During a muscle-building phase, how you perform in the gym is going to be a massive factor in determining the scale and pace of your progress. The efficiency and effectiveness of your sessions are vital because the breaking down of the muscle is going to set you on the way to gaining more size during the recovery phase outside the gym.
Many people put in the time and effort in the gym on a consistent basis but do not see the desired results due to the quality of their sessions. It is not all about pumping the biceps and lifting the heaviest weight you can find. Having structure and following a reliable and effective plan, as well as adopting the right techniques, methods and variations, is key to increasing muscle tissue. So, here are five important points to remember when you are in the gym so that you can gain some quality size in the most efficient way possible.
When training clients, one of the things I stress above all else is technique. Resistance training is not all about lifting really heavy and hoping you will get bigger or more toned. The reality is that if you are not performing each exercise with the correct form, your progress is going to be hindered significantly. Technique is so important, not just so that you can hit the target muscle(s) to maximum effect, but also to prevent injury. Many people end up doing damage to their body when they focus more on lifting too heavy, too early rather than first focusing on the correct execution, particularly on the heavy barbell compound lifts, such as deadlifts, squats and bench press.
This is also why trainers/coaches are so important. Having someone in your corner, analysing every exercise repetition you do can make the difference when it comes to reaching your fitness goal as soon as possible, as well as keeping you injury free and therefore training with efficiency and enjoyment. It is also common for people to fall out of good habits, such as slipping out of the correct technique that was implemented early on, so having a trainer to consistently check that form is vital for progress.
One of the most important things to remember in the gym is that you are making progress with the weight you are lifting. In order to gain more muscle, you need to make sure that you are consistently overloading the muscle(s), week by week so that it is working harder, meaning that the breaking down is more intense during the session and therefore new muscle tissue is being developed during the eating and recovery phases.
It is important, however, that this process is gradual. Getting stronger takes time, particularly on the compound lifts, and after prioritising technique first, make sure you increase the weight slowly per week so that you are progressively overloading the target muscle in a safe and efficient manner. For example, on the squat, there is no point in doing four sets of four half repetitions on 100kg during the session when it is clear that the weight is too heavy for you at the time.
During hypertrophy training (gaining muscle and improving body composition), the reps need to be between 8-12 per set and they need to be quality reps with a full range of motion. So, make sure you are able to do this on the weight you are working with, before gradually increasing it over time. Your body will be better for it!
Another important feature that needs to be a part of your training is making sure that you change up your exercises. The great Arnold Schwarzenegger is a massive advocate of this. “One of the main things in order to create size and muscle growth is variety because at certain points, the body will hit a wall and get used to your exercise routine. So, you have to use the ‘shocking’ principle. For example, for the chest I would change the weight and rep range, as well as adopting the advanced training method of dropsets. Then, all of a sudden, you would find that your pectoral muscle is shaking after that and you don’t know what to do because it is cramping and is in pain because you have shocked the muscle.”
Of course, in this instance, Schwarzenegger was referring to rep ranges and weight and that will have a huge impact in taking the body out its comfort zone and encourage growth. Though, another good tactic is changing the type of exercise so that you can ‘shock the muscle’, as well as target different areas of the muscle and make your workouts more fun and interesting. This will also expand your knowledge, experience and versatility in the gym.
When training in the gym, it is very important that you push yourself. That does not mean lifting the heaviest weights possible, doing ridiculous volume, or exercising for over two hours. Instead, you want to make your sessions count by increasing your intensity levels. In order to do this, you first need to know the right weight for you to do no more than 12 reps in a single set.
Once you know this, you then need to make sure that you are giving maximum effort with the right technique during the set. The last few reps of that set need to be tough, where your target muscle is straining, you are lower in energy and your strength is temporarily decreasing. And as you give it everything to complete the set at the end, that is when the intensity of your session increases and you push past strength barriers, therefore stimulating muscle growth. If you are training with someone, having a spotter can also be vital in assisting you on the last few reps if you are struggling to complete the set on your own.
Advanced Training Systems
Another great method for increasing the effectiveness of your sessions in the gym and therefore building muscle tissue is the use of advanced training systems. These are additional reps at the end of a working set designed to shock your muscles by adding variety and intensity to your training sessions. These help you push past plateaus (periods when you are struggling to progress), as well as adding more time under tension for the target muscle.
One of the most popular advanced training systems is the drop set. This is when, after a working set, you perform another set of the same exercise straight after, without rest, but with a lighter weight. On this set you should push to complete failure (unable to do any more reps). You can also add extra intensity by performing another optional drop set straight after, but make sure that this is performed after the last working set of the exercise so that the muscle is not totally fatigued in previous sets.
Another very useful advanced training system to use is the superset. This is when you perform two or more exercises in succession without any rest. Make sure that when you do this, it is targeting the same muscle group. For example, you complete a set of seated dumbbell shoulder press and then immediately follow it with a set of dumbbell lateral raises. This provides a more intense training stimulus for the for the muscles by forcing more blood into the target area.
Other advanced training systems include tri-sets (three exercises performed straight after each other with the only rest coming from the amount of time it takes for you to set up and begin the next exercise), giant sets (three exercises performed straight after each other with the only rest coming from the amount of time it takes for you to set up and begin the next exercise), strip sets (the same as a drop set but with plates being taken off a barbell) and cluster sets (a set that is broken down into several mini-sets, with short intra-set rest periods between them).
Make sure you add one of these into your workouts to add that variety and intensity – this can make the difference!
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