BY DAVID BARR, AUTHOR OF MASSIVE, MUSCULAR ARMS
You’ve likely seen more old school training tips than there were carb calories in your last cheat meal, so let’s apply some 21st century magic (aka science) to help you develop bigger arms. I’ll show you three unusual strategies to build muscle that you can begin using right away, extrapolated from the book Massive, Muscular Arms.
Stop Hypertrophy Training
Like many others, I used to partition my hypertrophy and strength training for the respective goal; traditional high volume for hypertrophy and heavy lifts for strength. This applied concept seems almost too obvious, because after all, it’s in the name.
But I made a counterintuitive discovery when taking a break from a hypertrophy-focused training plateau. By switching my focus to strength, each workout was preceded by a feeling of excitement rather than dread. At the end of the 8-week strength focused phase I was once again hungry for growth-specific work. Better yet, I resumed this training with heavier loads and greater confidence under those loads.
From this experience I’ve included strength phases with all of my body composition clients. In spite of the commonly encountered reluctance, they enjoy the temporary change and long-term improvements.
- Plan strength-focused phases as part of traditional or undulating periodization.
- The degree of physical preparation provided by strength phases is matched only by their psychological benefit.
- Strength-focused training feels very different and can be met with reluctance by clients. This is quickly overcome by the accompanying result.
Make Your Muscle Inefficient
FAQ: When would you ever want to be inefficient?
Answer: When you apply Elon Musk’s First Principles approach to adopt a stimulation-targeted perspective for maximal muscle growth.
Consider that fundamentally, you train to induce stresses on the muscle that cause it to adapt through growth. More specifically, there are two ways in which training stimulates growth, structural and metabolic stress. Traditional workouts offer a compromise between each of those stress-stimuli, but doesn’t take either to their maximal potential. By adopting a more direct approach, we can target each type and provide a greater overall stimulus for growth. This level of specificity is called Precision Microtargeting.
SideBarr: This tip targets the metabolic stimulus, and the next deals with the structural.
Metabolic stress can be increased by adopting internal loci of focus, in which you exaggerate the mind-muscle connection and maximally contract the muscle throughout each rep. This may sound like the only way to lift, which is why it’s important to consider that we naturally lift for metabolic efficiency. Throw in the parasite of gym-enhanced ego (not yours of course, but for everyone else) and it’s a good bet that you’re primarily focused on just moving the load, rather than squeezing the muscle.
In contrast to the natural (external) focus that you’re using now, the internal focus requires you to fight your instinct to create an excessive amount of metabolic waste. Although you accomplish this using lighter loads, it’s essential that you eliminate short term ego by maintaining perspective on training as a muscle stimulus and keeping the long-term goal of ‘bigger gains’ squarely in your sights.
- Develop an internal focus by actively squeezing the muscle to move the load.
- This is a skill, so it takes practice to get the feel throughout a full range of motion.
- Progressively develop this skill by first holding the peak contracted position of each rep for a brief squeeze.
- Get Crushed by Your Training Loads*
Initial reviews have shown that among the surprises found within Massive, Muscular Arms, those related to eccentric training will result in your biggest gains.
As an example, although it’s commonly known that we are stronger eccentrically, it may be surprising to learn that we exert less force during this contraction phase. The result is that we miss out on a huge amount of structural growth-stimulating tension with every rep. This discrepancy, between our strength potential (aka force potential) and actual strength used, is called the Eccentric Paradox. If we’re going to maximize muscle growth, we need to overcome this limit and tap into our latent strength.
But wait, there’s more!
Would it also surprise you to learn that strength training is effectively concentric-only? If you don’t believe me, consider how we measure of the greatest amount of strength you can produce, which you may know as the ‘concentric 1RM’.
But that sounds strange, doesn’t it? Because in practice, you dispense with the word concentric, and just call it a ‘1RM’. But how could I know this about you? Am I a wizard? Yes, but also, it’s just what everyone does. Clairvoyance aside, let’s now consider the implications for growth.
This, the most fundamental measure of strength, is so implicitly concentric-based that it would never even occur to us to preface with the word. Because we’re forced to overcome gravity (concentrically) for every rep we’ve ever performed and every step we’ve ever taken, we are invariably concentric-focused. This fundamental limit to both our thinking and training is known as the Concentric Constraint, and if we’re to maximally increase arm size, we need to cast off this anchor.
The way to do this is to build off the first two tips and employ the eccentric overload training method.
- In contrast to traditional eccentric reps during which you give in to the load, eccentric overload reps are performed with a load that you cannot move concentrically.
- More importantly, during these reps you are trying to move the load concentrically as hard as you can, you simply can’t.
- It’s likely that you’ve never experienced this before, and it’s counterintuitive to every rep you’ve ever performed, so it takes some getting used to.
- You’re rewarded for your efforts with ‘fast gains’.
*Be smart and stay safe. You can be overcome (aka crushed) by eccentric training loads with no greater injury risk than with traditional concentric training.
Synergy for Massive Arms
Within the fitness industry the hyperbolic term ‘synergy’ is thrown around more casually than the average gym-goer’s training load. In this case, the term actually fits, so let’s put it all together to find the underlying synergy that connects the tips.
Tip 1: If you’re going to use very heavy eccentric loads, you need to have some experience with traditional heavy strength phases. This will prepare you both physically and psychologically for what’s to come.
Tip 2: If you’re supposed to fight instinct and rewire the nervous system to contract against an overwhelming eccentric load, you need to have a clear sense of external and internal loci of focus.
Each of the tips work well enough on their own, but it is only by experiencing the first two will you come to fully reap the benefits of eccentric overload training. The details of how to do this, along with hundreds of training and execution tips, are provided in Massive, Muscular Arms.
Until next time, Raise the Barr!
Thanks to the featured book influencers: Christian Thibaudeau, Matt Wenning, Dr. John Rusin, Scott Caulfield, and Nick Clayton.
- Evans JW. Periodized Resistance Training for Enhancing Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength: A Mini-Review. Front Physiol. 2019 Jan 23;10:13. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.00013. PMID: 30728780; PMCID: PMC6351492.
- Schoenfeld BJ, Vigotsky A, Contreras B, Golden S, Alto A, Larson R, Winkelman N, Paoli A. Differential effects of attentional focus strategies during long-term resistance training. Eur J Sport Sci. 2018 Jun;18(5):705-712. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2018.1447020. Epub 2018 Mar 13. PMID: 29533715.
- Franchi MV, Reeves ND, Narici MV. Skeletal Muscle Remodeling in Response to Eccentric vs. Concentric Loading: Morphological, Molecular, and Metabolic Adaptations. Front Physiol. 2017 Jul 4;8:447. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00447. PMID: 28725197; PMCID: PMC5495834.