Exercises That Build Quality Mass – yes, progressive overload AGAIN

Contributed by Yongdan Tang, PhD
Specific adaptation probably doesn’t require much explanation. Practices make perfection. The more we practice a certain activity, the better we are at it. Hence to build muscle, we gotta


  • Lift the weights
As training age increases, the single biggest factor of how strong an individual is almost largely determined by how jacked the person is. Don’t think there are many people believe in that marathon or field sports can build as much muscle as lifting iron. Also, from a recent article of Coffey and Hawley,  at the beginner phase, concurrent aerobic exercise and weight-lifting are “kinda” compatible. But when training age is acquired, endurance exercise can attenuate muscle hypertrophy and strength. 
  • Big 3s are the biggest bang for the buck
From the practical point of view, compound barbell exercises have the best ROI for muscle building as they hit multiple muscles at one go, if performed correctly. Correct exercise form of these main lifts (bench press, squat and deadlifts) is the pre-requisite of effective training. Wrong form doesn’t induce necessary stimuli to the targeted muscle group, but also increases risk of injury and also wastes time. Renowned strength coach Mark Rippetoe’s Youtube Channel is a good place to start if you are serious about lifting. 
Keep progressive overload as the utmost imporant priority in mind during training, with a long term mindset, which means always strive for higher volume, intensity or frequency in the long run, especially when we no longer can reap benefits from “newbie” gains. In general, a 70-80% 1RM weight with higher reps and sets are reported to be good for hypertrophy. But bear in mind that your recovery capacity should be able to handle this volume. So applying the pricincple of Perceived Exertion in a long term by targeting progressive overload next week or next month, is much more constructive than rigid reaching failure every single set which probably will not result in much progress at all. 
  • Adding accessory work for volume
As we transit from beginner to intermediate lifting age, more volume is needed to keep progressive overload on track. Also compound barbell exercises may not continue to accentuate specific muscles hence certain targeted work becomes necessary. This is when isolation, variations and machine exercises come handy to add to the total amount of work done, and optimizes the balance of each and every small muscle.   
  • Cardio for work capacity increase
Yes you see it right, cardio, aerobics for work capacity improvement. This typically refers to a bulking phase that when progress is stalled due to limited recovery ability, that you no longer can increase work volume. The key here is not to get into extended cardio sessions but rather “just doing enough” to improve cardiopulmony functions. Slow paced cardio for about 20-30 min twice a week sounds enough. Think about increased muscle as increased engine size, that the engine is also limited by the size of piping and valves. 
Yes, it’s not new but progressive overload is the keyword, AGAIN.
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