by Mike Arnold
If you read Part #1, you were either able to confirm the soundness of your current program, or you realized that you have been making some big mistakes which needed to be corrected. In Part #2, we will round out the top 12 most common roadblocks to muscle growth by touching on subjects every BB’r should be thoroughly aware of. With that said, let’s pick up right where we left off…
7.) Failing to establish a mind-muscle connection during training
This is something that needs to be gradually learned through repetitive experience, rather than taught from a book. The problem is that many BB’rs never really learn how to establish a strong mind-muscle connection because they’re too busy focusing on the wrong things. BB’ing training is not about moving the weight from Point A to Point B, doing as many reps as you can within a set, or using as much weight as possible. There is only one goal when it comes to BB’ing training– to stimulate the target muscle. Anything which takes away from this objective is a liability and will only hold back your progress.
In order to fully stimulate the target muscle, you must learn to feel the muscle working throughout the entire range of motion as you perform your reps. From a full stretch to a full contraction, the tension on the muscle should never let up. You may have heard some pro BB’rs say, when speaking on this subject, to focus on the contractions. That is what they mean. Too many BB’rs think that using a heavier weight for more reps automatically translates into greater muscular stress, but this not necessarily the case. Momentum, unnecessary assistance from secondary muscle groups, and poor exercise mechanics can all play a role in reducing stimulation of the target muscle.
Mastering the mind-muscle connection does not originate in the physical, but in the mental. Your mind needs to be actively engaged as you lift and lower the weight. One technique which may be helpful is to close your eyes before starting your set; forget about counting reps or how much weight you’re using—and focus purely on placing as much stress on the target muscle as possible. As you’re doing your rep ask yourself if you feel maximum tension on the muscle throughout the entire range of motion—both the positive and negative? Do you feel the muscle burning and swelling with blood with each passing rep? If you have amassed at least a moderate amount of training experience and are being honest with yourself, using this technique will provide you with a pretty good idea of whether or not you are doing your reps properly. If you are not able to place your ego-driven tendencies aside learn how to do this, you will never be able to develop your physique to its maximum potential.
8.) Improper exercise selection
One might assume that with such as large amount of information available on how to build muscle, most people would be able to avoid this critical mistake, yet it is just as prevalent today as it was 20 years ago. I could walk into a dozen different gyms anywhere in the country and witness a large percentage of beginner and intermediate BB’rs who have succumbed to this wayward practice. We’ve all seen it—the guy with no chest to speak of straining away at the cable crossover station…or the man who wants to build up his legs, yet avoids the squat like a plague while hammering out set after set of leg extensions. The list is endless.
The truth of the matter is that the most productive exercises are often the most difficult. It takes guts & determination to really push oneself in the squat or deadlift, but not so much when doing concentration curls. The most effective mass-builders are usually those movements which allow the BB’r to use the most weight while enlisting multiple muscle groups at once. This includes exercises such as the squat, deadlift, flat & incline press, overhead press, rows, chins-ups, dips, and stiff-leg deadlifts, as well as various, necessary isolation movements, such as barbell curls, side & rear laterals, calves raises, etc.
These types of exercises are routinely referred to as “compound” movements because they involve more than one joint & muscle group to perform the exercise. Compound movements, in general, are superior muscle builders compared to isolation movements simply because they allow you to use more weight, thereby engaging more overall muscle fibers. If you want to push your development as far and fast as possible, compound movements are a necessity.
9.) Failing to utilize the progressive resistance principle
In short, progressive resistance is a method of increasing the strength of a muscle by gradually increasing the weights and/or reps on a particular exercise. Basically, progressive resistance is all about getting stronger. This basic training principle is the most reliable method for making gains and monitoring progress as a beginner/intermediate BB’r. In fact, it is impossible to make meaningful progress without it, yet many beginner & intermediates choose to eschew this tried & true method in favor of using subjective feelings to make gains and track their progress, such as the muscle pump, level of exhaustion, pain, etc.
The problem with this is that none of those things are genuine indicators of progress. You could get the best pump in the world at every workout and not gain a pound of muscle. You could also train so intensely that you are barely able to move by the end of your workout, but that doesn’t mean you will grow. Now, this doesn’t mean those feelings can’t be useful because they most certainly can be. For example, a great pump in the target muscle may indicate that you’ve established a good mind-muscle connection. A painful, burning sensation in your muscles might reveal that you are training hard, etc. So, while they are potentially useful for evaluating workout productivity and can help enhance progress when paired with progressive resistance, they will do little on their own to stimulate growth and certainly aren’t reliable indicators of progress.
Part of the reason so many beginner/intermediate BB’rs under-utilize the progressive resistance system is because they don’t see professional BB’rs using it very much in their training videos or talking about it when providing instruction. What many BB’rs don’t understand is that all of these pros utilized progressive resistance for many years, which helped them build the majority of their size.
