Working out has many benefits: lower levels of stress, improved mood, increased energy, low levels of body fat, and so on. For many of us in the lifting game it usually comes down to one thing; make our muscles BIGGER and STRONGER! We make mistakes along the way but we learn from them and continue to grow. I’m going to save many of you a lot of time and headache (and muscle ache) by pointing out 6 things you’ll need to pay attention to and focus on in order to see your strength grow.
Maximum Contraction of the Muscle
Time under tension is the name of the game. One of the best ways to play this game is by holding (and squeezing) a muscle at it’s peak contraction. For example, you can do this when performing a bicep curl. Once your bicep has reached it’s peak (you can no longer move the weight any higher) you hold this contraction for a count of 2 to 3 seconds. Use this method for up to 10 reps per set. Give yourself plenty of rest time between sets. This can be very taxing on the central nervous system.
Create Constant Tension
Continuing with the theme above we want to focus on creating a hard muscle contraction throughout the rep. Using the bicep curl we would focus on creating as much tension in the bicep at the bottom of the curl and continue to increase this tension as we raise the weight higher and higher. You’ll notice the weight will feel heavier than normal with this method. This is normal! You are simply tiring out the muscle faster. There is no reason to go heavy with this method. Stay light and get the reps in.
Feel a Stretch
Contrary to popular belief it is OK to do a minor stretch in a weight movement for muscular growth. Why? Recent research has shown the stretch of a muscle fiber right before a contraction stimulates more motor units within a muscle fiber. More muscle units activated means more muscles working. A good example would be dumbbell or cable chest flies. Start from your normal position and as your arms open up to will feel tension building in your chest (this is what you want). However, while maintaining that tension, allow your arms to go just a little bit further back and you will feel a deeper stretch. Similar stretch action can be done with Romanian deadlifts (hamstrings), squats (abductors), incline curl (biceps), overhead tricep extension (triceps), calve raises (calves), etc.
Chase the Pump
While chasing the pump is not necessary for muscular growth it definitely helps! This is where you perform a high volume of reps for a particular muscle group (15+ reps) with very little rest (30 seconds or less). The “pumps” positive side effectives on muscle growth are due to amino acids floating around in your bloodstream. As a reminder, amino acids are the building blocks of protein and protein is the building block of muscle. A “pump” forces blood into the muscle to help it rebuild from the damage sustained during a strength workout. The more blood being pumped the more amino acids going to your muscles.
Lift Something HEAVY!
While muscle building doesn’t necessarily need super heavy weights, they do help in creating more neural efficiency of your muscle fibers. The more muscle fibers that are “awake” and ready to train can increase your programs hypertrophy rep numbers. The more weight you lift, the more you can grow. Simple as that.
Find the Muscle
This is trickier than you might expect. Ever watch a bodybuilding show? Those are the experts in activating each muscle in a specific manner. While you may not go out for a bodybuilding show it does help to understand where and how to activate specific muscle groups you want to train. And here’s the kicker; everyone’s different! Yes, we all have the same muscles (some larger than others) but not everyone feels the same muscle the same way. For example, someone might notice their latissumus dorsi (large back muscles) from bent over barbell rows. Another person might feel them better during a wide grip pull-up. This doesn’t mean you only do the exercise you feel the muscle the best (it Is important to have variety) but it means you need to teach yourself how to feel the muscle as you work it in your training. Start light and feel the muscle. If you can’t do it then I suggest hiring a trainer who can teach you which exercises will help you target specific muscle groups effectively.
STAY FIT MY FRIENDS!