In one of my recent articles I talked about how to ‘flip the growth switch’ for new muscle gains.
Imagine applying pressure to a light switch with your finger. Up to a certain amount of pressure the switch won’t flip. However, once a very precise amount of pressure is applied, the switch flips and triggers the electrical current that illuminates the bulb.
As far as igniting muscular hypertrophy, this exact amount of pressure is what is termed ‘Overload’.
An definition used in the fitness world is…
“Overload simply means that the stress must be above the normal, or habitual, level in order to get a subsequent change. [In terms of weight lifting]…the weight must be above a certain threshold or the adaptation will not occur.”
Crossing that threshold is ‘Overloading’ a muscle. Overload is therefore necessary for producing growth.
How To Overload A Muscle
There are different ways to overload a muscle depending on the goal of the trainee. Some are therefore not applicable or optimal when GROWTH is your goal. They are:
- Increasing Intensity
- Changing Duration
- Changing Type/Mode Of Exercise
- Changing Frequency Of Exercise
I contend that overloading a muscle when optimizing for growth is a matter of increasing reps and/or load over time i.e. increasing the INTENSITY.
Changing the frequency is also important and this feeds into my thinking on what I’ve coined as the ‘Peak Overcompensation Point‘ or P.O.P. for short <- click on the link and read that article if you haven’t already done so.
By virtue of the fact that larger muscles have more of a ‘metabolic appetite’ than smaller ones, you need longer to recover and grow as you get bigger. Advanced, natural trainees will see their P.O.P. take longer to occur as time goes by. This means that in order to make continual gains you need a longer lay-off period between workouts.
Of course we see the very OPPOSITE in the real world. Guys that have been training for a few years head to the gym more and more often to “force out new gains”. Some even go twice a day thinking that’s what’s necessary because of their advanced status. Not so. Recovery takes LONGER for larger muscles, not shorter, so the thinking is flawed. Flip that growth switch then rest and allow the adaptation to occur.
The following sentence may be the most important one you ever read in terms of gaining an intelligent, scientific understanding of the nature of increasing your muscle mass. Read it and memorize it if you can!
“Sufficient rest or recovery between stresses, or training sessions, must be allowed for adaptation to occur. Adaptation will only occur during the inter-training recovery periods.”
I found it while flicking through a text book during research for Total Anabolism 3.0, coming your way soon (free of charge of course).
So adaptation will ONLY occur during inter-training recovery periods. If you bring the stimulus back to the muscle before it has had adequate time to create the adaptation, you short-circuit any gain you were about to have, NEVER forget that.
If larger muscles take longer to recover, the inter-training periods must become longer to ensure that the muscles continue to grow. Overtraining is therefore one of the main reasons why intermediate and advanced trainees make little or no progress.
How Building Muscle Is Like Digging A Hole
The late Mike Mentzer had a great analogy for this…
He would say that working out was like digging a hole as far as making an inroad into your recovery ability is concerned. Larger muscles make a deeper hole. In order to grow you must fill the hole back in (recover) and then add a little mound on top (overcompensate).
In my own terms I would say that this bi-phasic process must be FULLY completed, i.e. you’ve reached your P.O.P., before you train again.
Man I just realized I spent WAY too long explaining manipulating training frequency. Let’s get back on topic. So far I’ve said that altering intensity and frequency ARE important in terms of OVERLOADING a muscle for a hypertrophic adaptation.
The other 2 points are ‘duration’ and ‘mode’. Stimulating growth takes a certain amount of time. Trying to decrease it will not speed up results. Increasing it implies more and more work which makes that hole we just talked about so much deeper. Remember that it’s the ever-increasing intensity that counts as far as generating growth is concerned, not ever-increasing volume or DURATION. So the duration of the workout will remain fairly constant while, over time, we seek ways to increase the intensity.
Altering mode or type is not relevant here either. As long as the specificity of the adaptation does not move away from the training goal, the mode should remain the same.
Simply put, if your goal is to increase the size of your muscle mass, and this goal DOESN’T change, there’s no need to start doing your chest flies on a stability ball as a form of ‘periodizing’ or ‘progressing’ your workouts. Actually, if the trainer at your local gym ever recommends something like this to you, remind him that your goal is the same as it always was. If he persists, slap him upside the head and tell him I sent ya!!
Like I said in a previous article:
A certain type of stimulus produces a certain type of adaptation.
If the type of adaptation desired remains the same, the type (sometimes called mode) of training remains the same. It’s the most obvious thing in the world but some trainers act like it doesn’t count. Unfortunately a qualification isn’t always a good marker for intelligence 😉 .