This great blog post (Mechanical loading and *not* motor unit recruitment is the key to muscle growth by Chris Beardsley) landed in my inbox the other day and piqued my interest. You can read it here, but it's quite technical, so I've cut through the jargon and delivered a (hopefully) more digestible take home message below.
Here's a little basic physiology first
Muscular growth / hypertrophy is the increase in size of your muscles.
Your muscles, are made of individual fibers, and the collective growth of these fibers, is what we see as bigger, or more toned muscles.
Muscles are triggered by stimulation from the nervous system, and muscular growth will only take place when the right muscle fibers are stimulated.
Think about it, when you walk around the nervous system stimulates muscles of the whole body to move, but there's no real growth to the muscles, or everyone would be walking around like a body builder.
Scientists have known for years and been able to measure that the stimulation of "high threshold motor units" are responsible for muscular hypertrophy.
We've kind of always known that though... Throughout the history of man there's an obvious observable correlation between big muscular people being strong and lifting heavy stuff.
What you need to know
You can stimulate your high threshold motor units through 3 methods
- Lift HEAVY weights - 90% or more of your maximum effort.
- Lift 'sub-maximal' weights to failure.
- Lift weights around 30-40% of maximum with fast speed.
This is due to a massive mechanical load on the individual muscles fibers, which doesn't happen when you move at speed.
For maximum muscular growth slow down your lifting.
If you're grinding out a squat at 95% of your maximum effort - you're definitely going to be growing your bum and legs. But how often do you see that in the gym? Every morning my ladies only group are training legs - that's for sure.
Don't want to lift HEAVY? OK, lift lighter but you've got to go to muscular failure. Again, you don't see enough of that either. When was the last time you really pushed out a set to complete muscular failure?
It's scary, and it's hard in practice but if your results aren't showing then it's something to think about.
The article got me thinking about programming for myself and my clients recently.
I've decided to include more time under tension work, specifically focusing on lifting light weights slowly, which I rarely ever do.
This is my challenge for you.
Towards the end of your session perform one of the following using a 4040* tempo:
- Hamstring curls
- Leg Extensions
- Pec Flyes
- Lat. Pullover
- Bicep Curls
- Lying Tricep Extensions
Aim for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps with a 60s rest between efforts. Move the weights as smoothly as you can with an even speed focusing on squeezing the muscle on the lifting part of the exercise. Note: maintaining an even speed gets very tricky towards the end range of motion, but this is key to the success of this method.
If you've got the weights right (maybe 50% lighter than you'd normally use for a set of 10-12 reps) then you'll hit failure around 6-8 reps. In fact, it will feel like you've hit failure after 4 or 5, but because of the light weights you should be able to push through and squeeze out a few more shaky jake reps.
I've had a go at it recently, and it's opened up a whole new world of soreness that I've not felt for a long time, so I know it's working.
Enjoy and let me know how you get on.
Do You Want To Experience Some Advanced Training First Hand?
This brand new workshop, at Lifestyle Fitness Wembley, is specifically for anyone who wants to learn more advanced training methodologies, lifting awkward implements (kettlebells and sandbags) and take your own training to the next level to achieve better results.
You don't want to miss this workshop if you want to learn:
- How to be a more well-rounded athlete.
- How modified strongman training can be used to burn fat more effectively than conventional training.
- Find out about advanced training methodologies like super-sets, time under tension and interval training to make your own training more efficient.
- How to perform Olympic Lifts (clean & jerk) with barbells and dumbells. Correct technique with sandbags and Kettlebells.
Find out about the next available workshop here.