There are a few different ways you can build lean muscle, three in particular come to mind:
– Heavy Lifting
– Constant Tension
– Volume/Cumulative Fatigue
Each method will help you build muscle, along with strength but they do it through different pathways and depending on your overall goal or bias you might be better suited to one over another. Lets take a look at the differences in how each method works and what style of training is involved in each of them.
Heavy Lifting –
When you undergo a program that is largely focused on lifting heavy sub maximal loads you stimulate muscle grow because of the micro trauma (basically a high force output leads to a large amount of protein degradation in the muscle), neurological stimulation factors (more recruitment and fatigue of high threshold motor units) and hormonal factors (increase in free testosterone).
This becomes even more true when you are logically following a progressive overload where by you are trying to increase the subsequent load over X-amount of weeks. This is because it forces the muscle to adapt and become stronger so that it can continue to recruit the maximal amount of fast twitch fibers and motor units to continue it’s required performance.
An added bonus with this style of training is that it ‘wakes up’ the rest of the body neurologically and allows for more fast twitch recruitment in the following exercises.
Training in this way (heavy lifting) has a great effect on increasing muscle density and myogenic tone (basically the muscle looks ‘harder’ at rest, meaning you look as strong as your likely are), however the danger with this style of training is people will want to chase 1RM’s all the time which can be very draining on their CNS and lead to a drop in performance which is not what we want. Depending on a persons training level they will be best of using the following recommendations for this style of training:
Beginners – Intermediates: 80-85% 1RM using the 6-8 rep range in a ramping fashion
Advanced: 90% 1RM using a 3-5 rep range in a ramping fashion
*Ramping is where you add 5-10% until you reach your maximal weight with good/smooth form, you would then stay there for anywhere from 3-8 sets depending on your % of 1RM used.
Constant Tension –
As the name suggests this style of training is all about keeping the muscle in a contracted state and will certainly generate a massive pump. This style of training utilises drop sets, partial reps, isometric contractions, EQIC and any other methods to keep the muscle filled with blood and tension because the second you ease off the gas and the muscle gets a chance to relax you will lose some of the effectiveness of the set.
The weights used int his style of training are normally on the lighter side of the scale, especially when compared tot he first method described above.
This style of training is very effective because when the muscle is severely deprived of oxygen several things start to happen; unfortunately lactate production increases making it very hard both physically and mentally but if you can keep pushing through the burn you will also have a dramatic increase in hGH and IGF-1 which are two highly anabolic hormones, there is also some evidence to show that as the fatigue increases so does the activation/recruitment of some deeper fast twitch muscle fibers which lead to increases in strength along with size. It’s worth pushing through each set to reap the rewards of this training style.
How long does each set need to be?
40-70 seconds is ideal, this would be a tempo of 4-0-2-0 and will work best with isolation exercises or variations of compound lifts (dumbbell pressing, single arm rowing, leg press etc).
Volume/Cumulative Fatigue –
In the hefty book that is known as Super Training by Siff & Zatsiorsky wrote that muscle fibers not only need to be recruited but also fatigued to stimulate optimal growth. This is why those who only ever train in one style are missing out because invariably there will be some fibers that aren’t stimulated because of the one dimensional training style.
When you start adding volume work in to the mix you can certainly increase the number of muscle fiber being recruited because of the cumulative fatigue effect. Typically the added volume is better for a hypertrophy bias because the loads used will be light to moderate, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried high volume with sub maximal weights but it’s brutal and leaves you destroyed for days.
To achieve maximal benefit from this style of training you will find reps int he range of 8-12 (upper body) and 15-20 (lower body) with short rest periods (30-60 seconds) are quite effective, something like Vince Gironda’s 8×8 falls in to this style of training perfectly and he looked awesome!
If you’re a more advanced lifter then the use of Super Sets, Pre/Post Fatigue, Drop Sets, One and a Half Reps Sets and alike are great methods to help you amass some rather taste volume amounts. The reason this method works so well is that is enables you to fatigue every last fiber and squeeze almost everything you can out of the muscle in one session.
Now you know about three great methods of training the trick part is being able to apply them to a workout. Is it best to do them separately or all together? Personally I would say for the best possible results you would do well to use all three in one session but you would need to understand come principles/rules on how to apply them first.
Take a read of these:
1 – Heavy movements first (larger more CNS demanding)
2 – Intermediate movements or as some call the assistance work (8-12 & 15-20 reps respectively with moderate loads)
3 – Isolation movements (constant tension lasting between 40-70 seconds)
How might that look in a workout?
A1 – Compound Lift – 5×3 – ramping to 90%
B1 – Assistance Lift 1 – 4×12 – (aim for 40-70 sec TUT)
C1 – Assistance Lift 2 – 4×12 – (aim for 40-70 sec TUT)
D1 – Isolation Lift 1 – 8×8 (light/moderate load with 30 seconds rest between sets)
The above will help you not only build a body that looks good but one that is also strong too.