The concept of gaining muscle is rather simple to understand:
1) Hit the gym and make sure you hit your muscles hard, when they’re hit hard, they get damaged. Your body responds by fixing the damage and adapting the muscles so that next time they can handle that load without damaging themselves, at which point you hit the muscle even harder (now that you can, since your muscles have adapted), and you recycle the whole process. This is called Progressive Overload.
2) In order for your body to repair and adapt the muscle (muscle growth) for the stresses you make it undergo in the gym, you need to give it enough nutrients. If you’re not eating above maintenance, you’re not doing that. So make sure you figure out how much you need to eat, How Many Calories Should I Eat A Day?.
The key concept behind all of this is the idea of muscle fatigue. If you hit your muscles hard enough so that they fatigue, you will force your body to grow them in order to adapt (again, as long as you feed your body enough). A commonly overlooked method of making sure your muscles reach muscle fatigue is doing negatives. This can be applied to any exercise, any routine, at any time.
There are two parts to a movement, let’s use bicep curls as our example. When you’re lifting the weight up, it’s the positive part of the movement. When you’re letting the weight go back down, it’s the negative part of the movement. Most people tend to focus on the positive, while ignoring the negative (most commonly, simply letting the weight drop back down immediately so they can bring it up again). If you wish to really hit your muscles hard, you need to make sure you’re not ignoring the second half of every exercise. We’re looking to gain muscle right? How do we make sure we reach muscle fatigue? We pay attention to the negatives just as much as the positives of each movement!
Here are some ways you can incorporate a focus on the negative while you’re training:
1) Add negatives at the end of your set – let’s say you’re doing a set of 8 reps on bench press. You get to rep 8 and you’re just about exhausted, well…not so fast! Instead of putting the weight back on the rack, get a spotter and do a couple negative reps till you really give out. Slowly and steadily, with the focus on your chest, lower the weight all the way down. Then, let the spotter get the weight back up to the top for you, and do it again. Repeat this until you’re completely out of it. Since this method takes you to ultimate failure, it is recommended you leave this for the last set of the particular exercise, so you can really finish it with a bang! Muscle fatigued, mission accomplished!
2) Do whole sets of negatives – finished with those skull-crushers? Don’t be, bring the weight back and do a whole set of negatives before you put that barbell away. If 3 sets was your intended set count, add a 4th based solely on negatives to finish off strong. You can also do an entire exercise based on negatives only. If you’re doing 4 exercises for that particular muscle group, make one of them a negative exercise!
3) Do a negative at the end of each rep of a set – Instead of dropping the weight on that dumbbell row, do a negative on the way down. Continue this after each rep, I guarantee you won’t do the same amount of reps and the burn will be excruciating. This is actually a very good way to mercilessly gnaw at a muscle, since you’re making it work constantly on the way up and on the way down without rest (for a longer period of time, too!)
These are the most common ways to incorporate negatives into your day at the gym, so that you can really reach muscle fatigue. Gaining muscle will also require that strong calorie count, as we’ve mentioned in point 2 at the start of the article, so don’t forget about that! Furthermore, get creative. I’m sure you can come up with your own ways of using negatives to maximize your results, so don’t be hesitant. I’ve simply outlined what’s usually applied. Remember, the focus is on a slow and steady second half of the movement. You want to use your muscle to resist the gravity of the weights as they naturally come back down. Take your time, and really feel it in the muscle (Mind Muscle Connection). If you want to gain muscle, hit your muscles twice as hard, by making sure you don’t forget about that often ignored opposite part of the rep. For more tips on how to destroy your muscles in the gym, check out our Weight Training Tips article. Good luck!