximum (RM) and maximal voluntary isometric contraction in the three exercises were assessed, along with electromyography of the superficial quadriceps muscles. Improvements in all dynamic exercises were greatest after training the specific exercises (ES = 1.26-2.14, P<0.001-0.025) and all were greater in the training groups than in the CON group (ES = 1.43-3.31, P<0.001-0.021). The SJ group improved 6RM in leg extension and kickback more than leg press (ES = 1.51 and 2.04, respectively, P<0.001), whereas the MJ group improved leg press 6RM more than kickback (ES = 1.10, P = 0.002). However, leg press and leg extension strength improved similarly in the MJ group (ES = 0.54, P = 0.072). All strength and electromyographic measures remained unchanged in the CON group (ES = 0.00-0.44, P = 0.412-0.966). Improved dynamic strength in leg press, kickback and leg extension is best attained by training the specific exercises, but both training modalities can improve strength across all exercises.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction
  • Lower Extremity*
  • Quadriceps Muscle / physiology*
  • Resistance Training*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.