As you gain more years of lifting under your belt, you start to accept the fact that you’ve been denying for a while now; your progress is slowing down. The gains don’t come as easy as they used to. You realize that, even though you keep adding weight to the bar and adding progression to your workouts, the only thing that gets inflated is your ego, while very little progress is being achieved in the bout of accomplishing your sought after square pecs, V tapered back and for the ladies a firmer and leaner curved hour glass body.
You catch yourself looking around at bigger guys, fitter girls, trying to figure out what they’re doing differently. You scavenge the net to find the latest breakthrough workout to blast through what seems to be a bottomless pit of dissatisfaction. You try anything and everything all at once, providing as little attention as you would a not so attractive blind date. so much that you’re starting to grow fond of the violin man and accept that you may be over reaching for that physique you desire. Now I wouldn’t be a good guy if I agreed with you, now would I. That’s why i’m gona tell you how you can kick start the progress and break through this plateau. Best thing about it is that, it’s quite simple!
What you are experiencing is quite normal. The more years you lift, the more your body adapts to the resistance and workload. After a while, nothing seems to work and you just wish you were able to gain the way you used to just a few years back. If you are at this stage you need to start training smart. Simply adding weight to the bar isnt going to cut it neither will super-setting or any old progression strategy you used before. This time is what differentiates the average lifter from a hardcore lifter. While many will give up at this point, others will accept the challenge and own it; What are YOU going to do?
While the goal is always to add as much muscle as possible, it’s even more important to step back, reassess and tweak programming to keep everything in check allocating the right emphasis. This is very important to avoid lagging muscle groups to develop into imbalances, which can lead to injuries, wrong motor recruitment patterns and eventually over/under-compensation which can effect the body’s Kinetic Chain. Not to mention, somewhere in my previous posts I explained how the body favors uniformity. If the imbalances between muscle groups get bigger and bigger, your body will prevent (hormonal intervention) the stronger (meaning bigger) muscles to grow.
There’s a saying ; “Cant gain size, grab that bar and squat”
While it seems somewhat sarcastic, it’s actually true. The upper body is usually favored before the lower body. As such you find johnny bravo lookalikes everywhere. Once their upper body’s size gets past a certain point of comfort for the body compared to the lower body, it will simply stop it from getting any bigger. No matter what you do.
In this series, ill outline advanced techniques to help you overcome these muscle asymmetries as well tackle any imbalances (or muscles you’d like to bring up) you may have.
To comprehend what will follow, one needs to understand why and when a muscle grows. This wont be Gym101 or the anatomy class you hated in school, but it might get a lil’ technical for some. Think of it as a filler, working up towards a nude scene in a movie. It’s worth the wait (I hear its full frontal 😉 ).
We all know (I really hope you do) that muscles grow as a result of overload during workouts causing tears (micro trauma, micro tears). The body then repairs those tears and in essence, the surface area of the muscle increases. Now apply that 10 fold and its clear.
That’s not what I want to explain, I will outline the different elements (factors), specifically within a workout that causes the latter to happen from which the techniques will be based on.
Stretching Tension (eccentric phase)
Stretching tension or the eccentric phase in a lift is the negative phase of a movement where the muscle resists the implied force of the weight against gravity. Here, the muscle tries to resist lengthening to a stretched position. This resistance is what causes the micro tears to occur.
Contraction Tension (concentric phase)
This is the tension created which takes place as a muscle has difficulty contracting due to the force exerted on it (weight). As you increase the load over your consecutive sets (or workouts) through periodized increments, the body realizes that it needs to strengthen the muscle.
Time under Tension
This refers to the amount of time that the muscle remains in the tensed state. Better understood by referring to the amount of repetitions. The more repetitions you perform (given certain parameters), the longer the muscle is under tension. Having said that, using a weight that allows you to throw out 100 repetitions will not bring on results even though the time under tension is increased. That is because this needs to be done inline with a very important factor; ‘force of contraction’
The muscle burn is a result of lactic acid flooding into the muscle (explained in detail here). Increasing the duration of the burn puts the muscle close to a state of metabolic rupture and risks catabolism if not done correctly. Despite the latter, it’s a great tool as it offers a chemical versus mechanical overload as explained in the first two.
The more you work your muscle, specifically closer to 60% of your RM, the more blood rushes to your muscle, which is known as ‘the pump’. This is only a weak stimulant but can be used in the form of active recuperation to accelerate recovery with more nutrient and oxygen delivery.
Now that we have identified the influential factors that facilitate muscle growth, lets take a look at what factors can cause imbalances.
False Vs Real imbalances
False imbalances are imbalances that develop due to uneven programing. These imbalances only occur due to incorrect training and placing an emphasis only on certain muscles while neglecting others. In this case it’s a matter of addressing these inefficiencies. However, before that is done, the damage needs to be addressed.
Real imbalances occur as a result of the following
Generally, genetic limitations are more evident in opposing muscles.
– Some will have a more developed back and a small chest, while some, Larger triceps versus smaller biceps.
– May be between upper and lower body.
– Others may find it easier to bring up their upper body muscles while struggle with gaining mass in their legs and vise versa.
It may also be a unilateral issue (aka symmetric issue). While from far it may seem that our left side is identical to the right, that isn’t always the case. Your left bicep may be bigger than the right.
Muscle length directly translates into the development potential of a muscle. A longer muscle (muscle belly) will be easier to build versus a short muscle due to the leverage advantage.
Muscle fiber density is also another factor. A muscle with a larger number of fibers will automatically be bigger compared to another with fewer fibers. Good news is that the number of fibers can be increased through traumatic training.
– Athletic History
If you were athletic growing up, once you start a strength-based program, you will have an easier time developing those muscles which you used to use. For example, if you were a sprinter in high school, your leg development will be much easier to bring up as opposed to your upper body. This is known as muscle memory. Your body will easily transform towards a previous physique that you once maintained.
– Difficulties in correct muscle recruitment
Weak areas may develop due to the inability to recruit the correct muscles required to perform the exercise at hand. This is usually the case with muscles that you have a hard time “feeling” during an exercise. For example, many while performing the bench press will feel most of the work is performed by their shoulders and arms. This is due to improper chest recruitment and shoulder dominance that takes over. It’s very important to learn how to recruit the required muscle before adding weight to the bar since you will only be creating a wider gap.
Alright, ill wrap it up here. This will be the foundation on which the coming articles of this series will be based on. Stay tuned and until then, Happy Lifting!!
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