Have you been slogging it out in the gym with little or no results? We are often led to believe that the amount of work and sweat we put in equates to the results we achieve. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. Maximum effort alone with little or no variety in our workout routines can still lead to frustrating training plateaus that can be hard to break out of. Here are four simple tips that can get you out of that rut and build muscle more quickly.
1. Periodise your training
The word 'period-ise' simply means to group your training into distinct periods or phases. Each new phase can be dedicated to a particular training goal such as strength, hypertrophy (muscle-building) or fat-loss. By training in different styles, you not only add variety to your training but also encourage the recruitment and growth of different types of muscle fibers.
Research has shown that up to 70% of the population will adapt to a given training program after going through six to eight repetitions of the same moves. As such, if you finding that your muscle gains are beginning to plateau, perhaps it's time to change phases. This usually equates to keeping your program for an optimal period of 3 to 5 week in order to keep the progress going.
2. Vary tempo
Tempo refers to the speed of the movement when performing a repetition. This is not a new concept and may be quite familiar those who already make an effort to perform the exercise at a well-controlled pace.
When executing a given exercise, we are putting a load on the muscles involved for the time it takes us to finish that set. The tension created in those muscles is known as the 'Time under Tension' or T.U.T for short. By varying the T.U.T, we are able make an exercise easier or more difficult for the muscles. Take for instance the person who completes 10 bicep curls within 30 seconds and the other who finishes the set using the same weight for 60 seconds. Keeping all other factors consistent, the length of time the bicep muscles are exposed to is effectively doubled in the latter example.
With an increased T.U.T, the body is able to recruit more fibers and cause more micro damage within the muscle, hence giving the body more opportunity for growth and recovery. What this means is, if you are not already monitoring the length of your reps and sets, this could be an effective strategy for you to generate better results almost instantly.
3. Aim for a full range of motion
Too often, gym goers place more importance on the weight lifted or the number of repetitions performed, than on actually performing a full range of motion on an exercise with correct technique.
When performing an exercise over a limited range, the muscles targeted are only effective within that given range. Short ranges of motion contribute to imbalances within the muscle and between the joint and the muscle itself, often leading to nerve impingements, muscular tightness and overuse injury; a major deterrent to muscle gain.
By moving through a full range of motion with each repetition, a larger proportion of muscular fibers are being utilized, contributing to better development of overall strength and increased muscular development of that muscle. This effectively gives the muscles worked more bang for their buck, leading to rapid hypertrophy.
Overtraining is in itself a major stress on the physical body
4. Rest up
This is such an important concept that is taken too lightly by so many. How many individuals do you know who are impacted by work or family-related stressors but yet still opt to channel what little energy they have left into long bouts of vigorous training?
While the gym can sometimes be used quite effectively as a source of stress relief, overtraining is in itself a major stress on the physical body. Overtrained individuals often find themselves getting weaker, losing weight, sustaining more injuries and experiencing fluctuations in appetite. Unfortunately when it comes to stress, the body response is simply to increase its release of cortisol (the stress hormone), and on an ongoing basis (i.e, where the stressors are continuous) this leads to the breakdown of muscle and encourages fat storage around the front of the belly.
The key here is to train smart, keeping training times to no longer than 45 minutes after your warm-up, and taking at least a week off after 12 weeks of consistent training.
Resting can sometimes also mean staying away from a particular exercise especially if you have been using it too often. Renowed Strength Coach, Charles Poliquin, suggest that a 'Jachère' style training can be crucial for growth. For example, if you are used to performing a bench press and have been doing it continuously for the last 6 months with every chest workout, try staying off the bench for up to 12 weeks. This does not mean not working out your chest, but substituting your bench for dumbbell chest work. When you return to the bench 3 months later, you'll be pleasantly surprised with your increase in strength.
Remember, training hard is good, but training smart is better! Put these tips into practice to get maximal results in minimal time.
Benjamin Siong will be in Singapore to host a fatloss bootcamp taking place from 26 - 28 February at FiT Singapore. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Benjamin Siong
Benjamin Siong is Australia's leading Body Composition Specialist, and the Founder of Australian Strength Performance, a high performance company focused on athletic performance, sports psychology, physique transformations and optimal nutrition. Ben is also a level 4 Poliquin Strength Coach, ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist and a highly sought after Fitness Presenter. His expertise lies in combining specific training protocols with optimal nutrition and supplementation — all individualised and specifically tailored to help the athlete accelerate their progress and achieve their goals.