OK, I know what you’re thinking. You clicked on this blog HOPING like hell you’d find something different than the age old heavy weight for 3-5 reps for building strength, moderate weight for 10-12 reps to build muscle size, and light weights for 15-20+ reps to build muscle endurance recommendations…and guess what…you have! You see, when I’m asked what the most important variable is when it comes to building muscle, I NEVER start with rep counts. I don’t even start with the all important necessity of time under tension. And I definitely don’t start with the misleading measurement of how much weight you should be lifting. Instead, the focus must start before anything else with the concept of basic muscle contraction!
Addition by Contraction – Key to Building Muscle
All too often I see guys working out and it’s clear that the focus of their sets is on moving a weight from point A to point B a certain number of times. If their attention is on building muscle they’ll do this, as they have often seen recommended (and yes…as I have as well), 10-12 times per set. If the set is particularly tough they may even use just a little body momentum and muscle substitution to get the job done. Problem is? What’s the job?? Accomplishing 10-12 reps or ACTUALLY building that muscle? You might be thinking, “Well aren’t the two working together hand in hand”? Actually no…and this is where most are getting it wrong.
Let me explain. When you want to build muscle your main and priority focus should be on moving the weight by actually contracting the muscle you want to get larger NOT hitting some arbitrary number of reps! Sounds elementary right? But it’s not as easy as it sounds, and it’s certainly not a given that we’re going to get it right if we’re not 100% focused on doing it.
The reason being is that again, most of the time in an effort to perform something that is objective and measurable in our workouts we rely on counting reps and setting goal numbers of reps in each set. Hit that rep total in a set and you’ve “accomplished” your goal. Fall short and you may decide to decrease the weight a bit (the better alternative) or cheat your form even more (the worse alternative). Either way, the thinking is wrong…and it prevents you from building as much muscle as you can as quickly as possible.
How Much Ya Bench?
You see, if you want to add pounds of lean muscle you need a slight shift in mindset…and it starts with checking the ego at the door of the gym. Leave the chest thumping and bravado for the guy that grunts like Porky Pig with a sinus infection on every rep just to draw attention to the 400lbs he’s cheating up on every rep (exhibit A: the guy in the picture above)!
Instead what I want you to do is make sure that no matter what exercise you’re doing or what primary muscle group you’re training that you move EVERY REP of EVERY EXERCISE by C-O-N-T-R-A-C-T-I-N-G the muscle responsible for the movement or exercise. So, if you’re doing lat pulldowns or pullups then let the lats do their job! Pull down with the elbows, use a false grip so you eliminate the contribution of the forearms and try NOT to use your arms and you’ll consciously see how much more effectively you can engage the lats.
The exercise may feel like a completely different exercise done this way, and you might even find that you can’t do nearly as many reps as you’re used to or lift as much weight. And guess what? It’s perfectly fine, because when you actually contract the muscle group that’s supposed to be the primary contributor to a movement you get much much more of a training effect out of it.
Swinging the weights using momentum, writhing your body like a snake to do a Cross Fit style pullup (oh shoot…did I say that!) and forgetting for even a single rep to contract the muscle you’re supposed to be training is really one less opportunity out of the 10-12 you had in that set to get it right. Do that more often than not and the potential effectiveness of your workout (and ultimately the potential gains you would make from that workout) will be significantly diminished. And that’s the point.
Getting It Right…
If you’re going to be in the gym, busting your ass and giving it all you’ve got then you might as well be getting it right. Ever hear the old sports saying, “practice doesn’t make perfect….perfect practice makes perfect!”? That’s what I’m talking about here. And that’s the thing. When you make slight changes like this and the many others recommended in the ATHLEAN-X Training System’s 90 Day Workout plan you can start to appreciate why 30-40 minutes of training is MORE than enough to spark all new muscle growth. It comes down to efficiency.
Train hard or train long? Make the choice since you can’t do both. If you’re ready to train hard and you haven’t already joined the rest of the guys and pro athletes on “TEAM ATHLEAN” then what are you waiting for? Get into your new “athlean” body in the next 90 days by GRABBING YOUR ATHLEAN-X TRAINING SYSTEM HERE!
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.