You may think of bodybuilding as a sport or activity, but in reality it’s a science, and the field of study is called exercise science. As such, there are a number of truths, just as you see in other scientific fields. Understanding these concepts is essential to promoting big muscle gains — otherwise you’re just expending energy lifting weights while reaping no discernable benefits. Here are four ideas you’ll want to remember each and every time you hit the gym.
#1 THE OVERLOAD PRINCIPLE
We start with probably the most important constant in bodybuilding; the principle of progression and overload. Overload is simply making your muscles work with a resistance they’re unaccustomed to. The progressive part kicks in when, over time, they grow stronger and you need to keep upping the ante, so to speak. Progressive overload, then, is the practice of continually increasing the intensity (amount of weight or number of reps) of your workout as you become stronger over time. Anything and everything you do once you walk into the gym is governed by that axiom. One of the best ways to begin ensuring proper and effective overload is by keeping a workout journal, logging every exercise, set and rep you do. That way, the next time you attack a bodypart, you’ll know exactly what objective you need to minimally achieve (and surpass) in order to abide by the first law of bodybuilding.
Don’t use the same weight for the same reps each workout or you’ll stagnate.
#2 WHEN TO BE A FAILURE
“Failure” is one of those words that guys throw around as easy as they do 15-pound dumbbells. But make no mistake, muscle failure is the time during a set when the muscle or muscle group being trained is completely fatigued and you can no longer do another repetition of that exercise (at least with good form or without help). Knowing that, when you think back to your last set of 10 reps, if you could’ve squeaked out an 11+ or 12th, you did not reach failure. That said, here are some quick facts about failure you should know. If building size or mass is your primary goal, you should choose a weight that allows you to fail at the rep range most important for size (8—12). If, on the Other hand, you’re trying to maximally increase the rep range most critical to elicit those gains is 3—6. Hence, a body-builder and powerlifter may be doing the same exercise, but the bodybuilder would be doing it with a slightly lighter weight for slightly more reps. And while the bodybuilder takes multiple sets to muscle failure, the athlete should take — at most — only his last set of a particular exercise to failure. Re- search shows that failing on multiple sets is good for gains in size but will hinder gains in strength.
If you can do another rep with good form, do it.
#3 GET A BETTER ANGLE
The diversity of the body’s anatomy means it takes more than just a single exercise to ignite each and every muscle group. Whether you’re I talking biceps or quadriceps, muscle fibers run in various directions, and to reach all of them, you’ll need multiple exercises. As you assemble various exercises for a workout, pay attention to subtle changes such as a shift in hand, body or foot position. Depending on the muscle group being trained, you’ll also integrate various bench angles, as well as different pieces of equipment, each of which provides a slightly different kind of stimulus. Hence, a chest workout may consist of flat-bench barbell presses, incline-bench dumbbell presses or a machine decline press. Just remember, if you get stuck doing only your favorite moves with the same body position and grip, you’ll get stuck with the same results.
Don’t just change the exercise in your workout, change the angle of the bench.
#4 RED SPEED
If you’re working with a sufficiently heavy weight, you should be moving it as fast as you can on the positive (concentric, or lifting) portion of the rep. That’s right: as fast as possible! When pushing a fairly heavy weight off your chest in the bench press, for example, even though it’s moving relatively slowly, you should be trying to move the bar as fast as you possibly can. Speed is critical because when you powerfully drive the weight through the full range of motion, you’re calling into play the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch muscle fibers produce the greatest muscle force and have the highest potential for muscle growth. But if you’re “controlling” the bar on the positive portion — holding back force — you’re just holding back your progress. Even if you’re working with a weight that’s rather light, you should try to be explosive to target the fast- twitch fibers.
That’s not to say performing slower reps has no place in bodybuilding because occasionally doing reps in this manner can actually help improve your form, reduce momentum and help you correct bad habits. You just don’t want to base your training on a slow-rep mentality.
Finally, resist the downward (negative) portion of the repetition, controlling the weight on the descent, which will also contribute to muscle and strength gains. In sum: Explosive up, controlled down.
Here are three more three key tips
1) Start with Multijoint Moves
Not all exercises are created equal. Early in your workout, when you’re strongest, you want to focus on exercises in which you can push the most weight, and those exercises are the ones in which multiple joints are in action. Squats are better than leg extensions, bench presses are better than flyes, etc.
2) Rest Between Sets
Make sure you take at least 1-2 minutes between sets of 8-12 and up to 3-4 minutes between your strength-focused sets of 3-6. All other things being equal, rest longer on your heavier sets and exercises for larger muscle groups (legs, chest, back).
3) Hit It Hard, Then Rest It
You may think training hard and heavy is the key to muscle and strength gains, but that’s only half the equation. As the muscle repairs itself in the days following a hard workout, good nutrition and rest are essential to optimize gains. If you keep pounding a given muscle group on consecutive days, all your hard work will be for naught.