Building lean muscle: 6 simple ways to make your workouts more effective
1. Improve your execution
Execution in an exercise program is often overlooked. In exercise, we define execution as the way we perform a movement or particular exercise and the stress that muscle is receiving. Some will say execution is not important when building muscle or seeing gains in the gym. Primarily because we tend to think adding more load (weight) or increasing the sets/reps will provide us with the biggest gains over time, but eventually, those gains you are seeing will start to plateau. In addition, poor execution can mean a higher risk of injury.
Learning proper execution gives you the power to put tension on the target muscle you’re trying to train and guarantee long-term progress with the right programming.
If you are unsure your exercise execution is correct here are a few simple tips. First, think to yourself what muscle group am I training and am I really feeling the work in that given muscle. If your answer is “no” then your execution is the first place you want to visit. Second, if you have a trainer or coach, have them look at your execution and analyse it for you. A good trainer will be able to identify what you are doing wrong and give you cues and tips to really feel the working muscle.
If you are one of my clients you would already know that I provide explanatory video clips to each of the exercises in your program and also you have access to the exercise library in my training app. We have hundreds of exercise videos to help you improve your execution and I always recommend watching the videos carefully before your sessions to ensure good execution.
2. Review your tempo
For those that don’t know, tempo is how fast you lift and lower your reps.
It’s not just the amount of weight you move and the number of reps that’s important for every set in order to build muscle. What’s crucially important for muscle growth is time under tension (TUT), but just how much attention does this muscle-building factor really need. I’m not saying this is the only way you should lift, there are a various effective rep and tempo protocols for hypertrophy, but the standard I always recommend (unless you’re instructed to follow a different one) is the “2020”, meaning 2 seconds to lower the weight (eccentric contraction), 0 seconds at the starting position (stretch position), 2 seconds raising the weight (concentric contraction) and 0 seconds at top position contraction position:
4 Point Tempo
3. Push yourself. The 6 to 12 Principle
The suggested range of repetitions for each set of exercises to gain lean muscle mass is 6 to 12 reps each set. How do you know how much to lift?
If you can do 10 to 12 reps with not much effort means it is too light, increase the weight/resistance. If you can’t do 6 reps, it is too heavy, decrease the weight/resistance. This is what we call the 6-12 principle. Ideally, you should be making a considerable effort by rep number 6 and complete hardly rep number 10 or 12 as maximum. You might notice that your body can cope better in some days, depending on your sleeping patterns, diet, the workload during the day, etc and that is totally normal, just follow the 6-12 principle and push yourself accordingly.
4. Don’t stop breathing
Breathe In on the way down, and out on the pushing phase. The general prescription for breathing during exercise is inhalation during the eccentric portion of said exercise, and exhalation during the concentric phase. To give an example using the barbell bench press, inhale before lowering the bar to the chest, and exhale when you are pushing the weight away from you.
5. Rest 30 to 60 seconds between sets
The rest interval is the time spent resting between sets that allow the muscle to recover. The suggested rest interval to gain lean muscle mass is 30 to 60 seconds.
Shorter rest periods make muscles bigger due to the amount of anabolic hormones your body produces after weight training. Short rest periods cause a greater release of these hormones than longer rest periods. Short rest periods also cause other muscle-building bonuses like increased lactate production and blood flow to the targeted muscles. Muscle fatigue, caused by lactate production, has also been implicated in short-term strength gains and significant hypertrophy.
In addition, volume (sets x reps) and volume load (sets x reps x weight) are completely disassociated from the amount of hypertrophy, but volume (number of sets to failure) is strongly linked to the amount of hypertrophy that happens after a long-term strength training program. This is because the only reps that produce hypertrophy during conventional strength training are those that involve a high level of motor unit recruitment at the same time as a slow muscle fibre shortening velocity, and these are probably the final five reps of any set performed to failure when lifting any moderate or light weight.
6. Adjust and progress your workout difficulty. Using RPE
In sports, the rating of perceived exertion (RPE), is used as a quantitative measure of perceived exertion during physical activity, where 1 is very easy and 10 is very hard. Your sessions should be challenging enough to make a change, but not too hard in order to allow your body to recover fast, make it sustainable, to enable good technique, and avoid injury. The ideal RPE for your workout should be 8. If you consider your workouts a 7 or less you should find ways how to make it more challenging if your workouts is a 9 or 10 you should take actions to lower the intensity.
If you are one of my clients, you would know that every time you finish each workout, you are asked to rate it based on RPE. This is an important tool for me as a coach to understand your capacity, adjust, and progress your sessions accordingly.
Now that you know how to be more conscious about your workouts, get yourself started practicing this 6 steps and start seeing the results that you always wanted.
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