If you’re not making weekly progress with your training plan right now, then listen up. Chances are it has nothing to do with the exercises you’re using, or to do with how much time you’re spending in the gym. It has all to do with your exercise execution and overall quality of each rep.
Start focusing less on the what and consider the how instead. What you do in the gym is the tool that will enable you to get bigger, stronger, and leaner. Just like any tool you also need to know how to use it. You might have the sledgehammer, but do you really know how to swing it?
Lift With Intention
The barbell bench press is a tool you can use to build up your pecs, but there’s a difference between just bouncing as much weight off your chest as possible versus lifting with the intention to stimulate maximum muscle growth.
Your muscles are on the inside of your body and have no idea how much is being lifted on the outside—and they don’t care how much you want them to grow no matter how often you whisper sweet nothings to them.
What your muscles do know is what tension is and how much force is being put through them—and that’s about it. This primal muscle knowledge is what ultimately triggers a cascade of events that lead to hypertrophy and muscle growth.
When you are trying to build muscle the load you have on the bar is irrelevant to a degree—that is unless you’re still able to squeeze on every repetition and maintain tension. Very few can truly do this without sacrificing either weight or execution.
Progressive Overload With Perfect Execution
Although progressive overload is important, and you should always be striving for a minor increase in weight or reps each week, doing this at the expense of making every repetition count will produce far from optimal results. Every repetition is an opportunity to get better.
The art of the perfect repetition is something professional coaches and physique athletes often won’t speak about. That’s because the perfect rep is hard to verbalize or film, and quite frankly it is not as interesting as sharing a new exercise or training plan. Perfecting your execution impacts everything and could be the one simple thing holding you back right now.
The weight you use is less important than the tension and force you can get through the target muscle. Therefore, exercise selection is important because the right tool can align you properly to receive the best stimulus for that muscle to grow. This is also why picking just a few of the right tools versus half a dozen exercises with average execution will always achieve superior results.
We all have different limb lengths, leverages, and movement capabilities. Picking just a handful of exercises that feel good to you, no matter anyone else’s opinion, is always a good place to start. Pick exercises that help you ‘find’ and load the muscle optimally. Exercises that position and align you poorly are a sure-fire way to add stress to the wrong areas, leading to inflammation and injury over time.
Stop Adding, Start Deleting
Before you start adding to your routine with the hope that you’ll stumble on a magic exercise or formula, instead think what you can delete. What are you not getting the most of right now? There’s nothing wrong with variety if it can keep you entertained and motivated to train.
Pick just a handful of exercises with the right profile and then consider the quality of every repetition first, before thinking of what you can start adding.
“Employ a quality-first approach before adding unnecessary quantity.”
One of the biggest differences between the elite and the average gym goer is that the elite know how to execute every repetition with the highest level of concentration and intensity.
They know how to make even the lightest of warm-up sets look as hard as possible. They care less about attaining the most impressive numbers only to achieve the most impressive physiques. Success leaves clues.
Consider the Feel
Every exercise will have a different feel to it. While some are better at applying load to the muscle in a shortened and fully contracted position, others are better at loading the lengthened or stretched position.
For this reason you can’t always go by how much of a squeeze you can get on every rep. But if you can’t feel the muscle working and consciously contract it during the set, then it might be an idea to hold auditions for an exercise that will.
A clunky painful feeling is not a feeling that should ever be accepted—a smooth repetition with a good connection is. If there’s something you’re doing right now that doesn’t fit these criteria, then delete it.
This approach goes beyond just performing an exercise with correct technique while limiting injury, and it also goes beyond what many refer to as developing the “mind-muscle connection.”
Very few can physically or mentally make this connection, but if you can get your head around it then it will truly unlock the muscle-building potential of any future exercise or training plan you follow. The information here is probably something you already know, but how often do you think about it and then apply it? Well, now is the time to start.