Q: I’ve read that I should always train my heavy exercise first—bench press, squats, etc. Then go to a more isolated one. If I use an isolation exercise first like concentration curls for variety and new stimulation, should I still train it heavy?
A: You can, but you don’t have to train it heavy (more on that in a moment). “Always” doing workouts a certain way is the road to stagnation and slower gains for most; however, you should make an effort to get the key mass triggers…
According to research Brad Schoenfeld, the three primary mechanisms for muscle hypertrophy are:
Mechanical tension (with heavier training)
Metabolic stress (by blocking blood flow for more cell swelling)
Muscle damage (causing micro tears in the fibers)
Getting all of those in the right doses results in extreme hypertrophy. Coincidentally, those directly correlate to standard Positions-of-Flexion training, which is why it’s such an effective mass-building method:
- Mechanical tension with the heavier, compound, big MIDRANGE exercises (squats, bench presses, etc.)
- Metabolic stress with CONTRACTED exercises (continuous-tension isolation moves like concentration curls, leg extensions, etc. for occlusion)
- Muscle damage with STRETCH exercises (resistance at elongation—like overhead triceps extensions, stiff-legged deadlifts, etc.)
And all of those are interrelated. In other words, you get some metabolic stress and muscle damage with heavier training. You get some mechanical tension and metabolic stress with stretch moves, etc. There is crossover, which is good…
The point is, you want to get all of those—but not necessarily at every workout. For example, if you use concentration curls (contracted) first at a biceps workout, you might want that to be a DENSITY day—lighter, longer tension times (emphasis on metabolic stress).
Then at your next biceps workout, you could make it a POWER day—emphasis on mechanical tension and muscle damage…
Start with heavy barbell curls, perhaps pyramiding the weight. Then follow with incline curls (stretch) with 7-to-9-rep sets to failure and concentration curls (contracted) for sets of 12 to cap off your pump.
So over those two biceps workouts—Power and Density—you are getting all the prerequisites for extreme muscle growth.
Or, yes, you can use Power and Density within one workout: Power on the big midrange move, moderately heavy stretch, and lighter, high-rep and/or short-rest contracted exercise.
As we always say, use POF, Power, AND Density for muscle immensity.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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