How do you know if you’re working out hard enough to promote muscle growth? How do you know if it’s the program, or the rep ranges, or the circuit, volume, rest duration or even the intensity? Or maybe you’re like most people who just read that statement and have no clue what I’m referring to. We’ll let shed some light on the subject.
First off let’s discover how one might determine their workout intensity and leave the gym feeling they have done adequate work for the day. There are 3 ways your body tends to create muscle growth.
3 pathways to growth
- Muscle Mechanical Damage, Muscle Mechanical damage is essentially eccentric overload, literally creating damage to the muscle or as some research states damage to the connective tissue around the muscle and this is where the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) come in. These are the days where you literally crawled out of the gym because you couldn’t walk, every step you took was like a baby deer or giraffe taking their first steps. This is also where the old adage “no pain no gain comes from.” However it’s not the only approach but maybe the easiest to maintain over long periods of training.
- Progressive overload training: In this method you either utilize tension as the driver or you use volume.
2.A) Tension this means adding weight to the bar or increasing the weight utilized during a particular exercise. Which makes the muscles work harder therefore the size of the muscles will increase. One problem with this is that our body will reach a cap, we can’t continue to add weight to the bar on a consistent basis the body will plateau and therefore this avenue of growth will dry up.
2 B.) Volume – In this case you realize that you are no longer able to add any more weight to the particular exercise so now you increase the volume. If previously you were doing 4 sets of 8 with 200 kg on bench press, you might decide to do 6 sets of 6. Essentially adding 800 kg of volume to that exercise. This is one of the most common approaches to training. However this alone can also have some negative side effects in the form of overuse, which can start to create injuries. If your form and technique is not spot on perfect, and the major muscle group you were targeting is fatigued, other muscles will come into play to assist with the exercise. Multiply this over the course of a few months, and you now have knee or elbow pain, or shoulder issue that start to rear their ugly head.
3.) Metabolic stress – This is when we create the byproducts of training such as metabolites, hydrogen ions and lactate, all of these things are being produced as we accrue higher volume, and in this situation we can use lower loads to induce that intense burning in the muscles. However the benefit comes when you push through that sensation and train through the burn, you can actually create muscular hypertrophy using lighter loads. The problem with this method is it requires significant mental fortitude. Take for example your maximum straight bar curl is 100 kg for 1 rep. This means you would be able to curl 50-60 kg with good form and full range of motion for approximately 10 reps. Now if you drop the weight even further, down to 20-30 kg and cut off the bottom and top 10% of the range of motion and do as many reps as you can until you start to feel “the burn / pump” let’s say that burn comes at 40 reps, but instead of stopping at 40 you push through for another 20-30 additional reps. This is also where inclusion training of blood flow restriction training has gotten its popularity. Essentially not letting the muscle breathe or letting the blood release from that targeted muscle area.
Start tracking your workouts
All that being said each one of these areas of muscle growth need to be a part of your equation, and more importantly you need know when to switch these up as well as how to determine the amount of volume to use to stimulate gains, or when to adjust your tempo duration for your eccentric phase of the lift. Which means you need to be tracking your routine and documenting all of these areas. Much like nutrition and the importance of knowing how much or how little to eat as well as the ratios of macros to support your goals. You need to be just as meticulous in your workouts to achieve those strength, muscle gaining goals. Simply going to the gym and doing what you feel or using the machines that happen to be available, will only work for a little while. Soon the body will adapt and it will require some precise changes and application of proven techniques to break through your plateau. Ill discuss in a future blog some of the great workout tracking apps that are available which will help you in this pursuit.