Analysis into the science of exercise has been evolving all the time in ways that improve our ability to take muscular development beyond the realms of what used to be thought possible. Here are some interesting facts about building lean muscle mass.
WHAT REPETITION DURATIONS ARE MOST EFFECTIVE?
Building lean muscle , there has been no clear advice as to how fast you need to lift to maximize muscular hypertrophy. A meta-analysis of all studies that examined performing reps at different velocities showed that performing repetitions with a duration up to six seconds made no considerable difference in muscular development.
To illustrate, this means that reps carried out at a speed where the concentric and eccentric portions last one second each (i.e., 1-0-1) are as effective as those lasting three seconds (i.e., 3-0-3) if the main objective is to maximize muscle growth.
Nevertheless, reps carried out at very slow cadences (>10s per repetition) were discovered to produce inferior results from a hypertrophy standpoint. This is apparently a consequence of a reduced activation of the target muscles during both concentric and eccentric actions.
Bottom line: Choose a rep speed that allows you to make a good mind-to-muscle connection within a range of 1-3 seconds for the concentric and eccentric portions of the lift. But don’t go too slow because this has no extra benefit and may actually be counterproductive to muscle growth.
HEAVY AND LIGHT LOADS PRODUCE INCREASES IN MUSCULAR HYPERTROPHY
You may often hear that light weights don’t build considerable muscle because of insufficient activation of strength–related type II fibres. However, one study already proved that light weights can as effective as heavier ones. To test this hypothesis, researchers recruited 18 well-trained young men to perform a resistance-training program using either a high (25-35) or moderate (8-12) rep range. All other aspects of the program were controlled. Participants performed three sets of seven different exercises that worked all the major muscle groups. Training was carried out three days a week for eight weeks. All sets were taken to the point of concentric muscular failure. When tested at the end of the trial period, there were no considerable differences in hypertrophy between groups.
On the first sight, this suggests that you can train across various rep ranges to gain size, provided training is performed to muscular failure. Nevertheless, recent research from Russia shows that the hypertrophic response to training in different loading zones may be fibre type-specific.Specifically, lighter-load training seems to lead to a preferential increase in type I muscle fibre size while training with heavier loads appears to have a larger effect on type II fibre growth.
Bottom line: Lifting throughout a wide array of rep ranges (heavy, moderate and light) appears to maximize progress of all the fibres in a given muscle, so train with various loads over time.
MORE FREQUENT TRAINING COULD INCREASE MUSCLE GROWTH
A recent study of 127 bodybuilders discovered that every single one used a split routine, and more than two-thirds trained each muscle group only once a week.
To determine the results of resistance training frequency on muscle hypertrophy, researchers recruited 20 well-trained young men to train on either a three-day split or total-body routine. Those in the split routine worked chest and back on the first day, lower body on the second day, and shoulders and arms on the third day. Alternatively, the full-body routine included performing one exercise for all the major muscle groups during each session. Participants trained three days a week for eight weeks. Total weekly volume was equated between routines so that any differences in muscle growth could only be linked to the effects of training frequency.
When tested at the end of the study period, the subjects doing the full–body routine achieved greater increases in arm and leg muscle growth, in comparison with the split routine. These results suggest a hypertrophic benefit to working a muscle more often over the course of a week.
Bottom line: Periodize your routine so that it has cycles where muscles are trained three times a week using full-body routines, and intersperse cycles of split-body routines that involve high-volume sessions with muscles trained less frequently every week.
ACTIVATE YOUR HAMSTRINGS BY USING VARIOUS EXERCISES
Theory has long held that muscle fibres always spanned from origin to insertion. Based on this supposition, it was generally believed that fibres are activated as a whole unit along the full length of the muscle. On the contrary, however, more recent evidence has proven that the majority of muscles are actually compartmentalized, so that fibres terminate within the fascicle, with the fibre subdivisions innervated by their own nerve branch. This partitioned structure provides a basis whereby exercises can conceivably target the individual subdivisions within the muscle.
To test this hypothesis, researchers recruited ten young men with extensive experience in resistance training to carry out both the lying leg curl and the stiff-leg deadlift to failure, at a load equating to their eight-repetition maximum (8RM). Muscle activation of the upper and lower aspects of the hamstrings was checked by electromyography, which provides a gauge as to the neural drive to a working muscle. While the level of activation was similar between exercises for the upper hamstrings, the lying leg curl produced markedly greater lower hamstrings activity.
Bottom line: The leg curl should be considered a vital exercise for maximizing growth in the lower part of the hamstrings. That said, there were large inter-individual differences in activation patterns between subjects; some showed considerably greater upper EMG amplitude with the stiff-leg deadlift, while others showed much higher activation from the lying leg curl. Therefore, performing a combination of knee flexion and hip extension is the best way to make sure complete development of the hamstrings.