However, no one can continue to get stronger forever. Eventually, strength gains will slow down and eventually grind to a screeching halt. Because pro BB’rs have already added such a tremendous amount of strength and their strength potential is nearly maxed out, continuing to rely on strength gains to make progress isn’t going to work very well. They may continue to try and add weight when possible, but they must also begin searching for other ways to stimulate muscle growth. At this point, most pro BB’rs start employing various techniques in an effort to fulfill the last of their muscle building potential, but remember, it was not these techniques which built them 90% of their size. It was progressive resistance.
In order to get big, you must get strong. There is no way around it. Do you know a single person who can only bench press 185 lbs, yet has a chest like Ronnie Coleman? Nope. Have you ever met anyone with legs as big as Ben Pakulski who can only squat 200 lbs? Nope. What about someone with a back like Yates who can only do barbell rows with 150 lbs? The answer is no again. The bottom line is that each and every time you do an exercise, you want to try and beat your previous best numbers on that exercise by either doing more weight for the same reps…or more reps with the same weight…or both. You won’t be able to get stronger every time, but do your best. Once you work your way up to using impressive numbers on all the basic exercises, you will be pretty damn big, regardless of what training style you used to get there.
10.) Not getting enough sleep
Getting enough rest can be difficult for many of us, especially those who put in a lot of hours at the workplace, have familial responsibilities, and other obligations they must tend to, but make no mistake about it, consistently getting poor or insufficient rest will impair not only your performance in the gym, but also your body’s ability to recover & grow optimally.
At one time considered a passive state, sleep is now recognized as a highly active period during which the subconscious mind and the involuntary physical body engage in a myriad number of complex biochemical functions which help repair, rejuvenate, and restore equilibrium throughout the human body. If the body is not provided with enough time to complete this process, a host of physical, mental, and emotional health problems can result. Reduced testosterone, increased cortisol, and elevated levels of inflammatory proteins are just a few of the negative consequences associated with a sleep deficit that can adversely affect muscle growth.
If you are serious about your BB’ing goals, sleep is one thing you can’t skimp on. Losing a couple hours every now and then will only have a minor negative effect on muscle growth, but consistent deprivation will have much more profound effect. Hard training BB’rs should get a bare minimum of 8 hours per night.
The word over-training can be used to describe any aspect of your program which prevents the body from completely recovering and/or achieving a full growth response from your training. Variables such as training volume, training frequency, and training intensity are often to blame. More specifically, overtraining most commonly occurs because people do too many sets and/or train too frequently.
There are two types of over-training– muscular and systematic. Muscular over-training is self-explanatory; it occurs when a particular muscle(s) is over-trained. Avoiding training that bodypart(s) for an appropriate period of time is generally all it takes to make a full recovery. When over-training is systematic it involves the nervous system, which can and will affect the entire body, effectively preventing/diminishing the body’s ability to make further gains. When experiencing this type of over-training, people often feel tired and run down. Motivation for training begins to wane and strength levels usually suffer as well. Fully recovering from this state, when minor, may only require a temporary reduction in training volume and/or intensity, but in more serious cases the lifter may need to take a few weeks off of training completely in order to get back on track.
Beginner-intermediate BB’rs are in the greatest danger of the more serious forms of over-training, as they have not yet developed the ability to listen to their body, thereby increasing the odds of misinterpreting the signs. Even advanced trainers can fall prey to this mistake, although usually not to the same degree.
By focusing on quality over quantity and not pushing things too far in any one direction, you will likely be able to avoid this problem. However, over-training is not always a direct result of training error. For example, your program set-up may be good, but a lack of sleep may prevent you from being able to recover from a work-load you would normally be able to handle. In the same way, nutritional deficiencies may be to blame. As is often the case with over-training, you may need to do some trouble-shooting in order to diagnose the problem.
12.) Participating in sports or other rigorous physical activities outside the gym.
If you are the kind of person who likes to spend a significant portion of their leisure time participating in various physical activities, keep in mind that too much physical exertion can have a negative impact on recovery & growth. Not only is the potential for over-training heightened, but science has demonstrated that cardiovascular exercise and hypertrophy training generate a contradictory response in terms of gene activation. In the same way that we can utilize different forms of training in order to elicit a sports specific adaptation, the body is able to adjust its internal environment based on the training it is subjected to, thereby making it more compatible with that type of training. In laymen’s terms, cardiovascular exercise (which includes basically all sports), especially when done excessively, can interfere with your BB’ing efforts by making it more difficult to build muscle through multiple mechanisms.
The human body is limited in its ability to recover from physical stress. This basic fact must be respected if you wish to reap maximum results from your BB’ing efforts. It is fine to engage in light cardiovascular activity a few times a week and will even prove beneficial at stimulating the appetite and keeping bodyfat at bay, but excessive cardiovascular activity, such as playing a sport, will make major inroads into your recovery ability and compromise gains. Prioritize as you wish, but understand that every action has a consequence…either good or bad. In this case, the consequence will be a reduced capacity to build muscle tissue.