As hard as some people try, muscle gain seems an impossible task, and whilst it is going to be a slow process, it will happen for all of us as long as our training and nutritional protocols, concord with it; having a more muscular physique is going to be a goal of most people looking to improve the way that they look. Like most other goals in training, there are going to be some pitfalls that you want to avoid to attain best results, muscle building is definitely no different, this series of articles aims to discuss 3 common reasons we see that people do not gain muscle at the rate (or at all) that would be expected; so this is the first of our three part series on why you may not be progressing in your goal of maximum muscular gains.
Training for too many things at once...
The above is something we see often in gyms and online, an individual would like to be more muscular for sure, they say this is their primary goal, and it may be, but they also want to improve their 1RM bench, and be more ‘athletic’ and include some Olympic lifting, and also do Crossfit… and so on. There are a few reasons why this blend of fitness qualities in ones training would be undesirable, if maximum muscular gain is the goal. Firstly, the crossover between adaptations to aerobic training and muscular gain are polar opposites (named the interference effect (1)), the metabolic pathways (AMPk and MToR) that create these outcomes literally fight for adaptive reserves to create their own outcome, and when we look at a muscle cell, there is a finite amount of space for stuff in there, in this case, it can either house more contractile muscle tissue (more muscle basically) or increase the amount of mitochondria (mitochondria help fuel aerobic improvement/adaptations), you cannot fit 100% of each of these in any given cell, so there is always going to be a compromise when both adaptations are being sought after.
Next, as we now know in literature, training volume (sets, reps, load & distance moved) is going to be our main driver of muscle building (2) (not the only one, but definitely our main one). Any training programme that doesn’t prioritise the progression of volume, is missing out on a big piece of the hypertrophy pie; we often see individuals wanting to strength train alongside their muscle building; and whilst you can definitely build some muscle with this approach, strength training in of itself, is going to be more fatiguing per volume load than conventional hypertrophy training, meaning that for the same volume, it eats up more of our adaptive reserves, limiting the total amount of effective volume we can perform, thus limiting how much muscle we can build, so reserving strength training for it’s own block is often desired, also allowing for nutrition to concord with it (more on this further in this series).
When we look at evaluating a training protocol, we should always refer to the training principles that have been laid out, one of the key ones (if not the most important) is specificity (3); in the case of muscle building, specificity dictates that if we want to maximise this outcome, our training should be as close to training the systems that produce this outcome as possible, without being so specific as to hinder long term results. For muscle building, (2) specific training will look like high levels of volumes of resistance training, with weights of 65%+ of 1RM; as there is no current evidence to show a distinct benefit of weight training with loads above this minimum threshold, strength training reduce the amount of specific training we can do, whilst concomitantly creating more fatigue within our bodies systems; so training at these high intensities will also limit the total amount of specific work we can do, as each individual only has a finite reserve for recovery.
Another important training principle that is pertinent to this discussion is that of directed adaptation, (3) this dictates that for best outcomes (maximum muscle building in our case), the application of a specific stimulus (our high volume ‘muscle building’ training) must be sequenced repeatedly over time; this basically means that the goal specific training should be repeated again and again, without distruption, to produce the best results; with interfering stimuli placed in between disrupting the magnitude of specific adaptation we want.
A style of programming that has become very popular is DUP (daily undulated programming), which has mislead many to believe that we can make gross perturbations in training intensity/volume over the week and still make maximum gains in each of the different qualities, this is not true, whilst undulations in repetitions should be used within the training week, these undulations should be used for variation within the given goal, not to try and complete a completely different goal as this only interferes with how the body is going to react to training; on average, the repetition range should be the same over the weeks in a mesocycle (4-8 weeks of training on average, or time between deloads). So using specific blocks of training to create a specific training outcome, is always going to be best for maximising a single training outcome at a time, that will also allow this newly attained fitness quality be more resistant to decay when you move to a different training goal afterwards.
In Part 2, we are going to talk about why poor exercise execution can hinder your muscle gains. We hope this article was informative and as always would love any feedback, please go follow us for more content over at @myonomics or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for online coaching enquiries.
Aaron Brown @ Myonomics
1 Fyfe, Jackson, 2014. Interference between Concurrent Resistance and Endurance Exercise: Molecular Bases and the Role of Individual Training Variables. Sports Medicine, 44(6), pp.743–763.
2 Schoenfeld, B.J., 2010. The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), pp.2857–2872.
3 Bompa, T. and Haff, G. (2009). Periodization. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.