If you are struggling to build a balanced and muscular physique, no matter how much you work or how many hours you put in. I KNOW this article is going to help by diving into a crucial aspect you are missing and why progress has stalled.
Before we dive into the issue, we need to know what to focus on to find the issue. The goal of training is to improve your ability to contract muscles harder so you can maximise the muscle stimulus. It is NOT simply to complete reps to reach 3 sets of 10 – the quality of those reps are much more important.
Aim to get better and better at this internal focus, so that you can get more quality out of the exercises you do, not simply to crank out 5 more if they all came from a different muscle group.
The goal is NOT to do more and more if the quality is sub-par. Many add volume because they can’t get adequate stimulus without just doing more and more (and they don’t know what else to do). To get better doesn’t require longer and longer workouts, it requires focus on what your training.
If your focus is on completing the rep, this means you are not focused on the muscle. If I ask you about your big toe, you weren’t paying attention to it until you read this. Now you can tell me if it feels squished up in a shoe or is sitting weird. But you couldn’t tell me that unless you were paying attention – the same as muscle contractions vs. completing reps.
Now that you know what to focus on to find the issue, we can dive into the common problem…
Stability will be the determining factor of the quality of these contractions and therefore building muscle because you need have one end of a muscle stable in order to create tension in it (you can’t create tension in a rope if both ends are moving). If you don’t have stability you can’t build muscle.
NB: If you notice some part moving that shouldn’t be, you’re taking away from the working muscle.
If you notice instability it usually resides in one of two areas – hips or scapula.
For example if you can’t effectively contract your quads, you need to learn to drive your hips into the leg press or lock your bum down on the leg extension so that you can initiate with powerful contractions rather than just swinging or bouncing out of the bottom.
Similarly, if it is your chest or something upper body that you can’t feel, you need to find a way to lock yourself in place. For biceps you can shove your tricep/upper arm into a preacher curl bench. For chest, find a wider bench or the floor to keep more contact between the scapula and this surface so that is isn’t moving around back there – chest training always improves when you focus more on keeping your back locked into the bench rather than pressing.
Now you know WHAT and WHERE to focus, let’s dive into HOW
Training stability is directing correlated with mobility. Both can be improved by spending more time in the range where you see the weakness/instability. This weakness will not be in the middle of the range where you are strong (and commonly training) – it will be in a full stretch or full shortening of the muscle.
You will notice this is every gym around the world (trust me I checked in UK, France and Italy over the last couple weeks…) people are always steering away from effort. They would rather do 5 sets of dumbbell rows swinging it round, than 1 set controlled and focusing on contracting hard at the top which would result in more results (mixture of knowledge and ego).
You do not need add extra drop sets, super sets, or extra exercises if you have first nailed the ability to contract hard with light weights. If you feel the workouts are not hard enough, you need to double down on getting the most out of the set with harder contractions. Bumping up the weight to “feel” a muscle should be a pretty good warning sign that there is no internal control because you are seeking external help!
So how you improve this stability and effectiveness of everything you do in the gym is to seek where the exercise is hardest and SPEND MORE TIME THERE. Contract before you move you can feel what you are training, then hold that squeeze or stretch with muscular control.
Use the execution library to ingrain these movements into your muscle memory so that you get these muscles responding on the first rep of the first exercise. There is no room for anything less then full awareness and internal control of your body on the journey of mastery.
Additional Stability Work
Adding in Abs, Glutes, Lower Trap and Core training is never a bad idea. Add it in between sets if the rest periods feel long (strength phase for example), before the workout to improve stability, or after the workout to introduce extra stability training.
These are commonly weak and all assist with stabilizing the movements in the gym. Use the trap 3 variation and serratus to help build awareness of scapula control or a mixture of glutes, lower back and hip flexors to stabilize the hips.