Adding muscle seems to be a mystery to most, yet if you pick up a copy of any fitness or bodybuilding magazine and you'll almost always see a headline like this: "Gain 15 Pounds of Muscle in 6 Weeks."
If it were so easy you'd have millions of muscle-heads running around. Even though building muscle tissue can be a challenge, I'm going to outline some very specific principles that can pack on the muscle faster than you can throw away that copy of "Muscle and Fiction"!
Before we get started though I want to clarify a few points.
- The ridiculous claims made by most fitness and bodybuilding magazines are only there to get you to buy that issue - nothing more!
- If you are serious about strength training you need to be reading books and NOT cheesy fitness magazines
Ok... here we go.
In order to add muscle tissue you must force the body to add it. Your body won't just add a pound of muscle just because you followed a 3-set workout that you read about in Muscle + Fitness. You need to give the body a reason to make improvements - in this case add muscle tissue.
You have to provide what I call a "stimulus". This can be done in many ways and I'll address a few in just a moment. Basically, you need to force the body to add muscle by subjecting it to levels of stress it is not used to. Some methods are more obvious than others but all can work. Here are a few examples of how this can be done effectively.
First, the basic and common methods:
- Increase weight or resistance
- Perform more repetitions
- Perform more sets
- Move the resistance slower
- Rest less between sets and exercises
Now for the more advanced methods:
- Pre-exhaust (perform an isolation exercise first and immediately continue with no rest on a compound movement. ex. chest flye and then chest press)
- Static holds (hold the resistance in the hardest position of the range of motion. ex. the top position during a leg extension)
- Partial reps in weak range (perform a portion of the rep where you are weakest. ex. the top half of a rep of leg extensions)
- Strip-set (after a warm-up set, perform 3 sets back to back with no rest while starting with the heaviest weight possible and each time strip off some weight to allow you to continue)
- 1 ½ reps (perform one full rep and then on the second rep only perform half the normal range of motion and then return to starting position to begin the next rep. ex. one full rep of lat pulldowns, pull second rep all the way down, resist weight back up but only half way and then pull back down)
These are just a few examples of methods of increasing intensity to ensure progress. The key point to remember is that whatever you do it must be progressive in order for it to elicit a physical change. This is even more critical for those looking to add muscle size.
Although this article is geared towards individuals who are interested in gaining muscle size, the principles can also be used for individuals who want to build strength, increase metabolism, or tighten and tone muscles.
Here are some general recommendations for different goals...
If your goal is to tighten and tone muscles:
- Focus on increasing reps, decreasing rest, and changing exercises frequently
- Train each muscle group twice per week
- Perform fewer sets of many different exercises (1-2 sets per exercise)
If your goal is to increase strength and power:
- Focus on increasing weight
- Train each muscle group once every 7-10 days
- Perform multiple sets of each exercise (2-5 sets per exercise)
If your goal is to increase muscle size:
- Focus on shocking muscles by changing variables frequently (exercises, set and rep schemes, rest time, etc)
- Train each muscle group on a variable schedule (experiment by training a muscle group 3 times a week and then once every ten days)
- Perform multiple sets for a while and the perform single sets for a week or two
Some final reminders:
The recommendations above are general and of course would need to be adapted and adjusted for your personal goals and experience. For those of you who are advanced and may be thinking there's no way you can build strength by training once every 10 days I challenge you to try it for at least 4 weeks, or those of you who think that you need to stick to the same basic movements like bench to build size I challenge you to try shocking the muscles by changing the exercises you perform each week for 4 weeks, and those of you with little experience I hope that you'll throw away the fitness magazines and learn what really works.