Committing to a new training program is difficult enough at the best of times but when you have to navigate through a mire of technical jargon just to understand the very basics of what anyone is talking about it can be nigh impossible. How can you create a training program that uses bilateral, plyometric and compound movements when you have no idea what any of that means?
By reading on that’s how! This article will demystify a number of these hardcore bodybuilding terms and give you enough of a brief explanation as to allow you to make the best decisions regarding whether to use them or not and how to implement them in your program designs. There’s a lot of powerful knowledge in this article, so get ready to start attacking your training sessions with much more knowledge and efficiency.
Sets and Reps
Sets and reps describe the two main cornerstones of any weight lifting regime. This is how you will break down your exercises – into series of repetitions (single movements), grouped in turn into repetitions. Thus you may work out on the bench press by performing three sets of ten repetitions each.
Do be wary though that following conventional wisdom when it comes to sets and reps is not always the wisest course of action. Not every muscle group requires the same amount of work as every other muscle group and the right number of repetitions will depend on your goals.
Simply put, bilateral movements are those where you use both arms at once, whereas unilateral movements are exercises where you use just one. A barbell curl is a bilateral movement for instance, while a bicep curl can be either.
Serious bodybuilders tend to cycle between phases in their training. While bulking they will eat lots of protein and carbs while training using high rep-ranges and medium-heavy weights. When they reach the size they want to be they will likely have gained excess fat as well, and so at this point they will then begin to ‘cut’ by eating mostly lean protein, using lighter weights with more explosive movements and incorporating cardio training. This phase will usually be timed to end just before competition time, so that the competitor will be large but well defined when it counts.
The concentric portion of any exercise is the portion during which the muscle is contracting in order to pull or push. The eccentric portion of the movement is when you then lower the weight in order to let it gradually return to the starting position. Sometimes the concentric and eccentric distinction is referred to as positive and negative accordingly.
Meanwhile the ‘isometric’ portion of an exercise describes the points at which you are simply holding your position with constant load. If you were to perform bicep curls while pausing with your arm at 90 degrees for instance, then this would be an example of an isometric hold. Some exercises like the plank are entirely isometric holds on their own with no eccentric or concentric movements.
The negative portion of the exercise is just another word for the eccentric portion as we discussed. Thus to perform a ‘negative’ is simply to use only eccentric movements. This works because it allows you to train with heavier weights than you normally would – for instance by getting a spotter to help you get a dumbbell to the top position in a curl and then just lowering it as slowly as you can.
Plyometric exercises meanwhile are a fourth category and describe those exercises that require explosive force to propel you forward. They include such things as clapping press-ups and box jumps and train the fast-twitch muscle fibres more than the slow twitch kind.
Twitch Muscle Fibres
Speaking of which, fast-twitch muscle fibres are the fibres in your muscles that are responsible for faster and more explosive movements. These are also the type of muscle fibre that are easiest to grow in size and strength, which makes them desirable for bodybuilders and other athletes as opposed to slow twitch which are not as explosive but have better endurance in the long term. These types are also known as ‘type A’ and ‘type B’, and in fact there are actually many types of muscle fibre in between these types making it more of a spectrum than a binary division – for most purposes though you need only concern yourself with these two well-known types. Unfortunately we are given a genetically pre-determined ratio of type A muscle fibres to type B, meaning some people will be better suited to explosive training while others will be more well adapted to long distance running and other endurance-type challenges.
Hypertrophy is simply the technical term for muscle growth. There are two types of hypertrophy, those being ‘sarcoplasmic’ hypertrophy and myofibrillar hypertrophy. Hyperplasia meanwhile is the process by which muscle fibres can change their ‘type’ – a process observed in animals but not really proven in humans.
This muscle growth occurs during what is known as an ‘anabolic state’. Anabolic states are states in which the body is producing lots of hormones that encourage muscle growth and tissue repair such as testosterone and growth hormone. The opposite of this is a ‘catabolic state’ which is characterised by burning of energy and tissue in order to fuel movement. Generally speaking our bodies are catabolic while we’re awake and anabolic while we’re sleeping, though there is an ‘anabolic window’ that occurs just after training which is why this is the best time to consume protein shake.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or ‘DOMS’ is the technical term for the muscle ache you get the next day after a heavy training. This is as opposed to Acute Muscle Soreness which is the burning sensation you get during exercise as you reach the end of your capability. There is dispute among the community as to whether either of these types of pain are necessary to signal adequate intensity.
