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A group of people in a fitness class doing squats with dumbbells.

Q | What’s better for my muscles: small, pulsing movements and isometric holds, or large, deep movements such as below-parallel squats?

A | There is no one movement that is best for your muscles. Our bodies like and need to move in various ways to function well.

Isometric holds and pulsing movements are common in Pilates mat and barre classes. The focus is on core stability and posture, and the exercises may improve stabilization, core engagement, and postural awareness. But you are not likely to increase muscle mass or functional strength with these types of movements, says Jamie G. Smith, an ACE-certified fitness instructor and choreographer based in Denver.

Large, dynamic movements that use your full range of motion, such as below-parallel squats, can be incorporated into functional exercises, cross-training, or boot-camp classes, or used in other fitness programs that focus on building strength. These movements increase bone density and improve strength for “everyday situations, like lifting kids, carrying groceries, and any other activity that requires a full-body action,” says Smith. This is especially true when additional weight is added to the exercises.

For most people, a balance of both exercises is best, she says. By performing a variety of movements, with varying loads and ranges of motion, you get the benefits of both types of activity while minimizing the risk of injury or overtraining that you may experience when you favor one modality. These movements can be incorporated into one training session or split into different sessions, depending on your preference.

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