So you’ve just got done with a competition, and the summer is coming up. You’d like to give your body a break from the grind of meet prep training. You’re making the transition over to hypertrophy-style training to try to get some bigger “gunz.” You know what they say, “suns out, guns out.” “Curls for the girls.” Everyone loves a massive set of wheels, right? Well, if this is you, don’t fall victim to some of these common mistakes people make when making the transition to hypertrophy style training.
First things first, hypertrophy style training is not like powerlifting. You aren’t just moving some heavy weight from point a to point b. You need to focus on how the weight feels, how does the specific muscle being targeted feel, and how good of a quality contraction are you getting. If you are having problems finding a connection with your muscles, then take time to focus and isolate each individual muscle that you are trying to work. Can you contract your left lat, your right quad, your left pec, your right calf, your biceps, etc. If you can’t consciously contract these muscles with no weight at all, then how are you going to do it under tension? Now, don’t get me wrong here, mechanical tension, i.e. the amount of weight being used, is one of the means for inducing muscle growth, but you will be missing out on all of those “gains” if you don’t start with a good base of connection and if you aren’t controlling the weight.
One thing I mentioned earlier was quality contractions. One way you can build up a quality contraction is by not alternating your exercises that you are doing for a particular muscle group every day, or every week. If you are constantly changing up your exercises or movements for a particular muscle group, then you will likely never build a great connection with that muscle because you are constantly having to get used to this new movement and how it feels to your body. My coach David Allen has told me before that he calls this “milking” a movement. You basically do one or two exercises for a particular muscle group until you feel like you can’t get anything else out of it. This could be anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks depending on your level of experience in lifting. After all, we do want to harvest “all of the gains!” Now, if you are older or tend to have pretty achy joints, you may want a little more variety in your movements. Give it a try and see if you build a better connection with a group that you may be having trouble with.
Another tip I would offer is not to go too hard too fast, especially if you are going to be doing the same movements for about 3 to 4 weeks. I have been guilty of this myself time and time again, as well as some of the other points I have made. If you push yourself to your absolute max on your first week of training these exercises how are you going to give yourself room to progress over the next couple of weeks? Sometimes this can be a difficult thing to do because most people feel that if they aren’t pushing to their absolute max, they are not making any progress, and that is just not the case here. I recall a line from the book Built to the Hilt by Josh Bryant I recently read that said the goal is “to stimulate, not annihilate.” One of the goals of building muscle is to do just the right amount of work to stimulate a muscle to grow. Create a stimulus and an adaptation will take place. Hopefully that adaptation will be bigger stronger muscles. The amount of stimulus will vary from person to person. One person’s stimulus might be another person’s annihilation. This will all depend on your level of experience in weight training. So remember, give yourself space to grow.
There is one last tip that I would like to cover and that is time under tension. You may have heard about this concept a time or two and wondered what it was. The name basically says it all. It is the amount of time that your muscles are under tension from the weight that you are using to train them with. I have been thinking about this a little over the past week and I recently had a conversation with a client about it. Let me give you this example. Let’s say we have two guys, one of them is a pretty big, muscular guy, and the other one is skinny with very little muscle mass. They are both doing curls using the same weight, doing the same set/rep scheme. The smaller guy goes to curl the weight and he uses just about every muscle in his body except his biceps to curl the weight, moving it from point a to point b. It takes him roughly 25 seconds to finish the set. He lets the weight control him, instead of him controlling the weight. Now, the bigger guy moves the weight in a very controlled manner, a very controlled eccentric with a great contraction at the top of the movement. He is definitely using strict form and his biceps are the prime movers of the weight. It takes him 45 seconds to complete the set. Now, what’s the main difference that you notice between both of their sets? It took the smaller guy 12 seconds and the bigger guy about 25 seconds. That’s 20 more seconds of time under tension for the bigger, more muscular guy. Over 4 sets that is 48 seconds. Over 4 weeks that turns into minutes, over a years time that turns into much longer. It’s no wonder the bigger guy is larger and more muscular, his muscles are under tension far longer then the smaller guy. Start trying to form better habits now for keeping things controlled and under tension longer and in a years time you’d probably be surprised at the amount of muscle you can put on, as well as the good connection you can build with them.
I hope some of these tips will help you in your journey to “harvest more gains.” The main thing to remember is that you aren’t just moving weight from point a to point b, you have to really focus on the feel. If you can take these principles and apply them to your training, then it should have a great carryover to your powerlifting style training. You will have bigger stronger muscles that are capable of a greater contraction and you will be able to move more weight when the time comes to just moving the it from point a to b. Plus, you’ll have big biceps, and who doesn’t want those?