When it comes to gaining strength and size, there are certain “rules” that exist in the gym. Well, as usual, some rules are meant to be broken. In fact, some of these stigmas may be holding you back from seeing the gains you deserve. Here are five rules to break in the gym to avoid plateaus and see consistent progress.
Rule No.1: Only perform multi-joint exercises
Big moves like squats and the bench press do cause the most damage to muscles and ramp up muscle-building hormones. However, if your goal is to increase size, throw in a few targeted isolation exercises at the end of your workout. These isolation moves should complement the rest of your program while still offering a little more work where you need it. Focus on using these extra exercises to build up weak areas in your physique. For most guys, that means adding in some posterior shoulders work at the end of their routine.
Rule No.2: Variety is the key
A common misconception is that your workouts must constantly change to see results. While the body does adapt to certain exercises, sets, and reps, you’ll also see a tremendous jump in progress through a consistent program. Changing up your routine too frequently will thwart all potential gains in strength and size. Give your body a chance to adapt to a particular exercise before switching your workout altogether.
Most trainees should stick with a workout for 4-6 weeks before changing up exercises. During this time period, you should still use the concepts of progressive overload to your advantage. Increase the weight on the bar if it becomes too easy, or look to include different progressions like speed, tempo, or complexity.
Rule No.3: Always use a slow tempo when lifting
While it’s true that time under tension (how long the muscle is under strain) is a primary consideration in building size, your program should incorporate faster, more explosive exercises as well. Power exercises like medicine ball slams and box jumps increase muscular recruitment. That translates to more strength and more size when you go back to traditional strength-builders. Include power exercises in the beginning of your routine for 3-4 weeks to reap the benefits.
Rule No.4: Always use full range-of-motion
Most lifters are told to always squat below parallel, lower a bar to their chest, and extend all the way at the elbow before your next pullup. In theory, full range-of-motion is the way to go as it challenges the muscle to a much greater extent. However, partial ranges-of-motion can provide a unique stimulus for growth when used intermittently in your program. For the majority of exercises, lifters will be able to utilize more weight during a partial range-of-motion exercise than when going the full distance.
Change up your routine by limiting range-of-motion on a few select exercises during the week. For instance, instead of deadlifting from the floor, slide a few more pounds on the bar and perform it from a rack position. The increased weight will challenge your grip and core strength while still building your glutes and hamstrings. Similarly, floor presses (a bench press performed lying on the floor to limit depth) are a great variation for building explosive power at the lockout portion of a traditional bench press. Experiment with partial ranges-of-motion for 3-4 weeks before transitioning back to full depth.
Rule No.5: Avoid any and all forms of cardio
Most guys looking to pack on some extra pounds of muscle think cardio is the archenemy to bigger biceps and an impressive physique. Sure, certain types of cardio can stall gains and promote muscle breakdown, but the right type of work can spur growth and prevent excessive fat gain while downing all those calories.
Everyone should include some variation of cardio with their plan even if they're looking to gain freakish amounts of muscle. In general, shorter, more intense cardio bursts will ensure big results while preventing the muscle breakdown from hours of running. However, it’s usually not advantageous for newer lifters to jump right into sprints.
> For beginners, lower-level aerobic work like walking can help to develop overall work capacity and allow you to do more work in the gym with less rest breaks in-between sets. Keep your aerobic workouts short (20 minutes or less) and use them as either a warm-up or cool-down for your workout.
> Advanced lifters can include sprints at the end of their workouts to spur hormone release. Using an outdoor field or treadmill, sprint for 10-15 seconds maintaining the fastest speed possible. Rest for a minute before repeating. Work up to doing 10 reps.