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3 Muscle Building Mistakes I Wish I Knew Before I Started Training!


Posted by Scott_Herman - December 8th, 2017

Today, I want to talk to you about the three things I wish I knew before I started lifting, which would have helped me get a lot more gains in my teenage years, and those three things are the three muscle building mechanisms: Mechanical Tension, Metabolic Stress & Muscle Damage. Now why are these important? Well, if you apply these three concepts to every single workout that you do, you’re not only going to see more gains, but you’re going to have much more efficient workouts as well.

#1: Metabolic Stress

The first mechanism I’m going to talk about is metabolic stress. Right now, I’m talking about bodybuilding. That is BUILDING MUSCLE, not strength, not how much weight you can lift on every single set, PURE MUSCLE BUILDING. Now when it comes to muscle building, if you’re resting too long in between your sets, you’re not maximizing the metabolic stress that you’re placing on your muscles. In order to do that, you need to keep your rest periods between about 60-90 seconds, and for those of you who can handle it, you can even go 30-60 seconds in between every single set.

The entire point of training is to absolutely obliterate the muscles you’re trying to work, and a lot of us get this backwards. A lot of us think that if we did a 100lb chest press on set one, if we can’t do 100lbs on the next set, then we failed the gym. That’s backwards thinking, because if you do a 100lb chest press on set one, and then you get to set two 60 seconds later, and you can do 100lbs again and it’s kind of easy, then you’re not lifting enough weight. It’s basically a useless set. If you are lifting so intensely for every single set that by set two or three you’re forced to lower the weight a little bit, it’s because you are causing muscle damage. If you want to get that pump that we all love, you have to keep those rest periods short.

Something I like to do for my workouts is I keep my timer with me at all times. I can get easily distracted at the gym, mainly because I have some friends that I like to talk to whether it’s about anime or TV shows or whatever, and I get distracted and before I know it, 3-5 minutes have gone by. If I were powerlifting or strength training then 3-5 minutes would be OK to rest in between sets, because you’re trying to lift as much weight as possible. You’re trying to increase your weight every single set when you power lift or strength train. When muscle building though, you’re trying to fatigue the muscle and break it down for regrowth. So all I do is push start on my timer, and then as soon as it hits 60 seconds or 90 seconds max, no matter what I’m doing I look at my clock, I say bye to my friends, and I do my set. That’s metabolic stress.

#2: Mechanical Tension

This should be self-explanatory, because it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s the amount of tension you’re placing on the muscles you’re training on every single set. A lot of us have a really bad habit – for example, let’s say you’re doing a dumbbell bent-over row – and the first set looks like you could have done it basically half asleep. You’re just kind of banging through the repetitions and by the time you finish your set of 8 repetitions, you look like you could have done 15 more reps because the weight was so light. If anything, you should take that set as a warm-up and not count it as one of your working sets.

A working set is a set in which, let’s say you’re doing 8 repetitions, by the time you get to rep 7, that should be a grinder, you should be having a hard time with it. By the time you get to the 8th rep, you might even need to use a little momentum to help you get it done – but you’re still in control – THAT is maximizing mechanical tension. A lot of us have this thought in our head that we’re supposed to increase the weight every single set when we go to the gym. This puts a mental block in your head that forces you, for set one, to lift 15lbs or 20lbs lighter then you know you can actually handle. It’s just because there is a lot of bro science around what progressive overload actually means.

Every single set you do for bodybuilding, should first have short rest periods, and then in order to maximize mechanical tension, you should be lifting as heavy as possible for the amount of reps you’re doing. That also includes lowering the weight as your progress through the sets if you have to, to maximize that rep range and ensure you get all the reps in and maximize the overload.

#3: Muscle Damage

This is going to complete the three muscle building mechanisms. Muscle damage highly depends on the total volume that you’re training a muscle. For me in particular, I have a higher ratio of slow twitch muscle fibers, which means if I don’t get enough volume in my workout (total reps and sets), I will not grow. Period. Obviously you have to lift heavy too, but if I do not do enough volume I will not grow, and typically for bigger muscle groups, that’s anywhere between 18-24 working sets, and about 10-15 working sets for smaller muscle groups, made up of as many exercises as you like. I try to keep it as small as possible – maybe 2 or 3 exercises max per body part.

With muscle damage, a lot of us have this problem where, for example let’s say we’re doing hammer curls, and trying to get 8 repetitions. You cruise through the first 3 or 4 reps, but then you get to rep 5 and suddenly can’t do any more reps. A lot of people will just put the weight down and be done with the set, thinking ‘my goal was to get 8 repetitions, but I only got 5, so now I’m done because I don’t have a spotter to come help me’. What I want you to do from now on though, is if you’re trying to do 8 repetitions and you’re focusing on the eccentric and concentric portion of the rep, just put the weight down for literally 10 seconds. As soon as 10 seconds is up, pick the weight back up and you’ll be surprised, but you’ll probably be able to get those last three repetitions and still be able to maintain good form.

Another thing you can do is incorporate some momentum reps or cheat reps. Let’s say you get 5 repetitions with perfect form and you want to get those last 3, so you use a little momentum to fight the negative on those last 3 reps, and that’s totally fine. You’re still utilizing the eccentric portion of the movement, which is where you get the most muscle breakdown anyway. However, if you were doing an exercise like the dumbbell bench press where you’re laying down, you can’t exactly use momentum to do your reps. What you would do is sit up, wait 10 seconds, then roll back and complete those last few reps until you get them all in.


These concepts, believe it or not, are such easy and quick tips, that even me as a trainer now, I forget how important they are, or I forget how simple things like this can really impact a workout for someone who doesn’t know any better. For me, I think ‘yeah of course, that’s what you should be doing!’ But me when I was 18, I didn’t know any of this. Trainers in gyms were still being taught that if you squat past 90 degrees you would blow your knee caps out. However, just applying these 3 simple tips to your program, whether you’re doing one of my programs or someone else’s, will make an astronomical difference in terms of the gains you make.

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@davidjohn2121 well thank you so much!!  Really appreciate that!