What’s your goal for a given set during a workout? Is it to get the weight up as many times as possible? Is it to pile on maximal tonnage and see if you can lift it?
The answer is bodybuilding is about training muscles, not lifting weights. Your goal should be to achieve the highest quality of muscle contraction on every rep of every set.
Here are a few ways to do that:
To ensure a quality contraction start out on an exercise using a very light weight, concentrating on how the muscles feel during the movement. Gradually increase the weight from set to set. If and when you get to a point where you can no longer feel the muscles working as they did when the weight was lighter, you’re probably working too heavy and need to take some weight off until that “feel” is reestablished.
Take The Hard Road
Biomechanics experts often speak of being at a mechanical advantage, the position at which a lever, or in our case a muscle, is at its strongest for a given movement and thus can perform the task easier. Bodybuilders, however, should seek the opposite. For example, the more you bend your elbows on a flye or lateral raise, the easier it will be to lift the weight. But when you extend your elbows to the point where they’re just slightly bent, the pecs and middle deltoids, respectively, are forced to work harder and will grow that much larger.
As you’ve probably discovered already, the more slowly you do an exercise, the more difficult it is. So slowing the speed of a given exercise on both the concentric and eccentric phases is another way to achieve optimal contraction.
That isn’t to say that you should do every exercise in super slow motion, but performing your reps more deliberately can be helpful if you’re in a training rut and need to get back on track.
Reach The Peak
Used by bodybuilders for years as a means of increasing intensity in their workouts, peak contraction involves squeezing your muscles at the top of every rep for a count or two. Be forewarned: You likely won’t be able to do as many reps with this technique, provided it’s new to you.
Get Hooked On Cable
I’d never tell you to abandon dumbbells and barbells completely in favor of cable equipment, but the constant tension on your muscles they offer will maximize the quality of each contraction. Every once in a while, do a workout using nothing but cables.
Again, let me repeat the point of this column:
For results, the quality of your muscle contractions is paramount. Now take this advice to the gym and turn every rep into a growth opportunity.