In my own long search for this truth, I’ve experimented with every ‘muscle building trick’ that’s been conceived. For example, at twenty-five years old, I tried the “one inch to your arms in 24 hours” routine. The results: my arms were so over-trained that I lost an inch of arm size and spent a month and a half trying to regain the size and strength I’d previously possessed. I subsequently beseeched anyone thinking of trying that routine to not touch it with a ten foot pole. This is the kind of wisdom usually reserved for those who’ve gained the experience that only time and diligent experimentation can provide. Avoidance of the setbacks that accompany such experimentation is the reward of those willing to listen to the ones who have “been there and done that.”
With that experience behind me, let’s go over a few of the more commonly employed muscle building tricks as I divulge the truth about building muscle when utilizing them or attempting to do so in building your body:
This is probably the most commonly utilized intensifying technique used in weight lifting and bodybuilding workouts. It’s incorporated whenever additional repetitions are eked out with the assistance of a “spotter” after the trainee performing the exercise has exhausted the number of repetitions he or she can do without help.
The reason for doing forced reps seems plausible enough on the surface. If working a muscle ‘til it fails is good, then working it beyond that point must be great… right? The notion, of course, is that the additional tear-down of the muscle tissue will stimulate more growth. Yet the fact that most trainees use forced reps sparingly demonstrates that people know – albeit instinctively, if not consciously – that this practice could easily become counterproductive due to its tendency to cause overtraining. So the assumption with that in mind is that a bit of forced reps will create more muscle growth while too many will have the opposite effect.
The Truth about Building Muscle with ‘Forced Reps’: Forced reps are possibly the most overrated of muscle building tricks for the natural bodybuilder. In fact, if logical reasoning is applied to the question of their use, it’s easy to see why they don’t make sense. Remember this rule – first and foremost:
"Muscles will only grow when full, ‘compensatory’ recuperation is allowed to occur in the rest time between workouts.”If you designed a bodybuilding workout in which ‘X’ number of total sets for your chest had it recuperating in exactly a week, additional tear-down of that tissue would require you give it OVER a week to recuperate. Forced reps are additional tear-down – multiplied by a factor of… anybody’s friggin’ guess. I can assure you from experience that each set of forced reps represents more than one set of non-forced reps in terms of tissue tear-down.
Unless a natural bodybuilding trainee is willing to become over-trained and confused as to how many days of rest to apply after each workout, I suggest dumping the forced reps.
This ‘muscle building trick’ is from the super-sets category and is utilized any time the set of an isolation exercise is immediately followed by a set of a compound movement that works the same muscle that the isolation exercise worked. This “pre-exhausts” the targeted muscle so that it becomes the limiting factor during the compound movement rather than the other muscles at play during that movement. For example, if you perform a set of strict dumbbell flyes, you’ll pre-exhaust the pectoral muscles before you immediately follow that with a set of bench presses (compound movement) so that the presses exhaust the ATP within the pectorals before affecting the triceps and deltoids (also used in bench pressing).
Does this “muscle building trick” really build more muscle?
The Truth about Building Muscle with ‘Pre-Exhaustion’: I’ve incorporated this muscle building trick many times over the years with both myself and people I’ve worked with. What have I gleaned? Pre-exhaustion will not over-train the targeted muscle as quickly as forced reps, but it usually leads to an over-trained state and the muscle building plateau that accompanies it.
My advice: If you love pre-exhaustion, utilize it sparingly and with close attention to the increased inter-workout recuperation time it will most likely demand.
These are performed by doing consecutive sets of an exercise through decreasing the weight used on that exercise as each set reaches its muscle failure point. For example, if you’re doing a set of dumbbell bench presses with 50 pound dumbbells and your muscles fail in their ability to perform another repetition after eight reps, you’d drop those dumbbells and immediately begin doing additional reps with 40-pound dumbbells, or 30-pounders… and then drop the weight again with the exhaustion of that set to perform an even lighter set.
Of the dozen or so creative “muscle building tricks” out there, this is one of the more intense. But unless you’re simply seeking admiration for your work ethic while in the gym, you’d like to know ‘the truth about building muscle’ with these techniques – not whether they’re physically demanding. If the muscle building equation were simply “no pain-no gain” or ‘the harder you work – the better your results”, bodybuilding plateaus could be solved with one simple article about applying high intensity and there wouldn’t be slews of people seeking intelligent muscle gaining information.
The Truth about Building Muscle with Drop-Sets: What seems to get past a lot of bodybuilders is the fact that when drop-sets are performed, the trainee is essentially making a low or medium-rep set into a high-rep set. If you perform a set of biceps curls using a weight for which the muscles fail at six or fewer repetitions, you’ll primarily work the white fast-twitch fibers of the muscle tissue. However, if you immediately (without rest) perform an additional set with a lighter weight for which you can do another six reps, you’ll really be doing a mitochondrial building giant set of twelve repetitions. An additional set done by dropping the weight even further could take the set up to eighteen to twenty repetitions. If nothing else, this is a mixing of tactics based on unclear goals and a resultant crossing of strategies that usually accompanies such confusion.
Personally, I’ve found that using periodization is a much more effective method of combining different repetition schemes for muscle building than utilizing different schemes within the same workout.
But the bottom line is this: While using this more intense of the common ‘muscle building tricks’, it’s important to consider the additional recuperation between workouts that will be required if gains are to be realized through this technique. Consider each “dropped set” (each reduction in weight) as an addition to the total number of sets of the exercise being performed and add inter-workout rest days accordingly.
The truth about building muscle boils down to this: Natural bodybuilding requires more attention to detail than that of its drug-assisted counterpart. Of course, for this and other reasons, it’s much healthier and more rewarding than its alternative. But the detail that gets by too many struggling natural bodybuilders is that which is only obtained through “sensory acuity” to what elevated levels of intensity do to one’s muscles and the tissue recuperation requirements between the “tear-down sessions” (workouts) of those muscles.
Simply put, “muscle building tricks” are unlikely to perform anything close to magic unless they’re used sparingly and with increased (or improved) recuperation between workouts.