The Most Misunderstood Concept in Building Muscle
One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to hypertrophy (muscle growth) is that the only factor in building bigger muscles is lifting heavier weights, and that one automatically leads to the other. This myth has been around for who knows how log in bodybuilding and fitness industries, as well as by bodybuilders themselves. The fact is that the key to increased muscular hypertrophy is increased intensity. Though genetics can play a big role in just how big your muscles can become or actually how some specific body parts can get big.
OK, so lifting heavier and heavier weights over period of time is itself one way to increase intensity. The downside is that lifting heavy can lead to muscle, joint, and tendon pain and injuries and eventual over training or even quiting everything all together. When you use intensity techniques, you can use less weight, so there’s less wear and tear on your body. It also provides a break from the usual way you train and can help you break through plateaus, and it gives you the chance to learn or I should say develop connection between mind and muscle.
When you learn to focus less on how much iron you can pull or push, and more on the techniques you use to pull or push it, you will be on the road to maximizing your body’s growth potential.
Why The Myth Still Exist
There are several reasons why the “bigger weights equals bigger muscles” myth won’t die. The first and most obvious reason is that when people first start working out regularly, their body usually responds quickly with lots of new muscle growth, and that’s a fact. Without much knowledge of how hypertrophy works, it’s makes sense to think you should just keep on piling weight. Well not until you injure yourself or hit a plateau.
The other problem, beginners see guys(bodybuilders who been at it for many years) lifting heavy weights. Or watching YouTube where pro’s posting they videos lifting crazy weights. And figure: ‘Hey if those guys are huge and lifting heavy, I must do the same’. Well let me tell you this, comparing yourself to big guys or IFBB Pros is really bad idea. They worked long time and very hard to be where they are, and trust me when I say to copy what they do in the videos or copy the guys in the gym will get you nowhere. Well unless you have freaky genetics, your chance to be that way are not that great.
Beginners do not realize how crucial genetics play role in this sport. They think that if everybody big guy or Pro lifts heavy, they should do the same way, if they got big, i will get big this way as well. But again this is not a case.
Don’t get me wrong here. At the start you will grow, that’s for sure. But there is smarter way to do so.
It’s Intensity, And Not Heavy Poundage, That Builds Muscle
So, what builds muscle? Intensity. Remember, intensity is very personal to each person. I can grimace, grunt, and groan, throw the weights around and get all the attention my way in the gym, but at the end of the day, intensity is subjective. Only you can feel how hard you’re working. No one else in the gym can get inside your head and body and experience what you’re experiencing. So when you see big guys lifting heavy, they went through all before they learned what worked for them and what not. And which principal of intensity worked for them and which did not.
Is lowering your reps and piling on the weights from workout to workout the way to increase intensity? Definitely. But after a while you’re going to hit a wall in your ability to increase both your strength and your muscle mass and to do it without tearing up your joints. It’s best to have a few tricks up your sleeve.
Some other intensity-increasing techniques aren’t as glamorous, but they’re effective and, quite honestly, they’ll seriously challenge you if you work them hard. So here are few of my favorites techniques:
Shorten The Rest Periods Between Your Sets
This is one of the easiest ways to increase intensity. How long do you rest between sets? Don’t know? Time yourself, then work on reducing those times. Shortening your rests means you’ll probably have to lower the weight you lift. It would be very hard to keep short rest periods and still lift the same heavy weights.
We’ve all seen those guys blasting max weights in the gym, then sitting there for 3-4 minutes between sets as they get their breath back. That’s not going to happen when you’re resting 30-45 seconds. You’re lowering the weight but increasing the intensity, which means you’re still lifting hard. You will hit different muscle fibers, blood flow to your muscles will increase. You will have crazy muscle pump. But again you will be able to lift as heavy as before. That means your joints, tendons and muscle itself will be healthier and safer.
Change Your Rep Speed
You can also switch up the speed of your reps. Here’s a couple of examples of how you do this:
- Machine bench presses: Pick a weight you can normally do 12 reps with. Do 3 reps at your normal speed, then, as you lift the weight for your fourth rep, count off 5 seconds as you press the weight and tense the muscle, then count to 5 again as you lower the weight back down. Do 3 more reps at your normal tempo, then slow down for the eighth rep. Do three more normal tempo reps again, then slow down for the twelfth rep. Believe me, you’ll feel some serious intensity in the muscle.
- Barbell curls: Raise the weight (the concentric motion of this exercise) more slowly than you normally would, again employing a 5-second count. After squeezing the muscle at the top of the movement, lower it through the eccentric phase at your normal tempo. As the set progresses, don’t let mounting fatigue tempt you to get sloppy on the eccentric portion. Keep the weight under control as you lower it, otherwise you won’t feel the muscles working and may even injure yourself. During the next set, complete the concentric motion at a regular tempo as you slow down the eccentric to 4-5 seconds. Alternate this way as you work through the sets.
Pre-Exhaust Your Muscle
The late, great Robert Kennedy (founder of MuscleMag International) advocate this technique in his book “Savage Sets!: The Ultimate Pre-Exhaust Pump Out,” as did Joe Weider in his Weider Pre-Exhaust Principle.
So how it works: Lets say today is Monday (National Chest Day). Before going for some barbell bench presses, complete several sets of dumbbell flyes. Before you even start your first set of bench press, your chest will already feel a bit tired and pumped. You won’t be able to go as heavy on the flat benches, but you won’t need to. The lighter weight workout will still feel plenty intense.
The idea behind pre-exhausting your muscles is to enable you to work the target muscles just as hard but at a lower weight. Doing so limits the pressure on your joints and tendons. It will also work your muscles very hard before you fatigue your central nervous system.
Use Dropsets Principal
Nothing burns a muscle more than stripping off weight as you progress through your set. I still use dropsets in my workouts. I would do as many reps as I can on the machine then, when I couldn’t do another rep with good form, I would pull the pin out of the stack to lighten the weight and keep on going till next drop. And i would do 3 to 4 drops. Trust me intensity you will feel on your muscle will be crazy, not talking about blood flow to the muscle.
You can use this technique with machines, cables, barbells, or dumbbells. If you’ve never dun dropset, switching to lighter and lighter weight as the lactic acid builds up, you’re in for a treat.
Next time you feel bored with your workouts or hit a plateau, give any of these techniques a try. You’ll feel sore the next day, but you should also produce some great muscle gains, if you stick with it. And if mother nature was nice to you when she handed out the genes, you just might see some big changes in your physique.