Bodybuilding is an art where you and you alone are the sculptor of your body. In order to give it your best and create your own masterpiece you need to understand the most important principles of training and building muscle mass and symmetry. On top of this, there’s been enough research done on resistance training where bodybuilding is treated as a form of science.
The science behind building muscle is called hypertrophy or increase in the size of the muscle cells (fibers). And when science comes in the picture explanations are provided why some ways are better than other into correct maximization of muscle growth.
In order to achieve the BIGGER and STRONGER version of yourself you need to comprehend that it isn’t just a challenging physical task—it’s one that involves your brain, too.
Let’s review the seven most critical training variables you need to understand in order to get the best muscle-building efforts.
1. Types of exercises
Which exercises for muscle growth are better multi-joint or single-joint exercises? From the aspect of building muscle growth multi-joint movements are far superior to single-joint exercises. When performing bench pressing, your shoulder and elbow joints and the muscles that attach to them are working extensively increasing muscle growth.
Following the above mentioned multi-joint exercises activate a greater degree of muscle mass, therefore stimulating a greater hormonal response from training, making them more efficient when it comes to hypertrophy.
But by all means, you should include both types of movements in order to maximally develop the target muscle. Given the body`s ability to adapt with varying exercises allows you to stimulate more muscle fiber recruitment, essentially working the muscle from different positions, planes and angles.
For example, both single-joint and multi-joint exercises have crucial roles in physique development, although the demanding multi-joint moves should be more present in your training, especially early in your workout, when energy levels are higher. Ultimately, exercise selection should be changeable at all times in order to fully develop the target muscle.
Intensity is one of the most misunderstood concepts among bodybuilders. Most people refer it to effort meaning how hard you train, whereas it stands for weight.
This is one of the most important training variables, because in order to stimulate muscle growth, you need to overload the muscle tissue.
Intensity is a measure of weight; therefor it can be expressed as a percentage of your single best lift (or one-rep max, aka 1RM). 1RM stands for the maximum weight you can safely lift for one rep.
Let`s do some bodybuilding math, then: if your 1RM on the bench press is 185 pounds, 70 percent of your 1RM is about 130 pounds. So, if your weight lifting loads are less than 65 percent of your 1RM you`re not pushing it enough to promote hypertrophy (or less than 120 pounds if you want to gain size).
For example in order to train for maximal hypertrophy, do a moderate number of reps (6-12) at intensities that correspond to 65-85% of your 1RM. This is the most effective way for maximizing muscle growth.
When discussing about volume, we are referring to total reps, sets, and load in a given training session. Your mission on the journey of building up muscle growth is achieved by gradually increasing volume in defined periods of time. In that line by completing high volume multiple set programs you`ll get superior advantage compared to single-set routines. The reason behind this correlation is due to greater hormonal responses when higher-volume multiple-set protocols are performed.
Also have in mind to include shorter de-loading periods to avoid overtraining.
For example, performing multiple-set protocols (3-4 sets per exercise) has been shown to be most effective in muscle-building compared to single-set protocols.
Rest, for sure is one of the most overlooked training variables for hypertrophy. When discussing rest we are referring to the amount of rest you take between sets which needs be adjusted based on your training goals.
For example, in order to achieve maximum strength development, rest time should be somewhere from 3-5 minutes in order for your body to be able to recover properly and perform for the next set. Furthermore, we strongly advise you to have a moderate rest period of 1-2 minutes for best results when it comes to hypertrophy.
When doing your rest sequence, you should at all times listen to your body instead of watching the time.
For example, proper rest between sets should be maintained at approximately 1-2 minutes to recover sufficiently and promote the optimal muscle-building environment.
When it comes to the ultimate recovery time you need in order to achieve best hypertrophy results, have in mind that the actual growth processes don’t occur during the training; the muscle tissue is rebuilt during periods of recovery, requiring rest and good nutrition.
Protein synthesis a term that describes the process of building muscle can remain in an elevated state for 48 hours or more post-training. With this useful information, you should allow at least 48 hours of recovery time before hitting a given muscle group again. So, you need to set up your training splits accordingly.
For example, doing chest on Mondays, triceps on Tuesdays, and shoulders on Wednesdays is less-favorable split than doing chest and triceps on Mondays and shoulders on Wednesdays.
By allowing 48 hours of minimum rest between training sessions for a given muscle group you`ll be well on your way to get the best results for to hypertrophy.
6. Speed of execution of reps
Before we explain the effects of properly defined tempo in your training sessions, we need to analyze the three types of muscular contractions:
- Concentric contraction is the shorting phase of the muscular contraction (the elevation of the barbell during a biceps curl, as the biceps muscle contracts it is shortening).
- Eccentric contraction is the lengthening phase of the contraction (lowering the barbell during a biceps curl)
- Isometric contraction is a contraction in which no movement is occurring at the joint (at the top of the biceps curl, in between the concentric and eccentric phases)
So, in order to achieve an ideal rep speed to induce muscle growth you should lift faster and more explosively on the concentric phase, and use a slower controlled speed on the eccentric one.
You should focus on lifting explosively during the concentric phase and slow down the tempo on the eccentric phase. In this exercising moment you`re dealing with challenging weight, so it won’t move very fast even though you’re trying to lift the weight explosively.
7. How hard you should train – Training to failure?
As mentioned above, you must train hard and apply sufficient overload to build muscle, but how hard is exactly necessary? Should you put the weight down once you reach 10 rep, or when the muscle starts to feel uncomfortable or when you can’t do any more reps with good form?
Basically, this is the concept we want to explain: if you’re training for maximal strength, you do not want to train to the point of muscular failure, but if hypertrophy is your goal, it’s a different story. Training to muscular failure or the state when you can no longer produce sufficient muscle force to complete another rep with good form, has been shown to be most effective for muscle growth.
This type of training recruits as many muscle fibers as it can, and produces increased secretion of growth-promoting hormones. Training to failure also induces more metabolic stress to contribute to a greater degree of hypertrophic response.
The threshold for training to failure is clear: It must be used with caution as there’s a potential for overtraining when used long-term, a state in which growth comes to a full stop. If you employ this training method, cycle in periods of lower-intensity training.
For bodybuilders, it’s a strategy that should be used periodically.
Training to muscular failure is an effective training variable for hypertrophy when used properly and strategically. To avoid overtraining and maximize this variable, training to failure should be used intensively for some cycles and avoided during other times.
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Train smart, train strong, start building muscle mass, and don’t forget to implement science into your training knowledge!