Exercise Technique: How to Perform Exercises for Optimal Muscle Growth

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calendar-iconFebruary 14, 2019

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Foundational Training Series
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With an understanding of exercise choice and exercise order, its time to discuss how to actually perform exercises them in the right way. Exercise technique is important to not only preventing injury, but also maximizing your muscle growth and muscle retention.

Fig. A

While there are different techniques for every exercise, there are some general rules you should always follow in order to get the most out of any exercise and reach your fitness goals.

So, what's the secret to maximizing muscle growth with exercise technique? In this post, we'll outline the aspects you should keep in mind while performing any exercise and ways and how to get the most out of every movement.

Range of Motion

These data suggest that muscle strength and muscle thickness can be improved with both full range of motion and partial range of motion resistance training, but full range of motion may lead to greater strength gains.

Pinto et al.

One aspect to always keep in mind while performing an exercise is range of motion. Range of motion is the full movement potential of a joint, or its range of flexion and extension. For example, in a bicep curl, the full range of motion is covered as you move your arm from a straight position to a position where it is completely bent (like if you try to touch your wrist to your shoulder, Fig A).

As far as your fitness routine is concerned, you generally want to perform any exercise with its full range of motion. This allows to maximum stimulation of the muscle being worked, which is the stimulus for muscle growth.1-3

It is important to note that there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes an injury or lack of flexibility can limit your range of motion, in which case you should only use the range of motion that is comfortable to you. Further, some exercises purposely limit the range of motion in order to add variation to an exercise or target a weak point.1-3

Eccentric and Concentric Motion

 In eccentric exercise, however, mechanical efficiency increased in all subjects with increasing mechanical work or stretch velocity reaching in many instances values over 100%.

Komi, Kaneko, & Aura

When performing an exercise, the motion can be divided into two parts: the eccentric and concentric motion. The concentric motion of an exercise is the muscle shortening portion, while the eccentric motion is the muscle lengthening portion. For example, in a bicep curl, lifting the weight up and shortening the bicep is the concentric portion of the exercise, and lowering the weight back down under control is the eccentric portion of the exercise.

Often times the eccentric portion of an exercise is neglected- this is a big mistake when it comes to muscle growth. Research shows that lengthening the time spent in the eccentric portion of the exercise has been linked to increased muscle growth. This is partially because your muscles are able to sustain more weight during the eccentric portion of an exercise, so you can actually use greater resistance by isolating this part of the exercise.4-6

So, to promote maximal muscle growth during the repetition of an exercise, attention should be paid to both concentric movements as well as eccentric movements. To ensure this, it is generally recommended to perform each repetition with a tempo of 1-2 seconds each direction, at a moderate velocity. Changing the tempo periodically can also facilitate further muscle growth.6-8

Isometric Exercises

These results support functional isometrics as an enhancement to standard isotonic training regimens where achievement of maximum strength is the goal.

Jackson et al.

The vast majority of exercises are covered with concentric and eccentric motion, but there is actually a third time of movement (or lack thereof....) when it comes to resistance training: isometric movement.

Isometric movements are a type of strength training in which the joint angle and muscle length do not change during the exercise. These movements involve stationary muscle tension, like holding a heavy weight above your head or performing a plank. Isometric exercises can be extremely useful in a program for muscle growth, as they facilitate greater muscle recruitment than both eccentric and concentric movements.9

There are primarily two types of isometric movements 9:

  • Overcoming Isometrics: Exercises where a joint or muscle is moving against an immobile object (e.g., pushing against a wall)
  • Yielding Isometrics: Exercises where a joint or muscle is held against resistance (e.g., holding up a heavy weight)

So, in a program designed for muscle growth, you can utilize isometric movements to add variance to your routine, overcoming stalls in progress, and increase strength as well as muscle recruitment.9-11

To really keep your muscles guessing, you can even perform overcoming isometrics at various points within your range of motion! 9-11

The Takeaway

When it comes to exercise technique, you should utilize your full range of motion whenever possible, as well as focus on both the concentric and eccentric motions within that exercise. Varying the tempo of repetitions can be introduced to add variety to an exercise regimen and to overcome plateaus, and isometric exercises can also be very useful for breaking through similar obstacles.

References

  1. Pinto RS, Gomes N, Radaelli R, Botton CE, Brown LE, Bottaro M. Effect of range of motion on muscle strength and thickness. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(8):2140-5. Link
  2. Massey CD, Vincent J, Maneval M, Johnson JT. Influence of range of motion in resistance training in women: early phase adaptations. J Strength Cond Res. 2005;19(2):409-11 Link
  3. Mcmahon GE, Morse CI, Burden A, Winwood K, Onambélé GL. Impact of range of motion during ecologically valid resistance training protocols on muscle size, subcutaneous fat, and strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2014;28(1):245-55. Link
  4. 52. Dudley GA, Tesch PA, Miller BJ, Buchanan P. Importance of eccentric actions in performance adaptations to resistance training. Aviat Space Environ Med. 1991;62(6):543-50. Link
  5. 53. Farthing JP, Chilibeck PD. The effects of eccentric and concentric training at different velocities on muscle hypertrophy. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003;89(6):578-86. Link
  6. 54. Hather BM, Tesch PA, Buchanan P, Dudley GA. Influence of eccentric actions on skeletal muscle adaptations to resistance training. Acta Physiol Scand. 1991;143(2):177-85. Link
  7. 55. Komi PV, Kaneko M, Aura O. EMG activity of the leg extensor muscles with special reference to mechanical efficiency in concentric and eccentric exercise. Int J Sports Med. 1987;8 Suppl 1:22-9. Link
  8. 56. Bonde-petersen F, Knuttgen HG, Henriksson J. Muscle metabolism during exercise with concentric and eccentric contractions. J Appl Physiol. 1972;33(6):792-5. Link
  9. 57. Schaefer LV, Bittmann FN. Are there two forms of isometric muscle action? Results of the experimental study support a distinction between a holding and a pushing isometric muscle function. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2017;9:11. Link
  10. 58. Lindh M. Increase of muscle strength from isometric quadriceps exercises at different knee angles. Scand J Rehabil Med. 1979;11(1):33-6. Link
  11. 59. Jackson A, Jackson T, Hnatek J, West J. Strength Development: Using Functional Isometrics in an Isotonic Strength Training Program. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 1985;56(3):234-237. doi:10.1080/02701367.1985.10605368 Link
Date Created: February 14, 2019

Last Updated: April 2, 2020