It’s something we all aspire to in one way or another.
Whether it’s mastering an instrument, a field of study, or twisting and turning the chaotic blocks of a Rubik’s cube into a concise, six-sided color palette, mastery feels pretty darn good, right?
I’m a former rocket scientist turned fitness expert who, after spending years of studying and mastering aerospace engineering, took to the task of mastering my true passion: building muscle.
And I want to teach you how to master muscle growth so you can become a maestro of muscle, a virtuoso of vascularity, a prodigy of pump…
And trust me…
It isn’t rocket science.
In fact, like I cover in my free book, Muscle (grab your copy here), building muscle is actually really simple.
Like, stupid simple.
And today, I want to help you become a muscle master by nailing down three proven muscle growth mechanisms:
Mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage.
What Is It?
When’s the last time you participated in a good ole tug-of-war?
You remember the game, don’t you?
Two groups of people stand on opposite sides of a giant rope, separated by a single white line, or for more intense matches, a valley of mud.
Well, it turns out that a tug-of-war can teach us a lot about mechanical tension and building muscle.
See, in a tug-of-war, the objective is for each group is to pull the opposing team over the white line (or to their muddy end). When the whistle blows, the two teams pull the rope in opposite directions as hard as they can, and the rope itself becomes increasingly strained. The strain on the rope is called tension, and it occurs in your muscles when you lift weights, do a front double-bicep in the mirror, or even stretch under a bit of pressure.
How to Master It
The moment you contract a muscle, you’re participating in this aspect of muscle growth. But in order to maximize mechanical tension and thereby, build more muscle faster, you want to lift heavy. The heavier the weight you lift, the more molecular and cellular response you’ll initiate…
Or in other words, if I can speak for your muscles for just a second, they’d likely say, “If we’re going to be lifting that much weight, we better get bigger!”
And so they do. They adapt and grow over time, according to the mechanical tension they’re placed under. So if you want to use mechanical tension to your advantage in mastering muscle growth, walk into the gym with one goal: get stronger.
I cover the best methods for building strength in Muscle. Grab your free copy
What Is It?
It’s summertime, and if you have kids, or like to act like a kid yourself, you’ve probably got a fresh bag of water balloons in your house somewhere.
Let me ask you an obvious question…
What happens when you fill those balloons with water?
Well, assuming there isn’t a hole in the balloon, it’s going to fill up, go from being flat to round, and from loose to tight…
That water balloon is a picture of metabolic stress in a nutshell (see, mastering muscle growth really can be stupid simple).
Metabolic stress is what you know to be a pump. It’s the puffed up, burning sensation that you get in the middle of an intense exercise.
Basically, what’s happening under the surface is that metabolites in the muscle (lactate, hydrogen ions, inorganic phosphate, and creatine) build up and cause this slightly unpleasant but superhuman pump that you and everyone else who’s watching you sees in the gym.
And this pump is essential to muscle growth mastery.
How to Master It
I’ve found that there are a few ways to achieve great amounts of metabolic stress.
Particularly, when you lift to failure, perform high rep exercises, drop sets, and rest pauses.
All of these give you a great pump—or, to use the science-y term, metabolic stress.
Here’s a quick rundown of what each entails:
- Lift to failure: When you perform a particular exercise until your form breaks or you can’t perform any more reps. I don’t recommend lifting to failure during any exercise where the weight can come down crashing on your head. Stick to cables, dumbbell movements that don’t involve an overhead motion, or, at the very least, get a spotter.
- High-rep exercises: Exercises within the 12-20 rep range. Don’t make these the staple of your workouts, but rather complementary to your strength-focused training sessions. High-rep exercises are also beneficial during de-load weeks.
- Drop sets: After you complete your final set of a heavy-rep exercise, strip the weight down slightly and perform as many reps as you can until you break form. Then, strip the weight even further and rep out until failure. For instance, you just finished your fifth set of five reps of 250 lbs. on the bench press. Immediately strip the weight down to 200 lbs. and perform reps until you break form. Hang up the weight. Strip the weight down to 185 lbs. and perform reps until failure.
- Rest-pauses: After you complete your final set of a heavy-rep exercise, hang up the weight, then wait 15 to 30 seconds before performing an additional rep. Then, rack the weight again, wait 15 to 30 seconds, and perform another rep. Do this four to six times. For instance, you just finished your fifth set of 250 lbs. on the bench press. Hang up the barbell. Wait 15 to 30 seconds before performing one more rep. Repeat this process four more times.
What Is It?
It’s a running joke for those of us in the fitness community…
After your leg day, you’re virtually the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz—you can’t take the stairs, can’t sit on the toilet without wincing, and your grandma leaves you in the dust when you walk with her to the dinner table for one of her famous homemade dishes.
Ever been there before?
The pain you experience after leg day is an indicator of muscle damage, and as lousy as it feels sometimes, it’s necessary in order for you to master muscle growth.
This pain is an indicator that you have (successfully) damaged muscle fibers in such a way that they’ve become inflamed, and this particular response releases growth factors in your body that initiate and regulate muscle growth.
So, the old adage of “no pain, no gain” certainly applies here.
How to Master It
Now, your goal when you hit the gym isn’t to chase after pain. Your goal is to work your tail off during your workouts by progressively pushing yourself during each gym session. If you do this, the pain, I mean, the muscle damage will follow.
You’ll most effectively achieve muscle damage during high-volume workouts and when you emphasize the eccentric (lowering with gravity) portion of an exercise.
Now, I want to add a little caveat here. Remember that your goal in the gym is to build strength (like I mentioned in the mechanical tension section).
More strength + More volume = More muscle.
For instance, doing 10 sets of 10 reps on a bench press equals a volume of 100 reps.
But there is a difference between doing 10 sets of 10 reps at 50 lbs. and performing 10 sets of 10 reps at 100 lbs. Both scenarios involve the same amount of volume, but clearly the latter is going to initiate better muscle growth.
So, in order to make your volume really worthwhile and to elicit the most muscle damage, always aim to get stronger in the gym.
So there you have it: the 3 M’s that will make you a master of muscle growth…
And by implementing these techniques into your training, you’ll become a shredded savant soon enough.
What’s great about mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage is that you don’t need to focus any of your workouts on a specific one. Instead, all three of these mechanics should come into play during each workout.
I’ve covered all of the ways you can implement the 3 M’s on a daily basis in my free book, Muscle.
Muscle is also loaded with training and nutrition plans, exercises, stretches, and everything else you need to make muscle mastery stupid simple.
I already bought your copy for you. Pick it up here
About the Author
Jason Maxwell grew up in a small town with less than 3,500 people and was fat when he was younger. Because of this, he was bullied until he hit puberty.
He was skinny-fat all through high school (even though he played every sport).
His love for lifting started in his senior year of high school in order to get stronger for football. After starting to lift weights, he was seeing some results, but he was still skinny-fat.
It wasn’t until he went to Ryerson University in Toronto for Aerospace Engineering that he finally got his nutrition and lifting dialed in.
He ended up gaining 20 lbs. of muscle his first semester and got leaner in the process. He wasn’t skinny-fat anymore.
Jason became obsessed with everything to do with fitness and nutrition, and after graduating, he gave the middle finger to his career in rocket science for a life of helping other guys accomplish what he did with his body.
Jason now runs JMax Fitness, where he helps other men achieve their own fitness goals. Learn more here.