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Brendan’s Blog: 4 methods to build muscle and strength

Okay so you know the drill, you’ve been here before with your training. You’ve just been through a good phase of strength training, improved your max’s in the key movements, and more to the point you’re the fact that you’re stronger, more explosive and pulling big numbers in the gym.

But there’s also that nagging feeling in the back of your mind, that little voice that’s keeps whispering in your head when you least expect it.

“you need to do some hypertrophy work and get those muscles pumped”, it says.

Okay I might sound like a bit of a psycho now and trust me I don’t get too many little voices whispering crazy things to me (except my wife when she’s after something of course!)

But the thing is that voice might actually be talking a little bit of sense. See, a strength training phase is not about muscle damage. Especially if your involved in sports and strength train for that purpose. It’s about the mind body connection. The neuromuscular pathways that activate those high threshold muscle fibres that move the bar. Doing sessions of 3-6 reps won’t cause you to waste away in the slightest, but nor is it the optimal method for building mass.

How about the best of both worlds, increasing mass whilst developing serious strength in the process?
It is certainly achievable. You get to do the stuff you love be it strength or size training and reap the benefits of the additional goal. What’s wrong with doing what you enjoy in the gym? Certainly beats doing nothing doesn’t it! So with that in mind over the next few posts I’ll be talking about developing strength and muscle mass simultaneously detailing some of the most effective methods that I have used myself and as a coach.

Method 1: Strength-hypertrophy Supersets

With this method you use a major strength building exercise followed by a synergistic assistance exercise. The strength exercise can be taken from the strength phase you’ve just finished, as you’ll know roughly what loading to use and you’ll be trained on this movement. The goal is obviously to lift as heavy as you can for the strength movement for any given set and use the assistance movement to add additional time under tension which helps in the development of hypertrophy.

Some examples that I use with my athletes are:

A Back Squat x 5 reps
B Walking Lunge x 8 each leg

A Trap Bar Deadlift x 4 reps
B Single Leg Squat x 8 each leg

A Weighted Chin x 5 Reps
B DB Rows x 8 each arm

A Close Grip Bench with x 6 reps
B Narrow Grip Push-Ups to failure

A DB Press x 5 reps
B Single Arm Barbell Power Press x 8 each arm

We usually do 4 or 5 sets of these pairs and these are examples taken from a variety of sessions for a variety of athletes. At the moment I have basketballers, badminton players and combat athletes doing some of these and have used them a lot with rugby players over the years producing some good results over the 3/4 weeks that we will use them.

I tend to allow 2-3 minutes rest between the supplementary exercise and the strength exercise but no rest between the two strength and supplementary movement.

You can also fill this 2 minutes with a different superset eg lower and upper body but be careful the session doesn’t get too much into the metabolic zone as that is not the goal and will affect the loads used on the strength exercises.
You really do need that load to develop strength and the time under tension to stimulate hypertrophy.

Give it a go and let me know your thoughts.

Method 2: The Eccentric Method

Charles Poliquin, the Canadian strength coach, states that in order to develop hypertrophy there is a time under tension requirement of 40-70 seconds per set. If the emphasis is on the strength element as well as pure hypertrophy, this time under tension requirement needs to be at the lower end of the spectrum, around 40-50s in total per set which allows for more load to be used in the exercise. The higher the load the greater the emphasis on strength.

In addition to this we know that there needs to be a significant amount of intramuscular tension to cause that stress response in the muscle. Eccentric training produces both these meaning that strength and hypertrophy can be developed simultaneously.

I like to incorporate eccentric training for periods of 2-3 weeks for my athletes using the key strength building movements that we all know and love. I’m sure many of you have experimented with eccentrics for developing hypertrophy, it’s nothing new however in this method the goal is to gradually extend the length of each rep, with an overall increase in the TUT of each set using a given load of around 83-85% 1RM or a 5-6RM on any given day.

You need to keep that loading constant for the entire 3-week phase of training so you know that you’re increasing the TUT with that given load and building eccentric strength.

Here’s how it works in practice: 

Your first week the goal is to introduce the added eccentric stress to your body, so go with a total TUT of 40 seconds. Over a set of 6 reps that’s going to be an eccentric or around five seconds, a concentric of one second and some time for a pause at the bottom.  Your second week look to add an additional second of eccentric tension to each rep so go from a five second eccentric to a six second eccentric. For a six rep set that will add six seconds of overall tension with the same load. Powerful stuff no question! From there you can keep going, increasing the TUT each week or adding a small amount more load to keep within the forty to sixty second target per set.

Here are some examples of formats you could use in the first week of training:

Back squat: 6 reps with 6s eccentric, 1 second concentric. TUT = 42s

Chins: 6 reps with 4s eccentric, 2s concentric, 1s hold at top position. TUT = 42s

Dumbell Bench Press: 5 reps with 4s eccentric, 2s isometric at bottom position, 2s concentric. TUT = 40

You get the picture, other movements that this works well with are TRX Rows, Split Squats, military presses, stiff legged deadlifts and the list goes on.

The eccentric method is so versatile it can be applied in many ways. You can even play around with isometric pauses which add another dimension to the session.

Give this method a go, it will add another dimension to your training!

So that concludes the first part of the series, stay tuned for the next post which will take you through the third and fourth methods of building muscle whilst maintaining strength.

My best as always,

Brendan

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