A while back someone struck a pretty sweet deal with nature. If you lift heavy weights, eat some food and rest you’ll be rewarded with bigger muscles in the morning.
If you’re already doing this you’re on the right track to building muscle. You can probably do this for a while and keep seeing progress – no matter what you do in the gym.
But once you hit that stage where things aren’t changing we need to get a bit more specific. That’s where applying some sports science to your workouts can help you build more muscle.
Ok, you got me. My giraffe-like frame doesn’t lend itself that well to gaining muscle, so I’m no Mr Universe. Yet I’ve managed to use the tip I want to share to take me from scrawny to… well… slightly less scrawny.
So whether you’re a hardgainer like me or you’ve already got a fair bit of muscle this small change in your workout could get you seeing progress again.
When you lift weights you’ve got 4 basic results you can achieve depending on a few things; the number of sets and reps you do, the tempo (speed) you lift at and the amount of rest you take between sets.
Of course there’s some overlap, but on the whole your choices will be making you either:
If you’re looking for the ‘bigger’ option we want to keep your muscles working for around 40-50 seconds each set. Sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more.
So here’s the big shift. It doesn’t matter how many reps you do. To build size you just need to keep lifting the weight until you hit that 40-50 second sweet spot.
That way you’re taxing your muscle the way most likely to make it respond by adding size.
You can either lift slowly – say 3 seconds to lift and 3 seconds to lower – and do 8 reps
(8 reps x 6 seconds per rep = 48 seconds of work)
Or you could lift a little quicker – say 1 second lifting and 1 second lowering – and do 24 reps to achieve the same 48 seconds
(24 reps x 2 seconds per rep = 48 seconds of work)
When you’re trying to build muscle one mistake (one I often try to get away with too) is performing reps too quickly. This takes the muscle from being worked in a way that’s likely to build size, and works it in a way that’s more likely to build strength – without the size.
For example – if you read a bodybuilding routine in a magazine that recommends you do 3 sets of 10 reps for your biceps, if you did each rep quicker than the programme intended (taking 2 seconds for each rep instead of 4 seconds) you’d only be lifting the weight for 20 seconds instead of the intended 40 seconds.
Lifting a weight for 20 seconds is great for getting stronger, and you’d still feel like you’d worked. But you wouldn’t be giving your muscles the amount of ‘time under tension’ they need to grow – which is nearer to that 40-50 seconds per set.
If you’ve hit a plateau and want to start seeing results I’d recommend for the next month try slowing down each rep. Get by the clock and time how long 4 seconds per rep really is. If it feels like an eternity you’re doing it right.
I understand you want to get the set over with as quick as possible. That’s why most people lift weights too fast. It’s more comfortable. But rushing your sets leads to slower gains. And slowing your sets down gives you faster gains (go figure??).
There are always the big guys in the gym throwing weights around and still getting results. How come they still get massive without slowing their sets down?
You’ve probably noticed these guys train alot. They’re dedicated. They spend hours in the gym, work hard, and make their gains that way. They don’t need to have the most scientifically correct training methodology. They’ve figured out what works for them and that’s cool.
Plus they’re probably more like my little brother – he can pretty much just look at a dumbbell and he gains an inch round his chest. Bitch.
But people who find it a little harder to build muscle – perhaps like you and I – need every little advantage we can get. And lifting slower tempos, (or doing more reps) to hit that 40-50 second sweet spot for muscle gain is a quick win we can use to our advantage.
See how long that set of 10 reps takes you. If it’s less than 30 seconds you can get better results simply by slowing down each rep to a count of 2 seconds up, 2 seconds down (or add a few more reps) to take you into that 40-50 second sweet spot.
You’ll likely have to drop the weight down a notch or two to achieve the amount of work you need. But if your ego’s willing to take a hit in the short term it’ll be rewarded by bigger gains in muscle size in the long run.