Compound Exercises vs Isolation
Compound exercises are those exercises which involve multiple muscle groups working at once to perform a movement. The best known examples are the bench press, the squat and the deadlift – each of which involve a large number of supportive muscles working in unison.
Isolation exercises meanwhile are exercises designed to target a single muscle group while preventing others from helping. These are more useful if you need to work a particular area specifically, but compound movements build more ‘functional strength’ meaning that that they more closely resemble the way that we move in real life and trigger a great anabolic response resulting in more muscle building subsequently.
Interval training is training where you switch from a period of high intensity to a period of low intensity. This is now particularly popular during cardiovascular exercise where it can be used to increase heart rate and reach an anaerobic state where you are training faster than your breathing can provide energy (meaning that you burn up available blood sugar and thus burn more fat ultimately).
High Intensity Training, or HIT, is simply training with higher intensity than you normally might: i.e. lifting heavier weights and taking shorter breaks. The idea is to perform the same workout routine in less time, thus saving time spent in the gym while also improving the hormonal response. HIIT meanwhile is ‘high intensity interval training’ which combines these two concepts.
A superset is a combination of two exercises performed together so that you swap from one to the other instead of taking rests. Generally this method is performed using opposing muscles (such as the biceps and triceps) or complementary ones (such as the shoulders and triceps).
A ‘pre-exhaust’ set is a set of exercises performed immediately before the main exercise with the intention of exhausting a particular muscle group. Usually this is done in order to further isolate a particular area by making it more difficult for surrounding muscles to ‘help’.
Forced repetitions are repetitions that you perform of any exercise that go beyond the normal point of failure. Many believe this is the point at which exercise is most effective, so it’s a useful training tool for bodybuilders.
There are many ways of performing forced reps. One example is to get a spotter to help you lift when you can’t perform any more on your own (assisted reps). Another method is to immediately drop down to a slightly lighter weight to continue doing more repetitions (drop sets), or you can change your technique in order to ‘help’ yourself perform more movements (cheats).
SAID stands for ‘Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands’ and is basically a mantra that teaches the importance of using the correct type of training for the goals you want. It’s not enough to simply use any type of training that’s intense enough and hope that you’ll eventually achieve the results you want – you need to repeatedly perform specific tasks in order to get your body to adapt to those tasks and become better at them. Want to get better at lifting heavy weights? Then you need to lift heavy weights. Want to run for longer? Then you need to practice marathon training.
Occlusion training is a controversial technique used by some bodybuilders that involves isolating the muscle being targeted from the rest of your circulation in order to ‘trap’ the blood there. Usually this is accomplished by using a tourniquet tied just above that muscle – at the top of the arm for instance if the aim is to train the biceps. It is believed that this will then ensure that muscle has more nutrients and energy, while at the same time increasing the amount of microtears and hormone release in the area – though there is insufficient evidence to support this theory.
Rest-pause is another technique used by bodybuilders that is in this case a little more likely to work. Here the idea is to pause at the end of each repetition – by resting the barbell on your chest for a second in-between presses for example. This then means that you can’t rely on ‘bouncing’ the weight up, ensures you train through the entire range of motion, and ultimately makes more work for you.
Range of Motion
The range of motion you train through when exercising is the precise arc or extension you use when lifting weights. The ideal range of motion will be a large one that will incorporate the entirety of the muscle being trained. Some exercises will only train a portion of a muscle’s range and this must be taken into account when designing a program.
The cadence of your training is the speed at which you move through repetitions. A common example is 3-0-3, which means you take three seconds on the positive portion of the movement and then move back into the negative portion immediately with no pause. Slowing down the cadence is a technique that is believed to be useful in building larger muscles as opposed to more explosively strong ones.
The reason a slower cadence may be useful is that it increases the ‘time under tension’ for the target muscle being worked. This essentially means that that muscle is going to spend more time being torn by the reps and that in turn means more growth in the long run. Higher rep ranges also increase time-under-tension which is why they’re used by professional bodybuilders.
Your 1RM or ‘one rep max’ is the maximum weight that you can handle for one repetition of any movement. This is a useful measurement when looking to increase maximum strength and when comparing your performance with others.
Periodisation is a technique used in all sports and athletics in order to create complex training programs that are designed to get progressively more difficult and then provide a ‘cooling off’ period before a competition.