What helps muscle growth?

January 12, 2023
Foods to Strengthen Muscles
As an industry, we're really getting away from tempo prescriptions as a whole.

Physique transformation is a long process, and it’s not really a straight path, at least in the sense that your progress isn’t consistent. Rather than progressing in a linear manner — in terms of both actual growth and the amount of time it takes — muscle growth tends to happen in “bursts.”

You’ll often hear about guys who simply “can’t” get any bigger despite their best efforts. These guys have hit full-body plateaus, really. Most of the time, this is an issue with a guy’s diet more than training; these guys are often not eating enough. Slightly less talked-about but certainly more insidious are single-body-part plateaus, where someone is experiencing pretty decent progress overall, but one muscle group seems to have stalled out like the ’84 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera I drove in high school. (Hey, don’t laugh; that car had personality. It may not have had air conditioning or a working radio… or a functional passenger side seat belt, but it sure as hell had personality.)

Unlike most issues with muscle growth, where food (or lack thereof) is usually the culprit, single-body-part plateaus aren’t typically due to a dietary deficiency. They’re usually a training issue. Not just lack of training, but lack of activation that leads to lack of development.

And, as anyone who’s ever hit such a wall can tell you, training a muscle in a way that allows for subpar activation is worse than not training it at all. Not only do you get the same results (none), you also waste your time. This must be avoided, and to do that, you need to learn to activate your muscles to get them growing again.

So today, I want to share five quick tips to jump-start growth in any muscle. Nothing crazy, no groundbreaking secrets from some Eastern Bloc black ops training camp. Just five tried-and-true methods I use with my clients to get their stubborn muscles growing like (insert simile of something that grows fast). No, I didn’t forget to add it in. I just couldn’t think of anything cool.

1- Don’t just lift — lift fast

Unless you’re doing a program that specifically calls for a dedicated lifting and lower speed (like lactic acid training), don’t worry about tempo. As an industry, we’re really getting away from tempo prescriptions as a whole.

In fact, Jason Ferruggia (excellent trainer, extreme badass) has cited the prescription of slow tempos for muscle growth as one of the biggest mistakes and wastes of time in his career. While I don’t think we need to write tempos off completely — everything has its place — I do think that getting away from structured speed for a few months speeds (ahem, pun intended) results. Anyway, rather than wasting you mental energy timing your rep, always try to lift explosively. Increasing bar speed will force you to amplify recruitment of fast-twitch muscle. This simple trick will affect your body in profound ways.

The increase neurological efficiency has obvious implications for muscle growth, but from a fat-loss perspective it’s also great because you’ll use more weight, which is just more calorically expensive and metabolically challenging. Ultimately, you’ll have greater activation, recruitment and development. As an added bonus, lifting in this way will increase both neurogenic and myogenic muscle tone, helping you look leaner even at a slightly higher level of body fat. Try this with shoulder exercises and enjoy the new look of your delts just a few sessions later.

2- Perform Unilateral Exercises

Single-limb movements, particularly with heavy weight, recruit High Threshold Motor Units (HTMUs). Recruitment of HTMUs has carryover to muscle building by escalating overall fiber recruitment and neurological efficiency, allowing you to stimulate muscles more easily and create growth more.

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