People get jacked and strong through a variety of means. Powerlifters spend the majority of their training time under heavy loads and call anything over 3 reps cardio. Genetically gifted program hoppers swear by “muscle confusion.” Bodybuilders live for “the pump.”
The fact of the matter is, they’re all right. In 2010, Brad Schoenfeld published a paper that essentially found that there are 3 mechanisms that cause muscles to grow:
- Mechanical Tension aka old fashioned, heavy ass lifting.
- Metabolic Stress: using moderate loads and getting a pump
- Muscle Damage: utilizing eccentrics and isometric holds
The crucial thing to understand is that if you focus on just one mechanism, then you’re leaving a lot of potential muscle growth on the table. Since I work in a commercial gym, I recognize that this is a common occurrence. Most people spend most, if not all, of their time doing 3 sets of 10 and then find a thousand variations of that exercise and continue with the same scheme. This would fall in line with why most people don’t make significant progress no matter how consistently they train.
So how do we utilize all 3 to build a body that’s big, strong, and powerful?
First, I think it’s important to understand that everything you do in your training falls on the force velocity curve. This graphic explains the relationship between the amount of weight lifted, and the speed at which the weight moves.
Obviously, if you’re squatting a weight that’s close to your 1 rep max, then the bar is going to move pretty slowly as you grind it out-that’s the far left side of the graph. On the flip side, if you launch an 8 pound medicine ball as hard as you can, it’s going to travel pretty fast-that’s the right end of the curve. In between, of course, is everything else.
To build a body that’s strong and powerful, you need to make sure you hit all parts of the strength curve. This means you need to hit some heavy stuff, some moderately heavy stuff, and then make sure to get some higher rep work in with lighter loads. By doing so, you’ll cover all of your bases from both a hypertrophy and a strength standpoint.
And don’t forget, a bigger muscle has the potential to be a stronger muscle-they go hand in hand, so both are important qualities to train.
|Training Quality||Hypertrophy Mechanism||Training Method|
|Maximal Strength||Mechanical Tension||Heavy Strength Training in the 1-3 rep range|
|Strength-Speed||Mechanical Tension, Metabolic Stress, Muscle Damage||Moderate to heavy strength training in the 3-12 rep range|
|Power||Mechanical Tension||Olympic Lift Variations|
|Speed-Strength||Mechanical Tension, Metabolic Stress, Muscle Damage||Loaded Jumps, Kettlebell Swings, Dynamic Effort Lifts|
|Speed||Mechanical Tension, Metabolic Stress, Muscle Damage||Bodyweight Jumps and Medicine Ball Throws|
I’m a big fan of beginning sessions with lighter, speed based stuff first, when you’re freshest and can produce the most force. This might be a squat jump or hurdle hops paired with a medicine ball slam or chest pass.
Next, olympic lifting variations and are great if you have the ability to do them. Dumbbell snatches, hang clean pulls, and the like can be utilized to move a moderately heavy weight pretty fast. If you don’t have the mobility or a good bar and bumpers to work with, kettlebell swings are a great choice here as well.
Thirdly, get into your main, heavy-ish lift of the day. This should be some kind of squat, press, row, deadlift, or chin up. Just to double down on that, this is not the time for max effort cable curls. It shouldn’t necessarily be a 1 rep max-remember the higher the load, the more risk involved but also the longer the recovery from the training session. I like building up to a heavy set of 3-5, then hitting a few back off sets of paused reps in the same rep range to maximize the muscular damage component as well as really lock in technique at the hardest part of the movement.
After all that work, you get to the stuff that you see most people doing in the gym-moderately heavy, 8-12 rep type training. Pick a few lifts and shoot for somewhere between 25-50 reps each. Maximize this section of your training by not locking out each rep. You’ll keep constant tension on the muscles and be able to maximize the metabolic damage as the blood forced in will have a harder time escaping through the veins due to the constant muscle contractions. This is how you get the pump that Arnold so eloquently talked about in Pumping Iron.
The last section of your training day is where you can add in some higher rep stuff to continue chasing the pump (aka metabolic stress). Bodyweight exercises like pushup variations and TRX rows work great here, but you can also use lighter barbell and dumbbell lifts for bodyparts that need extra work, like lateral raises or blasting gunz.
Putting all of this together, here’s a sample lower body day:
1A. 2 Leg Hurdle Hops 3×5
1B. Medicine Ball Slam 3×10
2A. Front Squat-build up to a heavy set of 3, then drop the weight to 90% of that set and do a back off set of 3 with a 3 second pause at the bottom of each rep. Rest, drop the weight to 90% of the first back off set, and hit another set of 3 with 3 second pauses.
2B. Hanging Leg Raises 3×8-10
3A. RDL 3×8-10
3B. TRX Face Pulls 3×10-12
4A. Single Leg Squat 2-3×6
4B. Side Plank Rows 3×8-10
Ultimately, everyone wants to be strong and look like they actually train, so take the advice from the powerlifters, the bodybuilders, and the Crossfit crowd, but take the best from each. There are a lot of ways to put these concepts into a program, and I outlined just one way, but you can get creative with it and see what works best for you. Maybe you do some paused pushups towards the end, or weighted pushups after your main lift. The options are endless really. Just do more of what you haven’t been doing, and you’ll see improvement.
Get out of your comfort zone and build your next program with the above concepts in mind. After all, if you’re going to consistently show up to train, you ought to have a plan in place that leaves no stone unturned.