The term “Bro Science” in this sense is false information and common misconceptions as it relates to bodybuilding. The focus is on gaining strength and building muscle as this is the focus of many lifters who train in the gym most days of the week. However, because of lack of time under tension and appropriate sets and rest periods; many lifters participate in what can be described as a modified strength program. The problem with this is they are neither gaining muscle mass nor are they make steady improvements in strength.
The latest trend in workout programs stems from being able to stretch the muscle fascia, but there’s not enough evidence to date to support it. Another widely accepted concept was that the hormonal changes caused by high intensity exercise led to increased protein synthesis. However, research that has come about as of late has found no correlation between elevated hormones from exercise and protein synthesis. What is currently widely accepted however is time under tension and muscle fiber recruitment.
To start with, many lifters never track there progress or use a periodizing program (as discussed in the previous article, where you go through different cycles of workouts over a period of time in an attempt to increase performance). They just walk into the gym and guesstimate how much they should lift every set, or they duplicate sets they’ve done millions of times in the past.
The ideal way to approach a workout is with knowledge of what you’ve done in the past and with a plan to increase your current numbers. If you never track your progress and if you don’t have some sort of reference point to refer to as far as what you’ve done in the past for a specific lift, then how do you know your getting better? Always keep track of what your numbers are lifting and attempt to improve, If you continue to do the same workouts with the same weight you may even suffer a decrease in performance.
Another principle to cement into your brain is that of exercise order. It is widely excepted by exercise physiologists that multi-joint exercises (usually free weight movements that combine multiple joints as well as your “core” stabilizers. Ex: bent over row, squat, deadlift etc.) are to be followed by single joint movements (isolated exercises that are usually done with cables or on machines).
One concept that has lost validity as of late is that of pre-exhaustion exercises. They are great for those looking to avoid lifting large amounts of weight because of injury or fear of injury but they no longer have much science to support them. The issue stems from the requirement of time under tension and muscle fiber recruitment which we will discuss. But the problem is that to put muscles under the maximum possible time under tension they must undergo the heaviest possible load for a period of time.
Exhausting the target muscle before a heavy lift not only put the load on your assisting muscle groups (like your biceps helping you during a back workout, or your triceps assisting during a chest workout) but it will also diminish the amount of weight you are able to lift and the amount of good reps you are able to lift it for. For example, how much muscle fiber recruitment do you think you’re getting in your chest during a pre-exhausted bench press while your triceps are burning? Not as much as you would if you lifted after a light warm-up, I can guarantee you that.
When we talk about time under tension I’m referring to time your muscles actually spend contracting during a lift. In “Bro Science” many lifters us other muscle groups to assist them in lifting weight that is too heavy for them. Or they get to a point during a set in their exercise when tension has left the muscle and they rest (the top of a bench press, the top portion of a curl etc.) To maximize muscle fiber recruitment, the most important things to remember are:
- During multi-joint exercises, rest at least 1:30 to 2 minutes between sets. To get the most out of every lift you must give your body time to regenerate ATP by way of creatine phosphate. To up the intensity of your workout, you can employ drop sets and rest-pause sets (as discussed in part 1) from time to time. As well as utilizing 30 second rest periods for single joint movements later in your workout.
- Avoid pre-exhausting target muscles and avoid exhausting your assisting muscle groups before working a major one. Example: don’t work biceps directly after or before doing back. It is a secondary muscle group during back movements and you will fail to get the most out of your back workout if the muscle responsible for pulling weight is to tired to assist you. It works the opposite way as well, how can you get a great bicep workout when your biceps were just being used during an entire back workout? A big mistake people make is thinking that if they don’t get a pump in their biceps during their back workout than they have a green light to workout their biceps right away.
- Lift at least 70-75% of your maximum weight (a rep range of 8-12 reps). If you lift any lighter than this you are only working muscular endurance. You are more than welcome to lift heavier, but if your goal is hypertrophy you would only lift at a lower rep range for a pre-determined period of time in an attempt to increase your strength. Then you would return to the 8-12 rep range. You don’t want the weight to be so light that your not recruiting fast twitch muscle fibers (the muscle fibers responsible for hypertrophy that are not readily activated during “endurance” type exercises.)
- Proper form is a must, for every major free weight lift, “Bro Lifters” will cheat on form for the sake of adding weights and they won’t recruit the muscles needed for any strength gains or hypertrophy. It’s always funny to see people jumping up and down to get the weight up in the gym and it makes me wonder what muscle they’re trying to work. Because the only thing I see them using is their legs and their hips.
- The timing of the lift is the last key to the equation. Your timing for a lift if your goal is hypertrophy should be a one-one thousand count for the lifting portion and a three-one thousand (ex: one-one thousand, two-one thousand etc…) count for the lowering portion of the lift. For increasing strength, there is much evidence to suggest that increasing the velocity of the lifting phase leads to increases in strength (making the use of bands and chains on weights a reliable way to increase power and strength). A three-one thousand count is still adequate for the lowering portion but the lifting portion should be done as quickly and as controlled as possible.
So the take home lesson to remember when your in the gym is to do your exercises in the appropriate order, with the proper form and rest periods to maximize your potential for gains in strength and hypertrophy. Also, readily throw drop sets and rest pause sets into the rotation to up the intensity. As well as keep the rest periods for isolation exercises in the 30 second range.
Although the hormonal response due to high intensity exercise hasn’t been proven to increase protein synthesis; it is still very important to keep the intensity levels up because of the fat metabolizing benefits of the hormones, the cardiovascular benefits of the exercise, plus the muscle breakdown and inflammation induced by the short rest periods that lead to hypertrophy.
Dustin Elliott is the Head Formulator for Betancourt Nutrition.