The three most important factors that need to be considered in order to grow any kind of muscle, regardless of the reps, sets, intensity or volume parameters. They are:
- Mechanical tension
- Metabolic stress
- Muscle damage
If your goal is to ‘tone’ or ‘shape’ your muscles, you will need to grow them.
Im simple terms, mechanical tension or muscle tension refers to the muscle contractions you generate when performing an exercise. The two types of tension we generate during exercise include passive tension (the tension our muscles automatically create to perform any movement) and active tension (when we consciously focus on squeezing the muscle further to increase tension). These two types of tension are hugely important to begin the muscle building process.
In conjunction with mechanical tension, we also need to induce metabolic stress. This refers to the burning sensation you often feel in your target muscle(s). This point poses a high risk of stoppages and giving up. At this point, it is crucial that you keep moving until you reach your target rep, and work through the burning sensation. This process is vital to muscle growth due to the increased blood flow and surge of hormones that work to repair and grow your muscle fibres. The burning feeling should feel like just that. If any pain comes from a joint, is sharp or acute, then stop and consult an allied health professional. Be aware of the different types of pain.
Finally, muscular damage is the result of tension and stress. The delayed soreness we feel the next day or two days after will indicate whether your session was enough to promote growth. Bret Contreras, also known as ‘the Glute Guy’ says you must ‘stimulate, not annihilate’ your muscles. So, if you find that you become completely immobile after your session, then you have most likely overdone it. Tenderness and slight soreness is ideal to ensure that you have met the three criteria.
When designing a muscle hypertrophy training program I will consider exercises that address mechanical tension and metabolic stress to induce some muscle damage.
For example, a sample recipe to build muscle. Glute session.
- Begin a glute session with two or three compound, multi joint exercises that will generate tension. My favourite glute growing exercise is the Deadlift. I will usually load that up heavy and work to the 6-8 rep range with 4-5 sets.
- One compound exercise is usually not enough to induce the appropriate amount of tension, so I will then add an exercise, such as the Leg Press to further tension in the glutes, but pull focus to the quads for 8-10 reps at 3-4 sets.
- My third exercise will not only further increase tension in the glutes but will stimulate the muscle at a shorter range of movement, usually an exercise like a Barbell Glute Bridge or Hip Thrust for 8-10 reps at 3-4 sets. My fourth exercise will then focus on contracting the glutes through a longer range of movement, such as a Walking Lunge. By now, my glutes are getting tired, so the reps will increase up to 12 or 15 and the weight will decrease.
Any exercise I choose to add after this will only be there as a finisher or to address postural abnormalities or weaknesses.
Addressing these three components in your training program, coupled with appropriate nutrition will ensure your muscles grow and shape to your desire.
Hopefully this helps!
As featured in Women’s Health & Fitness Magazine.