Do you even lift?
Of course you do. Not only do us guys love to see the product of our hard work, the ripples and bumps of muscle definition peeking out from under the sleeves of our T-shirts, lifting feels good. Pushing and pulling that weight and feeling the pump in your arms is a great feeling. Not to mention the positive endorphins that are released which have an opiate like effect on our brains. That’s right, lifting heavy weight (properly) provides a natural high that lasts long after the workout itself. If you have never heard Arnie describe the feeling of “the pump” treat yourself to the 2 minute youtube clip when you’ve finished this article!
For any guy who is regularly getting to the gym, there’s a reason why you are putting in all that grunt work. Usually, a desired increase in muscle size and/or strength is high on the list. Whether sport related or just a matter of keeping yourself in shape, when you are going to the gym with any sort of routine, it’s likely you want to see progress over time and that means muscle growth.
A lot of guys will experience a plateau in their lifting, a point where they are not seeing any progress in their body shape or on the scales, nor are they increasing their weights or reps. There can be many reasons for a plateau, often they are caused by being stuck in the same routine, doing the same exercises and sticking with what you are comfortable with in the gym.
A great program that is periodised and targets a specific goal is the best way to avoid a plateau. However, even the best program will not save you if you are making the following three common errors. Everyday these three mistakes are robbing guys of pure muscle at gyms all around the globe.
Lifting too Heavy
We’re all guilty of this one guys. We use weight to measure progress in the gym and we are quick to jump to the next set of dumbbells or throw the extra 5kg plates on the bench press. We see others lifting more than us and we want to measure up. The weight we lift becomes another symbol of status in your workout community.
When someone reels off their max bench or deadlift, politely take it with a grain of salt until you’ve seen them control the weight. I don’t mean for you to be sceptical or critical towards your fellow lifters, but the number one mistake I see all the time in the gym is guys trying to bicep curl 22kgs using every muscle in their body along with their biceps. Traps, delts, quads (yep that’s right) and of course the grand master when it comes to lifting incorrectly – the lower back.
Bicep curls provide an easy example, but it’s not just the curls that are the culprit, you will see it time and time again with all sorts of exercises.
Key point – Your body doesn’t know the number on the dumbbell, it just responds to the stimulus. What is it that you are trying to get from each exercise you do? If you are doing a curl to increase the size of your bicep rather than get a full body pump, the you need to target the bicep which means controlling the weight with that particular muscle. It’s really that simple.
Sticking to Numbers
Hitting your target number of reps may actually be hindering you. It’s so easy to do which is why it’s the next big trap robbing you of your muscle gains. When you know your target is 8 reps you can push through to that number. You can squeeze out one more when you get to 7. But when you stop at 8 reps, are you certain you couldn’t have lifted number 9?
My position on this is that numbers are ok for your first set or your warm up sets, but when it comes to your working sets, you’ve got to attempt the next rep. Always attempt the next rep. Know whether you can complete it or not. Obviously you must maintain your form so you lift until the weight gets stuck without compromising on your form. When it’s not moving any further without the help of a spotter and when you don’t have a spotter, you release. An experienced lifter will know the exercises that they can fail on safely without a spotter. If you’re not sure, ask a trainer or if you are starting out for the first time and hitting the gym by yourself, start on machines where there is no risk of dropping weights on your toes. While I’m not necessarily advocating for machine weights, I’m definitely advocating for safety first and foremost.
Key point – You’ve got to fail or come close to failure if you want progress and failing is mentally challenging.
Bouncing Through Reps
Bouncing through reps can be a symptom of the two mistakes above and all three often go hand in hand. What do I mean by bouncing through reps?
When you get to the end of the eccentric phase of the movement, that is, where your muscle is under tension while being in a stretched position and you rebound to quickly change direction of the movement. A bench press provides a good example, the eccentric phase is when you are lowering the weight to your chest and the end of the eccentric phase is when there is as much stretch in the muscle as possible and the bar is pretty much touching your chest. At this point you are about to move to the concentric phase of the movement when the muscle will shorten under the load.
Your muscles work in conjunction with your tendons and both have in built recoil mechanisms which basically prevent over stretching and injury. Within the muscle there are special fibres which contract to prevent the muscle from over stretching and in the tendon there is a group of receptors which cause a reflex to protect joints and prevent the possibility of joint displacement.
So bouncing occurs when you go from the eccentric phase to the concentric phase very quickly using the stored energy in these stretch receptors to contract your muscle.
While this is very effective training technique for improving performance in plyometric movements which are explosive and powerful movements such as jumping, it is not the best way to increase muscle size.
The One Common Factor
Now that you know my opinion on the three most common mistakes guys make when wanting to build muscle in the gym, what is the one thing that they all have in common?
They are all a symptom of not owning the weight you are lifting.
When you own the weight throughout the entire movement, you allow the muscle you are wanting to build to do the lifting. You undertake each exercise for a reason, you’re deliberate in your tempo of the movement and you focus on what’s happening all over your body to cause the weight to move. Constantly self correcting during your workout.
When you own the weight you build more muscle faster.
There are many tips to ensure you are getting the most from you workouts and there are obviously so many variables that can come into play to recruit the muslce firer types that you are targeting such as lifting speed, repetition tempo, range of movement and your bodies position in relation to the load.
Thanks for reading! At I GRASP Wellness, exercise programming is just one of the tools that we use to help people achieve specific results in relation to their health and wellness. If you want to build more muscle, connect with I GRASP today.