11 Feb RNT Back To Basics Series, Part Two: Muscle Building
It’s funny. While science is growing at a rapid pace, it feels like most of the papers released on the topic of muscle building are merely only validating what bodybuilders and strength athletes have been doing for over 20 years. The late Charles Poliquin would often say that if he waited for the research, he’d have wasted at least 5 Olympic cycles.
He’s right. And in part two of this ‘Back to Basics’ series, we’re going to take the complicated topic of muscle building and discuss what you really need to know and stay focused on.
Firstly, the biggest factor and the one thing that will give you the best bang for your buck for building muscle will always be resistance training.
But what about the intricacies of resistance training? Where should you be spending the bulk of your attention?
As coaches, we’ve always found it intriguing to understand the missing link between why regularly training individuals don’t make the progress they should do.
Comparing the average Joe sporting normal genetics with elite bodybuilders can often be a little misleading, and it’s why the classic muscle building ‘bro split’ program from your favourite magazine rarely yields results.
At the same time, using only a scientific approach can leave much to be desired.
Which is why we like to look at the parallels between the two, and to find the lowest common denominator:
The ability to build muscle will always first come down to ensuring that the muscle you want to grow is actually working when you train.
This might sound obvious, but it’s very clear in the research now that all the physiological processes that begin after an effective training session will only do so if the muscle has contracted and gathered tension across all of its fibres.
This is called mechanical tension in the science, but in back to basics fashion, it means ‘making sure the right muscle is the working muscle when training’.
That’s the first step.
The next is to now maximise how much mechanical tension you can generate in a session. The research is clear here, and if you want to recruit all your fibres to stimulate growth, the sets have to be of ‘high effort’ and push towards at least a few reps shy of failure.
Let that sink in…
It doesn’t how much consistency you apply to your training and eating, or how much ‘progressive overload’ you think you’re doing, if you’re not working the muscle and applying the right tension, no muscle growth will happen.
That’s why just reporting an increase in your training log might not always correlate to growth if you’re not actually working the right muscle, and continuing to work it hard at least a few reps shy of failure.
Perfect form on the exercise of choice has to be number one priority. You have to ensure that you’re feeling the muscle as you train. As the set goes on, fatigue should be in the specific muscle and there should be discomfort; which can be classified as burning, feeling it stretch, or just slight discomfort when you’re moving the weight in the target muscle (not in the joint).
If we were to pick one reason why ambitious trainees struggle to build much muscle (outside of not eating enough for a long period of time), it’s that they don’t train hard and effectively.
Training has to be the main focus when you’re muscle building. You have to dial into your body, zone into the target muscle, use perfect form, and train it brutally hard week in and week out.
It’s why if you’re an online client of ours, you should be sending weekly training videos to us for your main lifts, as you could otherwise be missing the boat! You’ve got to set the precedence with perfect form using the right muscles first and foremost. It’s basic, but it’s the core of building muscle.
Volume Over Time
Once you’ve nailed the first step, you’re then allowed to worry about what’s typically the big discussion points when it comes to muscle building.
How many reps?
How many sets?
And so on…
Anywhere between 3 and 15 reps.
That’s right. There’s no specific rep range for muscle building. You can make gains doing 5s, you can make gains doing 10s, and you can make gains doing 15s!
What really matters is that the total volume, or ‘exposure to that muscle’, progresses over time.
Of course, each individual’s background, goals, strength levels, coordination and training experience will be factored into where they fall in that bracket, and for most of you, spending at least 80% of your time in the 6 to 12 bracket will give you the most results.
The nuances won’t make too much difference here. What will produce a remarkable change is making improvements. Good old-fashioned progressive overload!
Let’s recap with a checklist…
You’re feeling the target muscle.
You’re using perfect form.
You’re training hard close to failure.
You’re training in a ‘muscle building rep range’
Now all you need to do is increase the volume and stress the muscles are exposed to over time. That’s it!
This is the explanation behind one of our key RNT principles: progressive overload with perfect form.
Whether it’s weight on the bar, reps, sets, speed of movement, etc., as long as there’s improvement while ticking the above checklist, you’re on track.
By continuing to do so, there will be physiological signalling to develop new muscle and increase the demand for you. If you’re busy and/or training with time constraints, it’ll be unrealistic to discuss any measures outside of improvements in weight and reps, simply because you’ll always be capped on the amount of sets due to time.
To learn more about the basics of muscle building, and more basic answers to complicated questions, check out the video below, where the Hitman discusses:
– What about protein for muscle building?
– Is creatine necessary?
– Are drop sets, forced reps, giant sets, etc. useful?
– How often should I change my program?
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