There are a few things that need to happen in order to produce muscle growth. You need to use significant load when lifting weights Enough time under tension to create structural damage to the muscle tissue Enough stimuli to up-regulate anabolic hormones and increase protein synthesis Proper recovery and workout nutrition Many people often think that if they lift as heavy as possible, or use as much volume (sets and reps) as possible they will […]
The longer that I am in the lifting game, the more I look to be more efficient with my workouts. In a perfect world, I would write programs for my clients and myself that would include the following:
- Soft tissue works with various foam rollers and massage balls
- Corrective exercises to improve any dysfunctions
- Mobility work
- Groundwork (rolling, crawling, Get-ups, etc.)
- Nervous system development/power work (med ball throws and plyos)
- Strength training
- Conditioning/cardiovascular work
As you can imagine, this would equate to a very long workout. While all of these have a place in a workout, time is of the essence for many lifters. I have seen time and time again that people will set themselves up for failure by programming too long of workouts that they simply can’t commit to. From jobs to family and everything else in between, stuff just seems to get in the way.
Another huge factor needs to be addressed when starting a program; what is the goal? Focusing on too many things at once is just not possible for the majority of the population. If you try to focus on conditioning, strength, muscle growth, and more, something has got to give. Your body cannot adapt to so many different stresses at once unless you are a freak of nature. If you are one, more power to you. I just don’t see it that often.
If your goal is muscle growth then that is what you should focus on. That doesn’t mean you have to totally neglect mobility, conditioning, and strength. You just need to make building muscle the primary focus. In the Fast Muscle series muscle growth will be the only goal. Workouts will also be brief and intense and performed often. Up to 3-6 times a week, depending on the individual. Quick and intense workouts to build muscle will be what this program is all about.
How To Build More Muscle
There are a few things that need to happen in order to produce muscle growth.
- You need to use significant load when lifting weights
- Enough time under tension to create structural damage to the muscle tissue
- Enough stimuli to up-regulate anabolic hormones and increase protein synthesis
- Proper recovery and workout nutrition
Many people often think that if they lift as heavy as possible, or use as much volume (sets and reps) as possible they will trigger muscle growth. Lifting more weight and doing it too much can often lead to overtraining; beat-up joints and poor results in the muscle development category.
I have found that there is a sweet spot for a time under tension for each muscle group, load, and volume in order to produce muscle growth. In general, spending about 30-45 minutes working 2-3 larger muscle groups (chest, shoulders, and triceps for example), with 65-85% of your estimated 1-rep max, in a circuit fashion, will produce the best results for muscle growth.
Here is a breakdown of how this all works.
Load, Sets, Reps, Frequency, and Rest Period
There is no doubt that you have to lift heavy weights in order to get stronger and build muscle. You can’t lift tiny weights and expect to get huge. But there is a fine line. If you lift too heavy you will not be able to create enough time under tension in order to produce muscle growth. A review of the literature on hypertrophy reveals that the most important factor in training is mechanical tension.
Dr. Keith Baar also found that the key regulator of muscle protein synthesis is something called the mTOR pathway. The more mTOR stimulated, the protein synthesis occurs, and there’s a direct relationship between mTOR and mechanical damage. The more tension the muscle is put under, the greater the mTOR stimulation. Since mTOR starts to be inhibited after about 60 seconds.
So if you do some quick math on how long a set takes (1 second up, 1-second hold, 2-3 seconds down), you need to shoot for about 5-12 reps using 65%-85% of your 1-rep max to create enough time under tension (TUT) to produce the best environment for muscle growth.
Sets and reps will also be key here. You cannot blast your back or legs with endless amounts of sets. You simply will not recover from one workout to the next. Since training a muscle group more frequently increases your ability to build muscle, we need to recover properly before the next workout. Larger muscle groups do need to be hit at different angles, so we will pick 2-3 exercises per body part for 3-5 sets each.
Even though we are performing these in a circuit fashion does not mean you should blitz through the workout and not take time between sets. We know that testosterone drops significantly in workouts lasting more than one hour, which is obviously not good for muscle growth. It seems that mTOR acts the same way.
It was also discovered that workouts using a great deal of ATP also lower mTOR, which means we want to use as little energy as possible during maximal tension workouts if the goal is hypertrophy. So we need to recover properly between sets and avoid too much metabolically demanding activity during the workout, otherwise, mTOR will start to shut down, limiting the hypertrophic effect of the workout. Brief workouts with longer rest periods are what we need to do.
Our goal is not to burn muscle, or increase conditioning. We can accomplish that by including some finishers at the end of a workout, or some cardio on an off day. Here we are focusing on muscle growth. Just look at the old-school bodybuilders and how much they rested between sets. They were not doing metcon workouts like CrossFitters. Their goal was to build muscle, not win a race. Their abs were built in the kitchen.
The sweet spot for rest between sets seems to be 90 seconds to 2-minutes. We also further the rest period between certain exercises by performing them in a circuit fashion. For example, if you are doing bench press, push-ups, and dips for the chest, it can be almost 7-10 minutes before you get back to bench press. This allows the nervous system to rest mechanically for a particular exercise.
The other benefit of performing split body part workouts as a circuit is that you create enough full-body stimuli to up-regulate anabolic hormones and increase protein synthesis. Just wait until you get to leg day and you will see how much every inch of your body is screaming even though it is just leg day!
The research is clear that we need a high concentration of amino acids in the bloodstream in order to recover and produce muscle growth. Making sure you have enough amino acids before, during, and after a workout will optimize your hypertrophy potential.
Consume 30-60 grams of whey protein 30-60 minutes before a workout, drink 10-15 grams of Essential Amino Acids during your workout, and another 30-60 grams of whey protein after your workout to ensure you have a high concentration of amino acids in your blood to support recovery and muscle growth.
Cheat Sheet To Muscle Growth
Use this cheat sheet below to help you increase mTOR, anabolic hormones, and protein synthesis for muscle growth:
- Use a weight that is about 65-85% of your 1-rep max, deepening on the number of reps
- Stay in the 5-12 rep range
- Use a 1 second up, 2-second hold, 3 seconds down (1/2/3) rep tempo and don’t cheat the eccentric portion of the rep
- Shoot for about 60 seconds, but no more maximum tension on your muscles
- Decrease the metabolic demands of your hypertrophy workouts by fully recovering between sets
- Train each muscle group two to four times per week, depending on how much volume you perform (total reps), and lifting experience
- Consume enough amino acids around your workout to optimize mTOR, protein synthesis, anabolic hormones, and muscle growth
Below are two example workouts for each muscle group that I have used in the past and experienced exceptional benefits. It is up to you as to how you want to split them up but I suggest the following:
Workout 1: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Biceps
Workout 2: Legs, Back, Loaded Carry
Do not work out more than 3-days in a row without a rest day. You can perform each workout day up to 2-4 times per week for advanced lifters. I suggest only doing this for 4-6 weeks. If you are going to do full-body (beginner and intermediate lifters), you should cut the volume of reps in half. For advanced lifters, alternate workout 1 and Workout 2. For those with limited time, hitting each muscle group once per week can also produce great gains. Reps and sets should stay the same but frequency and of course load will need to be adjusted to your individual needs.