Despite how hard you train, how consistent your diet is and how dedicated you are to the pursuit of muscle, the time will come when your progress comes to a screeching halt. You first notice it when your weights stop going up.
You just can’t get any stronger, no matter what you do. And, because muscle follows strength, you’re muscle gains also dry up. That’s the time to shock your body into renewed growth with 3 of the most powerful muscle building principles ever developed.
3 Muscle Building Principles
Principle # 1: Metabolic Stress
When you put your muscles under the tension of resistance training, lactic acid builds up in the cell, making it feel full and hot. It’s a feeling that lets you know that your body is starting down the road to anabolic overdrive. That burn that comes from lactic acid build-up is what is termed metabolic stress and it is a key factor in building muscle.
By ensuring that your lactic acid build up for each succeeding set is maximised, you will be boosting your muscle building potential. So, how do you make sure that you have a lot of lactic acid streaming into the cell? By ensuring that your rest between sets is neither too long nor too short.
When you train hard against resistance, lactate builds up in the muscle cell. Contrary to what many people think, lactate build up actually delays the onset of training fatigue by counteracting the effects of depolarization, which causes a loss of muscular power. Lactate build up also stimulates a process known as mitochondrial biogenesis after your training is completed. This process leads to enhanced muscle growth and endurance.
Taking five minute rest periods between sets may allow you to recover long enough to pump out an extra rep or two on your next set, but it will also deplete your lactate levels drastically. Resting for just long enough to allow for a full force effort on your next set, however, will allow you to compound your lactate levels from set to set, keeping your metabolic stress high and, thereby, maximizing your muscle growth potential.
By keeping your rest between sets to 2 minutes or less, you’ll be doing your metabolic stress levels a favor. To do them an even greater favor, throw in such intensity enhancers as super sets, descending sets and pre-exhaustion sets.
Principle #2: Mechanical Tension
Overload creates a particular tension level in a muscle. The greater the weight you lift, the greater the tension level. As the weight approaches the maximum you can lift, however, tension within the muscle levels off. For maximum muscle building effect, then, you want to keep your rep count within the threshold that will promote hypertrophy. That involves stimulating the fast twitch fibers within your cells that turn the switch on protein synthesis.
Fast twitch muscle fibers are not only larger than their slow twitch counterparts, they also store a lot of carbohydrates. This results in a fuller, denser physique than that seen on guys who rely on the slow twitch development that comes from lighter weight, higher rep training. The greater the intensity, the more you will tap into your body’s fast twitch muscle fiber reserve. The ideal rep range to induce this response is 3-8.
Clearly, the amount of rest time between sets will have a direct relationship upon the weight you are able to lift. To lift heavy, you’ve got to rest longer. While rest periods of less than two minutes will promote hypertrophy through enhanced metabolic stress, they won’t allow you to lift super heavy. That’s why you should have a heavy training day once per week where you focus on three to four sets of 3-8 reps on basic compound movements like squats, deadlifts and presses. On these days, you should allow yourself between 3 and 5 minutes rest time per set.
One habit that is often seen when trainers push their poundages to the max is to take a slight pause between reps in the set. For example, on a set of squats, the trainer takes a brief rest at the top position as he psyches himself for the next rep. While doing so effectively reduces the fatigue level during the set, a 2013 study that was published at the 2013 Strength and Conditioning Conference in Las Vegas, revealed that it also reduced the number of fast twitch fibers that were recruited. Taking a mini-rest between reps, then, is a habit that you need to get rid of if you want to maximize the muscle gain. (1)
Principle #3: Muscle Damage
Muscle damage occurs when micro tears take place within the muscle fibre as a result of intense training. These micro tears can occur during the eccentric (negative) part of a lift, training to positive muscular failure, and doing strip sets, negatives, drop sets and forced reps. These techniques have the added benefit of increasing lactic acid build up, which will further enhance the metabolic stress effect.
Training to bring about mechanical trauma is vital to muscle growth, but it should not be overdone. Overusing such intensity enhancers as forced reps and drop sets can lead to over training. For that reason you should not push every rep of every set to the absolute limit. Make smart use of mechanical trauma by pushing hard but not demolishing your muscles.
The three principles outlined here work together synergistically to underpin a scientifically sound mass building program. Most people either don’t use them at all or overuse them without regard for how they work together. Yet, in order to maximize results, you need to:
- Keep your usual rest periods between sets to 2 minutes or less.
- Enhance the metabolic stress effect with supersets, drop sets and pre-exhaustion sets.
- Have a super heavy day once per week where you lower the rep range to 3-6 and increase the rest period to 3-5 minutes.
- Use intensity enhancers such as forced reps and negatives to generate mechanical trauma – but don’t overuse them.
(1) Joy, J.M., Lowery, R.P., & Wilson, J.M. Effects of intra-set rest intervals on muscle activation and power. National Strength and Conditioning Conference; 2013 July 10-13; Las Vegas, NV.