I study biology at school, and unfortunately for me, my program skips the muscles in humans chapter.

I know (and mainly, feel) that the movement in one direction isn't created by the same muscle as the movement in the opposite direction, e.g the Triceps ("front") and Biceps ("back").

I know that the triceps straightens the elbow, while the biceps contracts the elbow.

I also know that, instead of actually moving the arm, I can contract these two muscles (when I show off, for example...) without actually moving the arm. That area becomes hard. Both muscles, as I feel, are contracting. I cannot statically contract only one of them.

My question is whether this action is something "special", or simply both muscles working against each other, resulting in zero movement?


1 Answer 1


The situation you are describing where muscles are situated on opposites sides of a joint and produce opposing movements is called "antagonism." Most joints are set up where one or more muscles on either sides will produce such movements (e.g., flexors vs. extensors). Here's a question about muscles without antagonists.

When you contract all the muscles crossing a joint (i.e., when you are "showing off"), the muscles balance each other. If not, the bones would move and the joint angles would change. So taking the elbow as an example, in the image below, Arnold is contracting the elbow flexors (biceps brachii, brachialis) as well as the elbow extensors (triceps brachii). In order for the bones to remain static, the forces must be equal and opposite.


  • $\begingroup$ Arnold is a good model for studying muscle anatomy in schools.. the exaggerated sizes will help kids find each and every muscle.. :-P $\endgroup$
    Apr 16, 2013 at 4:01

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