Every gym has at least one strong lifter that is able to deadlift, bench, and squat crazy amounts of weight but his physical gains are not indicative of the big lifts that he’s pulling off. At the same time, that guy may be lifting with someone twice his size next to him that is only lifting half the weight.
This brings into the misconception of strength and muscle gains being directly correlated – sure they naturally follow the same direction, but training for muscle and training for strength are two different things.
If we want to get bigger at the gym, the goal is to tear our muscle fibers and force the body to repair these muscles to make them grow. This means that there will be efforts on explosive reps, controlled negatives, and constant time under tension.
The guys at the gym that are able to pull off the biggest lifts are typically using their momentum to do so. This is essentially building their ego more than their muscles – it’s all about building that strength and these people aren’t going to be very happy with the idea of dropping the weight a lot to target tearing the muscle fibres.
Muscle growth is all about time under tension.
With this one variable alone, we can see better muscle growth results with a 20lb dumbbell than a 40lb dumbbell if we are able to keep the muscles under tension better and longer with the lighter dumbbell.
A good sign of whether or not the weight is too much is whether it is easy to control the negative part of the rep. If it’s not controllable, that may indicate that you are lifting too heavy of a weight. This means that the weight is mainly being moved through momentum.
A good idea is to create a negative rep temp to make sure that the body is in full control of the weight on the negative part of the rep. Just count to one or two on every negative and make sure that you stay consistent with this tempo every single rep.
How Do You Know the Muscles Got a Good Workout?
The easiest way to tell if an exercise is tearing up the muscle fibers as desired, is to keep an eye on the muscle pump that occurs after a set. A good set, where the weight load is appropriate and time under tension is controlled, the muscle should feel like it’s ready to rip out of your skin. It should feel engorged with blood, like it’s going to pop…sometimes it should even hurt a little!
The muscles should especially feel pumped after performing the heavier sets of an exercise. If they aren’t, there is a chance that momentum took over in the movement. A good way to test this out is to perform the exercise with a higher focus on lower weight before moving up to your normal heavy sets during your next workout. If the lighter weight is working better, forget about the ego factor and just lower the weight and progressively work from there to ensure maximal muscle engagement occurs.
The more we bring our muscles into a movement, the more its fibers will get torn. The end result of this is optimal muscle growth.
Contractions Over Weights – Kai Greene’s Viewpoint
It’s important to emphasize on this point. Everyone believes that the bigger the lifts, the bigger the muscles. It’s simply not the truth. Some of the biggest bodybuilders in the world focus on lighter weight to ensure that maximal contraction occurs. Using heavier weights, even with a moderate level of control, can easily prevent the full contraction from taking place – even if it does occur, the time under tension during this contraction is usually much shorter.
Check out Kai Greene curling 30lbs.
It’s interesting to note that he begins the video by commenting on an improperly executed sitting bicep curl, performed by another lifter. He also goes into detail on the fact that heavier weight is not important. The statement “I’ll never be a weightlifter” says it all – his primary concern is not to lift heavier and heavier, it’s to contract his muscles to make them grow and grow.
He goes on to emphasize on getting a stretch and contraction of the bicep during the bicep curl. A full stretch of the bicep to the top of the movement, a contraction (squeeze), and that’s it. He also gets the other lifter to follow his technique, where he makes sure that the elbows stay locked while the lifter sits and stretches the arm up to contract the bicep at the top. The restricted elbow movement ensured that only the bicep muscle was used to lift the weight.
It makes sense. Many of us are lifting too heavy and not using the right form. Locking the elbows in place and targeting the biceps means that just this tiny little muscle is lifting the weight. When you think about it that way, it becomes clearer that we probably don’t need to be lifting the amount of weight that we have always been using.
I think this is something that we should all give a chance. On a scientific level, it is truly the way that bodybuilding works – bodybuilding is the art of building the body, bigger and more defined muscles. It may not be the right choice for a powerlifter or anyone concerned of just increasing their strength, but it is definitely what is needed to maximize muscle growth.
Remember, muscles grow by being damaged and repaired…the more reparation they need, the more growth that’s generated. Using lower weights and focusing on time under tension and intense contractions is the way to go – just give this a chance during one of your workouts and you will FEEL the difference. Make it a regular part of how you do all your workouts and you will SEE the difference.