Date: 23rd May 2022
Author: Charlie Hacker
I think the first thing we need to agree on is what we mean by performance? When I talk about performance for muscle building I am thinking of a few different metrics that I use to measure someone's performance.
First, the most important thing is we keep track of what we do in the gym and try to find a baseline from which to move from. I always like to establish a starting point, it gives us an easier direction. It’s hard to go somewhere when you don’t know where you are. So using a gym diary, a tracking app, or filling out what you did in the gym, into your TrueCoach app, will give you somewhere to start. If you went out every day for a run, but didn’t have your smartwatch or phone on you, and then kept note of the distance you ran, how would you know the distance you had covered? You wouldn’t, the same goes for training, keeping a note allows us to track our progress. For those in the business world think of this as your Key Performance Indicators, telling you if you have made progress or not.
Performance should be the thing we are always assessing when we look at our own training or someone else’s. It is the easiest way for us to tell if something is working. Tracking someone's performance allows us to see if the changes we have made to their programme or to the way they move, have helped them. This means we can start to collect a list of things that work, things that don’t, mobility issues and accessories we could change. Making our programming in the future a lot more specific to ourselves or our client.
1 - Strength
We need to make sure we are getting stronger when we go to the gym, One of the biggest drivers of hypertrophy (building muscle) is Mechanical Tension. This means we are lifting weights in a controlled manner, taking our muscles through their full range of motion. Each time we go to the gym we need to give our body a new challenge. This new challenge can be as simple as more weight or more reps and all we need to do is make sure we are getting stronger. This is simply progressive overload. Add weight or add a rep and you are getting stronger.
Now getting stronger has a direct correlation with building muscle and it is such an easy performance marker to track. The amount of strength you need to gain each session is as little as adding 1kg to the bar each week.1kg a week for the next year would add 50kg to your bench press, and if you added 50kg to my bench press, I would ask you to marry me. Smaller incremental jumps in the weight will always be better than bigger jumps, it will allow you to progress more often. If you take a big jump in weight and add too much to your bar, your progress will stall quickly, you could risk getting injured or end up not being able to complete the desired number of reps. Now adding weight to the bar will be almost impossible to do week on week, so be patient and try to add weight where you can. Some weeks you may not be able to increase the weight, and this is where Movement Proficiency comes into play.
2 - Movement Proficiency
How well you move is going to be a huge performance marker.
Are you in control?
Movement Proficiency is as simple as how well are you moving. Now adding weight to the bar is brilliant, but if you keep cutting the range of motion on an exercise short, just to add weight to the bar, you are probably taking a step backwards. Don’t sacrifice your form just to add weight to the bar. Think of a back squat and the stereotypical gym bro doing a 1/4 squat just to add plates to the bar. I mean you lifted heavier but what did you sacrifice? Probably the thing you're after, building muscle.
I would argue that being able to squat deeper, under control, taking your quads and glutes through the fullest range of motion possible - would give you greater muscle growth than squatting a heavier weight but stopping at 90 degrees. I think moving under control through the biggest range of motion possible, will always be best for muscle growth. This is because loading our muscle in its lengthened position will build more muscle.
There is a certain amount of skill that goes into painting a picture. Or in a sports term taking the perfect free-kick. Personally, I wouldn’t want to do either without practising for years. I want you to think of exercises the same well. Each exercise is a skill that needs to be mastered. If you treat exercises as skills, you will end up moving in a proficient way, and you will end up gaining more muscle as a result.
When it comes to being in control and tempo and intent I think they all go hand in hand. Rushing the movement will mean you won’t be in control, not being in control can make the exercise redundant when it comes to building muscle. The whole goal is to put tension on the muscle itself, not use a lot of momentum. The easiest example of this is strict pull-ups vs butterfly pull-ups. - One is slow and controlled focussing on muscle contractions, while the other is more focused on doing the opposite, using momentum rather than muscles to perform the exercise. If you took both of those movements, you would build more muscle doing strict pull-ups because you are slowing it down and are in control, while concentrating on contracting your lats.
My biggest advice is to slow down the eccentric (lowering) portion of the rep. An easy rule is the lowering phase should be 2x as long as the concentric portion.
Can you put your joints in the correct positions throughout the movement?
If I perform a bench press and keep my elbows tucked, having my hands close on the bar, I am more likely to hit my shoulders and triceps over my chest, but if I move my hands 2 inches out, I will get move chest activation. So if my main goal is to build muscle in my chest, I need to learn how to perform the bench press in a way to build muscle in my chest. So making sure my joints and arm path is correct is going to make the movement more effective.
So try to be aware of how you move and practice the skill of each exercise, this will be huge in helping you achieve your goal of gaining muscle.
3 - Total Volume
So you're moving really well, and you're getting stronger. - The next step would be tracking your total volume. Are you doing more each week? And this one is pretty simple.
Total volume for a muscle group = Sets x Reps x Weight.
Week by week you should be increasing your total volume and tracking this by making sure you're increasing the reps, sets and weight will tell you if you are improving.
Different muscle groups will need different amounts of volume and will respond to different stimuli, that is something you will have to take note of individually and this is the best way to track that. For example, if you are struggling to grow your triceps compared to your biceps. You may see that you are doing 6 fewer seats than your biceps over a week and this could be the reason why that muscle group isn’t developing as well.
Some people will argue adding weight is the biggest thing, others will say it is total volume and then you will get a group of people saying to make your form perfect. I think there is a sweet spot. Perfection is the enemy of good when it comes to form. Trying to make every rep look as beautiful as the last will likely mean you aren’t touching a weight heavy enough for muscles to grow. At the same time lifting a weight which is too heavy and all form going out the window will mean you aren’t getting the designed benefits of that specific exercise. I think of it as a range and have different times where I focus on form, and other times I focus on weight, this is often during the same session or same exercise. I try to make my form look as good as possible but not perfect.
Track your performance and make progress.
Written by Charlie Hacker
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