A Quick and Dirty Way To Add Muscle

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I’ve spent the first part of this week writing about action heroes and poking a little fun at CrossFit, so I felt it was only fair to write something actually useful to those of you heading to the gym today.

Most everyone reading this blog is interested in getting stronger and/or adding muscle (usually both). Well there’s also my uncanny wittiness, good looks, and pop cultural references. But mostly it’s the getting strong and muscles part.

Both endeavors are relatively simple to do (but not easy to accomplish).

Getting stronger entails picking (heavy) things up and putting them down…repeatedly. Progressive overload is the term most commonly used. Do a little more work today than you did the last time out, stay consistent, and good things will happen.

There’s more “stuff” that comes into the conversation of course – maximal effort, dynamic effort, repeated effort, speed strength, strength speed, absolute strength, rate coding, intra/intermuscular coordination, Batman – but I don’t want to deal with all the mental and intellectual gymnastics involved.

To keep things simple: do more work today than you did last.

Muscle building very much mirrors everything above. Progressive overload is kind of a big deal, in addition to all those fancy terms from above. I mean come on: someone with a 500 lb deadlift is usually not a small human being.

Then again there’s this video which has been making its rounds on social media the past few days of a 16 year-old girl deadlifting 418 lbs (at a bodyweight of just under 150 lbs):

 

Training for strength doesn’t always equate to big muscles – especially when someone competes in a sport where weight class comes into play and relative strength (strength as it relates to their bodyweight) is more of the goal.

That said, getting bigger almost always comes down to total volume. Most people who’s goal it is to add muscle don’t do enough of it.

They perform their 3 sets of 10 for a particular muscle group and move on. Unless it’s biceps than it’s more like 17 sets of 10.

And while counting total sets/reps (and hence total tonnage) is a fool proof way to attack things, we also can’t neglect the innumerable ways to illicit mechanical stress and muscle damage (all of which break down muscle and stimulate it to grow.1

To quote the great Zatsiorsky:

“A muscle fiber that is recruited but not fatigued is not trained.”

Constant Tension Sets

A key component to muscle growth is time under tension, and one “trick” I’ve been using lately in my training (thanks to Greg Robins) is the notion of constant tension sets.

As an example lets take your standard flat bench DB press.

You’d set up like you normally would, but the idea is to maintain constant tension on the pecs by not locking out your elbows.

You’d lower the weights to get a nice stretch in the pecs, and then press making sure to stop just short of locking out. Moreover, instead of focusing on a specific number of repetitions you’d shoot for a time.

It may look something like this:

Week 1: 3 sets of 40s
Week 2: 3 sets of 45s
Week 3: 3 sets of 50s
Week 4: 3 sets of 60s

It can be brutal. 40s never felt so long.

These have been a great addition to my upper body days as an accessory movement after I perform a (heavy) bench press variation.

And you don’t have to limit yourself to DB presses, either. You can be inventive. I’ve used the same method with Goblet squats, front squats, RDLs, shoulder presses, and you can bet your ass I’ve used it as a killer finisher for bi’s and tri’s. Yeah buddy!

It’s nothing fancy, but the method is effective.

Hopefully it’s something you can implement and try for yourself soon. If so, let me know what you think.

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  1. Of note, nothing is going to grow if you’re not eating enough calories. Eat. EAT I SAY!