Gain Muscle, Strength & Move Better
By Nick Jones
This isn’t an article about balancing on a swiss ball with one foot, whilst curling a heavy dumbbell in one hand and swinging a Vipr round in the other hand, doing your best impression of an epileptic orang-utan.
This is simply an article about getting bigger, stronger and moving better. The ‘functional’ part of functional mass refers to becoming mobile and improving movement quality. The mass part speaks for itself.
Who’s this article for?
Anyone actively engaged in sports and training for size and or strength, slightly more mature strength trainers (read 30 something’s) and just about anyone training for size and strength who cares about staying agile, flexible and able to move well.
First we need to know why we aren’t moving well, this will be very individual in both terms of what your mobility issues are and in particular for those engaged in sport or physical work, what your mobility needs are. A rugby player doesn’t need the same mobility as a gymnast. But if we look at the none sports / work specific crowd and focus on general, good movement and mobility, a start would be, being able to squat ass to grass properly, being able to reverse thoracic curvature and of course having adequate mobility and stability to perform the core exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, presses, rows and maybe even some cleans and kettle bell work, pretty much anything in your workout regime or that is likely to be thrown at you in everyday life.
Lets break down, the basic steps for functional mass:
Step 1. Get to know a good biomechanics coach, or kineseology specialist and invest in a movement assessment. Find out from an expert, if you are moving well and what modifications need to be made to move better.
Step 2. Stop skipping your warm ups and I’m not talking about the 5 minute pulse raise crap, I’m talking about getting intimate with foam rollers, tennis balls and other forms of torture to improve soft tissue quality, leading to better hip, spinal and shoulder mobility (your biomechanics coach will direct you on this). Then perform some primal movement patterns (walkouts, squats, mountain climbers, lunges etc), gradually opening up the joints. Primal flow is a great example of an active mobility warm up, after some soft tissue work.
Step 3. Get some coaching on the basic lifts, such as the power lifts (squats, deadlift and bench press), the Olympic lifts and some kettlebell work. Lets start off right, with excellent technique. Injuries kill progression.
Step 4. Now we are into the meat of it, what areas do you want to increase strength in, where do you want to be bigger, is it sports related or just aesthetics. Your programme design should be focused on your specific goals.
Step 5. Your programme should be centred on the core lifts, squats, deadlifts, presses and rows, aim to get damn strong in these lifts, using good form and full range of motion and using rep ranges of between 3-5 and 5-8 is a good start. Everything else will be assistance work. Use higher rep ranges on the assistance work to bump up the volume.
Step 6. Balance pressing and pulling work. If your programme has you doing 3 types of horizontal and vertical pressing moves, you will need to perform equal volume of horizontal and vertical pulling exercises.
Step 7. Keep it varied. A good rule of thumb is to work in 3-week cycles, rotating variations of each lift every 3-week cycle. This will prevent adaptation, decrease injury risk and improve overall results.
Step 8. Ditch the cardio (steady state aerobic exercise), endurance training will inhibit strength and hypertrophy gains. If you want to be bigger and stronger, stop doing those 10k runs 3 times a week, instead finish each session with 10 minutes of high intensity metabolic conditioning, this will increase anaerobic and aerobic power, what people tend to think of as fitness, as effectively as steady state cardio without inhibiting strength and hypertrophy gains.
Step 9. Don’t neglect the most important principle of any programme; progression, whether that is more weight, more reps, more volume, you must be striving to do more work over time. You wont get stronger or bigger if you lift the same weight for the same reps, session after session (unless, you are using advanced methods of time under tension and explosive lifting. That though is another article).
Step 10. Restoration and recovery; no amount of training will build impressive size and strength if you are not fully recovered. You should be getting 8 –9 hours of quality sleep every night, your diet should be dialled in and you should be balancing training and other stresses with relaxation and restoration activities in order to progress with your training. Including things like Tai chi , mediation, walking (strolling) and light reading are good ways to balance out stress, including training stress to promote maximum gains and to help you feel great. Actively reducing stress will improve your energy levels, mood and well being, as well as improving training progress.
Now go lift, get big, get strong and move well…