Often when we think of building muscle, heavy weight lifting is the first thing to come to mind, but there’s much more to it than that. Striking the balance between volume and frequency is crucial. Plus, diet comes into play. We break down muscle growth to maximise your results.
Understanding Progressive Overload
Progressive overload is one of the fundamental principles behind muscle growth. This is a technique that involves gradually increasing the demands placed on muscle overtime, resulting in adaptation. By systematically challenging your muscles with heavier weights, increased intensity or repetitions, you stimulate the mechanisms that drive muscle growth.
The principle of progressive overload operates on the body’s ability to adapt to stress. Resistance exercises, like weight lifting, create micro-tears in the muscle fibres. In response, the body initiates a repair process that causes muscle growth, increasing strength. However, as the body becomes accustomed to a load, the initial stimulus becomes less effective at promoting adaptation.
Hence, why often we’ll see a sudden improvement followed by a plateau. So, enter progressive overload. Consistently increasing the intensity, volume or complexity of a workout challenges the muscles in new ways to promote continuous growth.
Progressive overload can be achieved by increasing the amount of weight you’re lifting, performing more repetitions of an exercise, or altering the technique. This training method not only ensures that your workouts remain effective and efficient, but reduces the risk of injury in allowing your body to adapt gradually.
Resistance Training Techniques to pair with Progressive Overload
Eccentric Resistance Training
Eccentric resistance training focuses on, you’ve guessed it, the eccentric phase of muscle contraction. The concentric phase involves the muscle shortening whilst generating force, such as lifting a weight, whereas the eccentric phase involves the muscle lengthening whilst generating force, such as lowering a weight.
During this type of resistance training, you intentionally prolong the eccentric phase, the lowering or lengthening portion, of movement. According to a systematic review published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, eccentric exercise, performed at higher intensities compared with concentric training, resulted in a significant increase in total strength. This is thought to be due to the higher level of mechanical tension on muscle fibres and increased activation, as eccentric contractions can recruit a greater number of muscle fibres than concentric.
Supersets and Pre-exhaustion Technique
These are two strategies used to target muscles more intensely and promote muscle growth. A superset involves performing two different exercises without a rest in between. This increases the intensity of a workout by maximising muscle engagement whilst minimising rest time, stimulating a higher number of muscle fibres than traditional sets.
Pre-exhaustion involves performing an isolation exercise, typically one that targets a single muscle group, before a compound exercise, one involving multiple muscle groups. The aim here is to pre-fatigue the muscle during isolation causing it to work harder during the following compound exercise. As an example, a quad focused pre-exhaustion superset could include leg extensions as the isolation exercise, followed by barbell squats as the compound.
Both supersets and pre-exhaustion increase the time under tension for the target muscle which can lead to greater muscle damage and metabolic stress, two factors contributing to hypertrophy, the increase in muscle mass.
Protein intake plays a crucial role in muscle growth, providing the necessary amino acids for muscle repair and synthesis. The amount of protein an individual should consume varies on age, activity level and overall goals. However, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends a protein intake of 1.4 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for those engaging in regular resistance exercise.
To optimise your protein consumption, distribute intake evenly throughout the day, consuming protein-rich snacks before and after workouts. Leucine is an essential amino acid that helps to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, so it’s worth consuming leucine rich protein sources where possible. These include whey protein, lean meats, poultry, fish and eggs.
Now this one can be daunting, but to build muscle you need to consume more calories than you expend. This is because building and repairing muscle tissue requires energy. So, when you’re consuming a greater number of calories, the surplus can be used to fuel the process of muscle protein synthesis.
To incorporate a caloric surplus into your diet, focus on consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods, such as lean proteins, healthy fats and vegetables. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, sweet potatoes and quinoa, are also great at providing energy for workouts and recovery.
Rest and Recover
Rest is a lot more important than you might think. This is because muscle growth occurs during periods of recovery, rather than during training sessions. Rest periods also support optimal hormone production, which plays a key role in muscle growth and recovery.
You can incorporate active recovery into your training schedule through activities such as walking, swimming or yoga on rest days, promoting blood flow and reducing muscle soreness. To enhance recovery, give cold water therapy a go. Cold water therapy has been shown to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation, but you can read more about that *here* (will include a link here to the cold water therapy blog).Feeling ready to work? Get those gains in our classic Workout Shorts.