Heading into stage, I’m often asked what is the most important component of body building to focus on when you want to build size, shape and symmetry. The answer may surprise you!
While many would talk about the need to focus on hypotrophy programs, macro nutrient splits or the right supplements – when it comes to building muscle my focus first and foremost is on engagement and bio-mechanics.
Don’t get me wrong, a good lean mass development program will incorporate all of the things above, BUT it is muscular engagement and bio-mechanics which form the foundation of every aspect of physiological development in bodybuilding.
For example, lets just say you are an experienced lifter but you have a weak posterior change. You can squat and dead-lift all day – you won’t get the gains in size nor strength that someone with good posterior engagement will get over the same amount of time doing the same exercises.
Now when I talk about engagement and bio-mechanics, I mean the mind body connection you have with specific muscle groups. The neural pathways that enable you to activate and ‘turn on’ your muscles.
Turning your muscles on
Here’s a test – wherever you are, sitting or standing, try and squeeze your lower traps together. These are the muscles that pull the bottom of your scapula down and in.
How did you go? Chances are it is probably as easy as you thought.
I learned my lesson on engagement and bio-mechanics when I broke my back. I spent six months foam rolling and just simply doing band work in order to properly engage and activate my muscles. And, after the recent, lets call it ‘sneezing mishap’ where I popped a disc out with one poorly timed sneeze, I have had to re-focus on engagement once again.
Now, making sure that I am engaged and full activated is the most important part of lift!
I can hear you asking, why does it matter? Surely if I am lifting, my muscles must be activating. This is true, you will activate your muscles by lifting. But are you activating the right ones? Are you getting the absolute most out of your exercises? When you do a squat is your core engaged? Your glutes and your hamstrings? When you do a lat pull down, do your biceps give out before your back? Do you your upper traps take over when you do a lateral dumbbell raise? These are all engagement issues and should indicate to you, that you need to focus on engaging more prior to your lift.
Proper muscle engagement
It’s easier than you think.
Grab a band or a light weight and focus on the movement and the activation of the target muscle groups. For the majority of people you want to focus on the glutes, hamstrings, scapula and lower/mid traps – i.e. your posterior chain. These are most people’s weak spots. My list of top exercises to create better engagement for each area are below. The key is, you want to do the movement slowly, with control and really feel the squeeze of the muscle contraction. Do two sets or 15 reps prior to your lifts and you will see a huge difference!
Glutes: Glute bridge | Lateral Squat Walk | Clams
Hamstrings: Reverse Lunges | Nordic Ham Raise | Hyper Extensions
Scapula: Wall Angels | Wall Push Ups | Band Pull Aparts
Lower/Mid Trap: Bosu Ball Push Up | Scap Punch | Face Pulls
Stay tuned for another great lesson next week, when Alicia returns with Part Four of her journey.