If you’ve ever done a muscle-building workout, you’ve probably performed several exercises per muscle group for 6-12 or more reps. Though you may make progress initially, you’re leaving potential long-term size gains on the table.
There are several ways to build muscle—a process known as hypertrophy—besides focusing on reps. You can change how you perform reps, how long your muscles work during a set, and try several other ways to challenge your muscles.
Here are a few effective hacks to make your muscle-building workouts more effective.
Make your muscles work for more time
When you are trying to build muscle, time under tension (or TUT) is your friend. While a typical set of 6 to 12 repetitions can last anywhere from 5 seconds (if you’re flying through the reps) to 30 seconds, a better range for hypertrophy is about 30-60 seconds of total TUT per set.
You can add more TUT by extending the eccentric (lowering) and/or isometric (holding a portion) phases of a lift. These are the two strongest segments of the lift, and they are the most important to hypertrophy. You can overload them with more time by using, for example, a 3-5 second lowering portion and/or a 2-4 second holding portion.
Eccentric and isometric times do not have to be limited to these small windows of time. Though the physical load does not increase, the length of time throughout the lift does, which increases the intensity.
Add instability to the lift
Let’s be clear: We’re not talking about standing on a BOSU ball or Swiss balls here. Those devices seem like a neat idea, and can look cool in Instagram, but lifting on them only allows you to recruit up to 70 percent of power output to be achieved compared to when you’re lifting on a stable surface (Haff, G. and Tripplet, N.). The drop in power output reduces force production, which lessens total tension and the ability to build muscle.
However, making the actual weight you are lifting unstable can send the challenge to your muscles through the ceiling. From personal experience, hanging weights off bands (as shown in the video above) allows you to recruit more muscle. The lift becomes incredibly unstable and challenging. So think: unstable load, not unstable lifter. That will make your training safer and produce greater hypertrophy.
Increasing total-body tension
One of the easiest ways to build muscle is to increase total-body tension in an exercise. And one of the easiest ways to do this is to grip the weight harder.
For instance, holding a kettlebell upside down in the bottoms-up position increases tension in the forearms and throughout the body. Learn how this works here.
Throughout a lift, it’s almost guaranteed that your abs will fire to maintain stability of the bell and your body. Tension is created throughout the body, which promotes muscle growth in more than just the main muscle targeted.
Overall, the ideal way to incorporate these three techniques is to blend them together. For instance, using some Bench Press variations helps with both functional strength and hypertrophy. Using the hanging band technique on many exercises for both upper and lower body is a smart way to combine these hypertrophy practices.
Incorporate these modes into your training and have fun experimenting with hypertrophy protocol to see what works best.