3 reasons you aren't maximising your muscle growth : Part 2
In our first part of this three-part series, we discussed why it’s probably a good idea to train a single fitness quality/goal at a time; in this part, we are going to discuss the benefits of great exercise execution, & how it can allow you to maximise your muscular gains.
2. Poor exercise execution
For me, good exercise execution is going to be the ability to move a load/ or yourself through space in the most efficient manor, whilst loading the target muscle maximally, in absence of movement/involvement of unwanted joints/muscles. The ability to execute a movement well has a few distinct positives; first is the reduction in risk of injury anecdotally, whilst there is no real evidence for this, we have seen this time and time again with clients, when an exercise is performed under control with good execution through a full range of motion (ROM) the risk of injury lowers, as we can intent fully create tension in a specific muscle/s, whilst subsequently reducing movement at joints/segments that ought not be contributing (it is impossible to prevent injury all together as life is something we cannot always control but this is a great place to start for exercise), the obvious benefit is being able to continually train without interruption from injury, which is going to be one of the biggest tools in reaching your muscular potential.
Second, executing an exercise well with full ROM allows for full activation of all the desired motor units (1), as long as you are using enough load is used (a motor unit is the muscle fibre and all the motor neurons that innervate it, of which each have several), meaning that with everything else the same, a full ROM will create a bigger hypertrophic stimulus than a partial ROM; comparisons have been made using top half, middle of and bottom half of the ROM and all three combined but done in separate sets, in these circumstances muscle activation was lower in all groups in comparison to sets which every repetition was done through a full ROM (full ROM will differ based on mechanics/anthropometry of each individual, but it’s the fullest range of motion you can control with the target musculature before compensations through other parts of the body have to be made to get there)
Third, stable execution of a lift allows for true application of overload; if you increase volume or the load you use on a lift, and your execution changes drastically or your ROM shortens as the weight is too heavy to control through the full ROM, the result may defy true overload; technically, we measure the amount of work done by the following – force generated by a muscle/s x distance moved as a result of the force acting (2); increasing force but decreasing distance travelled will just end up evening out the equation (and sometimes reducing the net product), this may net you less overload overtime as load goes up but technique continues to diminish.
Fourth, when proper execution is employed, the weight needed to create the required stimulus for hypertrophy will be lower on average (unless proper technique allows you to lift more load, which will happen in some cases), if we look back at the formula Work = Force x Distance (2), we can see that when distance is reduced due to poor execution we must increase the load to get the same effect. The problem with increasing the load is that this doesn’t stress the desired muscle any more than a lower load, with a longer ROM, what it does do is create more central fatigue to all of the bodies systems, meaning that this eats into our recover reserves more than it needs to, thus reducing the overall amount of work we can do, resulting in a potential net negative for muscle gains.
Another key to correct execution is doing some research on the muscle/s you’d like to target, you should know the joint that it crosses and what action it causes, in the case of the Triceps, it’s main function is elbow extension (it attributes to shoulder extension too but put that aside for now), so what do you do to isolate the triceps, extend the elbow and nothing else, this is an obvious one but cannot be understated, whilst other muscles are working to stabilize surrounding joints, the only isotonic contractions (concentric and eccentric) that should occur are at the muscles that cross the joints you’d like to move.
A final point on execution that is simple, but will have great carry over, it is to envision that not an inch of your body is to move, once setup in position, other than the desired joint & associated muscles. This will allow for more of the work performed to go through the muscle you desire, the more excessive bodily movement that happens during a movement, the less the target muscle will be activated, this is because co-activation patterns change which muscles fire (co-activation is a term to describe how the muscles in a surrounding area fire), meaning that other muscles close to or crossing your desired joint movement increase in activation to compensate for this movement, this is because you have now created an unstable environment at the joint/muscles you intend to target, in this case net muscle activation is the same, but the activation of our target muscle decreases.
In the last instalment of this series, we are going to talk about why not tailoring your nutritional approach to your goals will 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 email@example.com for online coaching enquiries.
Aaron Brown @ Myonomics
(1) Sale, DG. (1987) '5 Influences of Exercise and Training on Motor Unit Activation', Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews, 15(1), pp. 95-152.
(2) Strength & Conditioning Research (2017) Biomechanics Definitions. Available at: https://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/biomechanics/biomechanics-definitions/#REF (Accessed: December, 2017).
(3) Andrade, R. et al (2011) 'Coactivation of shoulder and arm muscles during closed kinetic chain exercises on an unstable surface', Singapore Medical Journal, 52(1), pp 35-41.