You’re just about to train and you’re excited because you know the workout will push you hard. However, you end up smashing through it in your fastest time ever, without breaking a drop of sweat. You wake up the next day pain-free and feel as if you haven’t worked out at all. You’re happy you’re getting fitter but at the same time you know you are no longer being challenged. To solve the problem, you consider changing your workout routine to something more advanced, but you hesitate because you only started this one two weeks ago. Sound familiar?
Over time, our muscles adapt to any new exercise routine and for some it happens faster than others. When we exercise, the muscle fibers become damaged from micro-tears. As part of the repair process the fibers become bigger and stronger – known as muscular hypertrophy - so that they are better prepared to battle the stimuli that caused the damage. If we want to keep progressing, the body needs to be shocked and overloaded at regular intervals which is why we change our workouts and make them harder.
But, before you next change your workout, take it back to basics and ensure that you have been executing your workouts in the most efficient way possible and maximizing them to their full potential. As a bodybuilder, there are 3 main elements that I use to maximize my workouts for hypertrophy of specific muscles:
#1 Mind to Muscle Connection
Staying focused during a workout isn’t always at the forefront everyone’s minds – sometimes we just go through the motions and get it done, right?
When we train, we can use certain exercises to target one specific muscle. This muscle is known as the ‘primary mover’ or ‘target muscle’. Secondary movers are muscles that also engage during an exercise to assist the primary mover.
If we divert our focus during a workout to the target muscle specifically – known as mind to muscle connection - the more muscle fibers we will recruit to that area. Mind to Muscle Connection increases the workload of the target muscle by shifting more force in that direction. Force makes the muscle contract and they grow as a result of maximizing that force – they do not grow as a result of simply moving up and down.
Without awareness of Mind to Muscle connection, secondary movers usually end up sharing more of the workload than they should during certain exercises, meaning the primary mover is not receiving its maximum benefit, meaning less hypertrophy for that muscle. Goal: Focus your mind on the target muscle, not the exercise movement itself
#2 Time under Tension
One way to improve Mind to Muscle Connection is a technique called ‘Time Under Tension’. When you perform an exercise slowly, it increases the amount of tension on both the concentric and eccentric part of the movement, allowing you more time to think about the target muscle. Time under tension also makes your muscles work harder against a force for a longer period of time, increasing the amount of micro-tears and maximising your gains.
How slow should I go? I personally like to use the ‘3,2,2’ technique. Count to 3 seconds on the way down then pause at the bottom for 2 seconds. The point at which you pause is known as the point of maximum contraction – when you are here, squeeze and hold the target muscle to increase blood flow to this area. The final stage is a 2 second drive up to the start of the movement. Performing exercises this way makes 10 reps feel like 20.
Goal: Perform exercises slowly to increase tension on your muscles
#3 Intra Workout Stretching
Stretching is another way to increase blood flow to a specific area. Most people know to stretch before and after a workout to ensure they warm up and cool down correctly. However, intra-workout stretching is something that I implement into my training routine to improve mind to muscle connection.
Implementing intra-workout stretching to the target muscle of an exercise, forces additional blood into the muscle and increases the ‘pumped’ feeling you get when you train. This pump can make you more aware of the muscle due to more sensitivity around the movements they are making. This increase in awareness then gives you a better chance at isolating the muscle during the exercise.
Although DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – is a good sign after a workout, intra-workout stretching can also help to reduce the intensity of these aches and allow you to walk a little less like a duck after leg day.
Goal: Utilise stretching to increase awareness of target muscle
These techniques are not just for the bodybuilding world – they can be utilized by everyone to take their workouts to the next level without having to change any other variables. The longer you go without focusing on mind to muscle connection, the harder it will be to master it when you finally get sick of your training plan plateauing too quickly.
You can train as hard as you want, but if your muscles are not working effectively, you are losing valuable time when it comes to hypertrophy.
Reach your full potential and train smarter, not harder. Download the Freeletics app now and try it for yourself.