If reaching your full potential is the goal of your training program, you’ll want to implement all three of these strategies without wavering.
Do you find yourself zoning out or ending your sets early for no apparent reason? If this sounds like you, then you need to get it together!
Why it’s so important
In order for your body to improve, you need to introduce a stimulus greater than what you normally experience. This is known as the overload principle. Muscle fibers adapt to the specific type of exercise stimulus imposed upon them during training. Smaller (Type 1) muscle fibers are activated prior to large (Type 2) muscle fibers. This is known as the size principle of motor unit activation. A motor unit is the motor neuron that is connected to several muscle fibers of the same muscle type. This means that if you use too light of a weight, or if you stop your set prematurely, then you are not going to activate your entire muscle. Let’s pretend your one rep max for leg press is 1000lbs. You complete 10 repetitions at 500lbs despite the fact that you would likely need to utilize around 750lbs in order to reach failure or near failure for 10 repetitions. Because you did not reach failure of the muscle, you likely did not activate all available motor units.
Furthermore, if you are a beginner, it is likely that you will not be physically able to activate all available motor units because your brain does not know how to communicate with the larger muscle fibers yet. Unless you give full effort, you will not activate your muscle fibers and you will not progress to reach your full potential.
When you give your maximum effort in every lift, your muscle fibers will become damaged. This signals the production of new muscle proteins. Worried about overtraining? Don’t be. Overtraining, or multisystem exhaustion characterized by frequent injury and decreased performance, is much more likely to be caused by what you don’t do out of the gym (proper nutrition, and rest), than by what you do in the gym. Don’t be afraid to work hard!
In order to reap the myriad benefits that resistance training has to offer, proper form must be utilized.
Proper form means that you are moving your body in a biomechanically sound way that is in accordance with your exercise goals. If your exercises are performed with attention to this, then you will be less likely to develop muscle imbalances or to become injured. Rather than asking the most buff looking guy in the gym for tips, seek out a weight training specialist to give you specific feedback on your form. Sometimes even the smallest of changes can make a huge difference in your training. For example, when performing a rowing motion, focusing on “pulling through the elbow” and squeezing right below the armpit while you draw your shoulder blades together is going to improve the contraction in the muscles you are trying to work. Even if you followed these instructions, it’s possible that you might be doing something differently on one side than the other.
Time under tension is an important aspect of proper form. It refers to the duration of time that your muscle remains contracted during the eccentric (lengthening) and concentric (shortening) phases of the exercise. During the eccentric phase of an exercise, the muscle is lengthening while it contracts. This typically induces the most muscle damage (which is a good thing!). The concentric phase is characterized by muscle shortening. Typically slower eccentric phases and explosive concentric phases are advised. For example, if your goal is muscle growth you might do 10 five-second long repetitions. This would make your time under tension about 50 seconds long if you focus on squeezing the muscle the whole time. During a squatting motion you might lower down for 3 seconds, pause at the bottom for 1 second, then explode up for 1 second before going right back down into the squat. Many people make the mistake of standing for several seconds in between their repetitions of the squat. This takes the tension out of the muscle, rendering the exercise less effective. The table is useful to add variety to your workouts while staying within the time under tension parameters for your training goal. Even the most seasoned lifter should continue to self reflect on their form so they can continue to improve.
The meaning of consistency is multifaceted and each facet is equally important.
Firstly, you need to find a time that you can commit to exercising at and workout according to that schedule every week without wavering. Showing up is half of the battle. The other half is consistently giving your best effort during your workout. This includes being consistent in your pursuit of the best form possible. “Phoning in” your workout just isn’t going to produce results. In order to improve your physique, you must exert effort and proper form consistently to allow your body to recognize the need for building muscle.
On another note, it’s important to be consistent in all aspects of your training in order to determine what about your training and nutrition is working. If you are giving your best effort and you are being consistent, then you might find that when you start increasing your volume that your muscle size increases. However, if your training is constantly changing, then there is no way for you to know what aspects of it could contribute to any muscle size increase. If you lack consistency, then you can’t tell what aspect of your training is not working for you.
You need to practice all three of these strategies concurrently to achieve your physical peak. They will not be effective independently. If you give full effort consistently, but your form is lacking, then you’re setting yourself up for injury. If you practice good form consistently, but your effort is lacking, then you are throwing your physical peak to the wayside. If you have good form and you give it your all, but you have trouble staying consistent, then your progress will eventually stagnate. When practiced together, effort, form and consistency are the only three strategies you need to finally realize your potential.