In part 2 of this 3 part series, I shared three methodologies for gaining muscle and strength faster and more efficiently. I discussed how to use combination training to combine the best elements of concentric, eccentric, and isometric muscle actions. I shared Plyometric training and how to best utilize this form of “jump” training for more than just the legs. And I dove into Bulgarian Complex Training to provide you even more variety into your exercise program design.
In this article, I’m going to give you three more muscle hacks. Today, we’re going to talk about:
- Post-Activation Potentiation Training
- Pre & Post Fatigue Training
- Supplemental BFR Training
Post-Activation Potentiation Training
What is post-activation potentiation exactly? The National Strength & Conditioning Association defines it as:
“the phenomenon by which the contractile history of muscles directly affects their subsequent rate of force development (RFD) or the ability to generate force in a rapid manner. The theory behind PAP is that the acute change in contractile proteins and motor neuron activity can help induce greater explosive power performance for a 2- to 20-min period following heavy loading”2
This methodology commonly involves a maximal or near maximal exertion (85% – 100% of 1RM) about 2-3 minutes before performing your working sets. For example, you would do a near max bench press for 4-5 reps, then rest 2-3 minutes and then do 8-12 explosive push ups. This method is designed to help you maximize strength and power which in turn creates better muscle growth.
There are several proposed mechanisms by which this works, however it seems there are two primary mechanisms. The first mechanism is known as myosin light chain phosphorylation. With this mechanism, the muscle cell protein responsible for muscle contraction (also known as myosin) becomes phosphorylated (a phosphate group is added to the protein). When myosin is phosphorylated it is believed that the rate of binding to actin (the other muscle contractile protein) rapidly increases.
The second mechanism by which post activation potentiation works is more neural. The idea is that the motor neurons are temporarily sensitized and enhanced which in turn increases the recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibers.
Russian sports scientist Yuri Verkhoshansky describes post activation potentiation as a sort of sensory mismatch. He uses the analogy that it is like lifting a can of water that is half full, but because of the post activation potentiation your brain thinks it is full.4 This leads to greater muscle recruitment and force production even though you are using less weight.
With post activation potentiation training, there are a few points to keep in mind:
- To induce potentiation, keep the time under tension under 5 seconds to prevent excessive fatigue. This usually equates to about 4 repetitions. You can, of course, experiment with this and increase or decrease reps accordingly to see what works best for your body.
- Recovery before working sets should be about 2-3 minutes but depending on the exercise and intensity may require 5-8 minutes. Just keep in mind, if you rest too long you risk losing the temporary potentiation effects, and if you rest too little you risk over fatiguing and negating the benefits of the potentiation.
- Post activation potentiation may not be appropriate for everyone. It works best in stronger individuals, especially those with a higher ratio of fast twitch muscle fibers.3
Pre & Post Fatigue Training
This style of training involves combining an isolation exercise with a complex exercise. The goal of this methodology is to fatigue the muscle, and depending on how to perform this you would be pre or post fatiguing the muscle.
The idea behind this is that when you perform a complex exercise such as a bench press, the load is being distributed over several muscle groups instead of highly focused on one or two. When you combine this with an isolation exercise, you further fatigue the target muscle group to maximize the recruitment and breakdown of those muscle fibers – resulting in growth and strength development.
Let’s talk about pre-fatiguing first. With pre-fatigue training, you are performing an isolation exercise first, then moving immediately into a complex exercise back-to-back with no rest. The main goal of this method is to develop the weaker muscle group since the weaker muscle groups tend to do the least amount of work on the complex movements. For example, you could perform a tricep skull-crusher prior to a heavy bench press.
This can be very useful for increasing the size of the isolated muscle group, however it may not be most beneficial for increasing size globally since it will reduce the workload you can perform on the complex movement.
Post-fatigue training works a little better when it comes to increasing muscle size and strength. The reason being that with this method the weaker muscle groups generally fatigue first, preventing the major muscle groups from receiving maximum stimulation.
For example, with bench press your accessory muscles like the triceps will fatigue before your pecs get a chance to achieve full activation, so following up bench press immediately with an isolation exercise like flyes would help maximize the the stimulation of the pecs to help them grow bigger and stronger.
Now, the cool thing is that you can actually use a combination of both pre and post fatigue training to maximize your results. However, due to the high intensity of this type of training you shouldn’t do it for more than a few weeks.
Here’s how it would work:
- Before your primary lift, do an isolation exercise for about 20 reps
- Perform your heavy primary lift for 6-12 reps
- Finish with another isolation exercise for approx. 20 reps
There are a couple options for selecting the isolation exercises. You can either choose one muscle group (usually your weakest) to focus on for both the pre and post fatigue exercises, or you can choose two different exercises (usually your two main weak points).
Here are a few things to keep in mind with pre & post fatigue training:
- Do 15-20 reps for the isolation exercises with light/moderate weight (~60% of 1RM)
- Do 6-12 reps of the complex exercise with heavy weight (~80% of 1RM)
- Do 3 sets per exercise and 1-2 exercises per body part
- Don’t rest in between the isolation exercise and complex exercise, but do rest for 1-2 minutes in between sets
Supplemental BFR Training
At this point, you’ve probably read about how to use blood flow restriction training as a standalone for gaining size and strength, enhancing recovery, and preventing injury. But the research suggests BFR training works best as a bolt-on to a heavy regimen.
Here are a few ideas:
- Perform all of your heavy exercises and finish with your BFR exercises as a “finisher”
- Perform your normal sets and finish with 2-4 BFR sets of that exercise with light weight
- Perform your normal set and immediately drop set to light weight with BFR
- Superset a normal lift with a BFR isolation exercise with light weight
Although, not all of the above ideas have been tested in the research, they might still be worth testing as everyone is different and experimentation can be useful to see what works best for you. When doing this type of supplemental BFR training you may need to use even lighter weight than what you expect as your fast twitch fibers will already have some fatigue from the regular lifts.
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This wraps up our three part series on how to gain muscle mass fast. By this point, you’ve acquired a number of different ways to shock your body into new growth. The key, as I’ve mentioned, is always being aware of what works best for YOU. Pay close attention to how your body responds to each style and continue to use the ones that work best.
With the right tools in your toolbox, you can accomplish much more than you previously thought possible.
To your gains,
Kusha Karvandi, PES, CES, CSCS