In order to optimize your training and ensure the best GAINZ, it can be helpful to learn more about how muscles grow, why we get stronger, and how we adapt to training.
There are two basic mechanisms for getting stronger.
1. Neurological: our nerves, brain, and spinal cord become faster and more efficient at sending signals to our muscles. This allows us to use a greater percentage of our actual muscle fibers and in turn leads to things like stronger lifts. This is called motor unit recruitment.
2. Hypertrophy: our muscle fibers enlarge and physically change shape. Otherwise known as GAINZ. This process of muscle protein synthesis requires sufficient stress to the muscle tissue (exercise), sufficient recovery (rest), and sufficient dietary protein. Muscle tissue growth happens while we rest, not while we train.
So, the best way to go about optimizing your muscle strength and size….
Is to specifically address both of these qualities. Neurological drive can be improved with jumps, sprints, lifting heavy weights fast (low reps), and isometrics. The faster and more forcefully you intend to move a weight, the greater proportion of muscle fibers will be recruited (activated).
Hypertrophy training is all about metabolic stress and time under tension (high reps). The actual weight being lifted is not as important. Key concepts here are the mind-body connection, the pump, and how much you are isolating specific muscle fibers during a movement.
A sound training program will ideally help to optimize both of these physiological mechanisms. In year long programs, there might be a hypertrophy phase followed by a strength or power phase. Whereas in many recreational programs, the two are trained hand in hand year round.
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