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These are the three principles of muscle growth: Here's how to follow them properly

Posted by Bulk Nutrients in Muscle Building

Estimated reading time: 5mins

These are the three principles of muscle growth: Here's how to follow them properly

Bodybuilding: The three principles of muscle growth

The three principles of muscle growth are:

  1. Mechanical Tension
  2. Metabolic Stress
  3. Muscle Damage

Mechanical tension refers to lifting heavy. It's generating as much muscle power as you can complete with a challenging weight and good form. 

But this doesn't mean you load up the bar and go for 1 or 2 reps.

A recent study found that muscle activity maxed out at 90% of maximal muscle output. So in order to maximise mechanical tension, lifting at 80-90% of your one-rep max is ideal. 

Lifting 100% of your maximum weight can call upon other muscle groups, which isn't ideal. Lifting at 80-90% of your one-rep max will mean roughly 3-5 reps for the experienced gym-goer, which maximises the time under maximum tension. And for those who are just getting started in the gym, you'll want to try for around 6-12 reps. This is because your form can get a little scratchy when the weight gets heavier, as the muscle group is being worked and the surrounding stabiliser muscles aren't yet conditioned. 

Researchers suggest the other way you can maximise mechanical tension is by adopting strategic pauses. You can do this at the bottom of bicep curls, the end range of a hip thrust, or at the bottom of a bench press rep.

Shoot for 2-3 minutes of rest to ensure you've recovered ahead of the next set.

Metabolic Stress: How to implement it for muscle growth

Metabolic stress refers to "the pump". It's continuous pressure on the muscle by ensuring we don't lockout, and by limiting rest between sets. It's that burning feeling we get when we're certain our muscles are on fire! 

The best way to achieve metabolic stress is with higher reps (12-25) to muscle failure. Rest periods here should be anywhere between 20-55 seconds, with less time being more favourable. Implementing "the pump" strategically will help you to build maximal muscle, just like the third and final principle:

Muscle Damage: How to grow muscle fast

You can bring about muscle damage by:

  1. Mixing up your exercises
  2. Implement slow negatives (lifting the weight slower on the way down [4 seconds] during a rep)
  3. Practicing an extended range of motion (dumbbell bench presses for a bigger stretch, incline dumbbell curls for a bigger stretch, push-ups with your hands gripping dumbells on the floor which leads to a great range of motion).
Be sure to apply all three principles for maximal muscle growth.
Be sure to apply all three principles for maximal muscle growth.

And let's be real, too much "muscle damage" training can lead to serious soreness. So it all depends on what your training schedule is: if you're training a muscle group every 2-3 days, this must be used sparingly. It can't be practised every set and rep otherwise you'll burn out and overtrain. However, if you're a muscle group once a week, then you could do 4-6 sets of "muscle damage" training knowing you'll be fully rested within a week.

The key here (in the example of a bench press rep) is to take 4 seconds to bring the weight back down to your chest, before lifting it back up. That's how to perform a slow negative properly. Shoot for 8-12 reps here, and rest 1:30 - 2 minutes between sets. 

And like we said, how you implement this depends on how you like to train. If you're doing full-body workouts and training legs three times a week, you could adopt the following:

Monday -- Mechanical Tension

Wednesday -- Metabolic Stress

Friday -- Muscle Damage

Or, if you're training legs (quads) once a week, you could try this:

  • 5 x leg extensions (3 sets metabolic stress) (2 sets mechanical tension)
  • 5 x squats (5 sets mechanical tension)
  • 5 x Leg press (5 sets muscle damage)
  • 3 x Lunges (3 sets metabolic stress).

Muscle growth workout plan: Growing maximal muscle

Try to perform at least 3 sets of all set varieties (mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage) per session for maximal benefit. To recap:

Mechanical Tension:

  • 3-5 reps for an experienced lifter, 6-12 reps for the inexperienced lifter
  • Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets
  • Lift at 90% of your 1 rep max
  • Adopt strategic pauses where you'd like

Metabolic Stress:

  • 12-25 reps to muscle failure.
  • Rest for 20-55 seconds between sets

Muscle Damage:

  • 8-12 reps
  • Rest for 1:30 - 2 minutes between sets
  • Take 4 seconds to bring the weight down during the "negative" movement
  • Mix up your exercises
  • Practice an extended range of motion where applicable
Remembering these three principles is critical to building your optimal physique.
Remembering these three principles is critical to building your optimal physique.

Some lifters will do this instinctively, but it's easy to forget about these principles. But if you can adopt all of them to your training program as outlined above, you'll be well on your way to growing maximal muscle!

References:

  1. Pinto R.S., Cadore E.L., Correa C.S., Cordeiro da Silva B.G., Alberton C.L., Lima C.S., Carlos de Moraes A. RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN WORKLOAD AND NEUROMUSCULAR ACTIVITY IN THE BENCH PRESS EXERCISE. Medicina Sportiva 17 (1): 1-6, 2013.
  2. Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3. PMID: 20847704.
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