#1 Understand Muscle Function & Train with Focus
I have a strong belief of how important it is to have a decent understanding of the function of the muscles you are training. Learn muscle origins and insertions, what their actions are when they contract, understand how to fully shorten the muscle, and focus on creating tension in the target muscles when you are training. Your muscles don’t know how much weight you are moving, they only respond to how much tension you place on them.
Once you understand basic muscle function, you can manipulate your exercises to better target your muscles more effectively. You can learn how to create more tension in the muscles you are training without necessarily using heavier weights.
If your goal is to build muscle, at each workout you need to focus on which “muscle” you want to train, rather than what exercise you are training. For example, when you are choosing chest exercises, think about training your “pecs” instead of thinking of training “bench press”. Leave your ego at the door, and just make sure you concentrate on really working your chest under control, in a full range of motion, and don’t worry so much about how much you can bench press. Unless you are a powerlifter or competitive strength athlete the weight is not as important as the tension on the target muscle
#2 Manipulate Training Variables
Time Under Tension (TUT): For hypertrophy the ideal time under tension for each set varies for each individual, but suggested that the range is about 40 to 60 seconds of TUT per set.
Set-Extensions: We frequently use high intensity set extension techniques, primarily drop sets, as well as partials and forced reps. These techniques can be very effective if used sparingly as long as you recognize the significant stress they place on your muscles and nervous system. It’s those last couple of repetitions once you approach fatigue that have the greatest stimulus for muscular development.
Full Range of Motion (ROM): When possible with any given exercise, train through a full range of motion as long as you can control the weight at the extreme ranges. You need to choose the weight you use for an exercise based on whether you can control the weight at each extreme ROM for the given repetition range you are training with.
Another interesting point is that typically bodybuilders (or those training to gain muscle) need to train “inefficiently”, making the muscles work as hard as possible with any given exercise, whereas powerlifters (or those concerned mostly with strength or power) need to train more “efficiently” by using exercises and movements that allow you to move the maximum weight possible with the minimum stress on the muscle (relative to the weight being moved).
#3 Progressive Overload
When designing a training program for increasing muscle size, the principle of specificity helps us determine which exercises we can choose from when trying to develop each muscle group to its maximum potential.
The principle of progressive overload is less important for hypertrophy at the planning stage, but is more important in each workout, making it absolutely essential for achieving meaningful muscle growth long-term.
Progressive overload is basically the way in which we take the adaptations resulting from a previous workout into account, when performing subsequent workouts. After a workout in which we lift heavy weights, all of the various adaptations that contribute to gains in maximum strength are stimulated. After workouts involving light or moderate weights, it is likely that only increases in muscle fiber size are stimulated (this is why lifting heavy weights leads to greater gains in maximum strength than lifting either light or moderate weights).
Either way, when we come to perform the next workout, we are stronger.
This means that, in the next workout, we have the option of making progress. If we choose this option, we can either lift a slightly heavier weight for the same number of reps, or the same weight for a larger number of reps.
When we perform a typical bodybuilding workout involving a sufficient volume of stimulating reps, we trigger an increase in muscle fiber size. And if we use heavy loads in the workout, we also trigger other adaptations, which improve the ability of the fibers to produce force relative to their size.
If we do a workout of 3 sets of 8 reps to failure with the bench press using 90kg, then that workout will provide 24 stimulating reps, which will lead to some hypertrophy.
However, if we do the same workout of 3 sets of 8 reps with the bench press using 90kg a few days later, after we have fully recovered, then this workout will not provide 24 stimulating reps, because we are not training to failure on all sets. More likely, we will be working at one rep in reserve on one or two of the sets. This workout would therefore produce a smaller increase in muscle size.
If we continued to do further workouts of 3 sets of 8 reps with the bench press using 90kg, then each sequential workout would involve a smaller number of stimulating reps, and this would lead to smaller and smaller amounts of muscle growth. Eventually, the stimulating effect would be too small for any muscle growth to occur.
On the other hand, if we do workouts with progressive overload, either by increasing the weight slightly, or by increasing the number of reps, then the number of stimulating reps remains the same in each workout, and we continue to experience muscle growth. This is why progressive overload is such a key concept for bodybuilding, and why ignoring it will ultimately lead to lifters stagnating and not making progress.
When building muscle, it is necessary to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods with the right blend of proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
Dietary protein sources provide the body with essential amino acids for building new muscle tissue after vigorous exercise.
Dietary carbohydrate sources provide the body with energy for tough workouts and replenish energy stores in muscles in the form of glycogen.
Dietary fat sources supply at least 70 percent of the body’s energy at rest, aid in metabolism of vitamins A, D, E, and K, and help maintain testosterone levels for increased muscle mass.
Each of these types of nutrients plays an important role in building muscle and none can be left out of a healthy diet.
When trying to build muscle, people often make the mistake of restricting caloric intake from a particular type of nutrient or restricting total calories. Make sure you are meeting all of the nutritional requirements for muscle growth.
Choose high quality protein sources that help build muscle before and after workouts. Although they can be a convenient way to increase protein intake try to select real food over protein powders and bars such as:
Chicken and turkey breast
Salmon and tuna
Soybeans and tofu
Beans and legumes
Opt for nutrient-dense sources that sustain the glycogen stores necessary for you to be able to train more effectively such as:
As popular as low-carb diets may be, they may diminish your athletic performance and leave your muscles aching for nutrients necessary for muscle protein synthesis.
While it may help to cut out the saturated and trans fats, you still need an appropriate amount of healthy fats to boost metabolism and maintain hormonal function. A fat-free diet can impede muscle growth in a person who vigorously trains. Keep fats in the ballpark of roughly 15 percent to 20 percent of your daily caloric intake.
There are a number of sources, both for cooking and for eating, including:
Nuts and chia seeds
Eat More, Not Less!!
Sleep is crucial for strength training recovery and helps with muscle repair after a strenuous workout. On the other hand, inadequate sleep can interfere with the body’s ability to recover after lifting weights and inhibits the body’s ability to build maximum muscle strength.
Along with dietary protein to aid in muscle repair and new muscle growth, your body produces its own muscle-building hormones while you sleep, including human growth hormone (HGH). During the N3 stage of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, blood flow to your muscles increases, and tissue growth and repair occurs. During REM sleep, the muscles relax, which can help relieve tension and reduce symptoms of certain types of chronic pain. In fact, many of the critical restorative functions in the body, like tissue repair and muscle growth, occur mostly or only during sleep. A consistent sleep schedule of 7 to 9 hours a night (possibly more if you are a competitive athlete) will help the muscle-healing process.