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  • Writer's pictureJaydon White

Stimulus Maximises Growth

Are you finding that you're stalling with your training or progression, even though you're doing all the 'best' movements in the gym that people talk about? Well, Maybe they're not the best...

The best exercises in the gym Are...

I have been through numerous phases within the fitness industry that we typically domino into:

'The bro splits with chest on Monday'.

'The high intensity, multiple drop sets and taking every set to failure'.

'That barbells are more superior than machines'.

'That machines are more superior than free weights'.

The list could continue forever if you let it. I'm sure I will continue to go through these phases as new research comes out and things change based off preference, goals, training history and more importantly, enjoyment.

But, there is one thing that I have changed my mind on that seems to be sticking around for a longer period of time than the other phases of my training. That is:

'That regardless of the exercise, stimulus will be the ultimate deciding factor for growth in training specific to the individuals goals'.

"Stimulus will be the ultimate predictor in determining growth within a program, regardless of what the exercises are."

Stimulus over exercise

In the most simplistic manner, our muscles don't really recognise or know the names of the exercises we are doing. They don't discriminate nor distinguish from when we are using a barbell, a dumbbell, a machine or even bodyweight exercises. Our muscles understand STIMULUS. When we put a muscle under load through a full range of motion, regardless of the piece of equipment we use, we will achieve a certain amount of stimulus through the muscle contracting and relaxing (Or shortening and lengthening).

To the amount of stimulus our muscles receives depends on the exercise and equipment itself. It also depends on:

- The amount of load we use

- How close we are training to failure

- How experienced we are with our training

- The range of motion used for the exercise

- Our genetic structure/bone structure (This is a big one)

When looking at how the stimulus on a muscle can vary depending on these things above gives you a little indication of how inferior certain exercises can be for growth in individual training.

For example, Let's look at two individuals with two anatomically different bone structures.

Individual A is 180cm tall, has very long and lanky arms and legs and is quite skinny.

Individual B is 160cm tall, has short and stocky arms and legs and is quite muscly.

If I programmed both individuals a Barbell Back Squat for the goal of achieving muscle growth in the legs (maximum muscular stimulus) the results could be quite different.

For Individual A, the back squats are harder to hit a deeper range of motion due to the longer legs and skinny frame, making their reps almost 'half reps'. Because of this, the weight would potentially have to drop to focus on increasing range of motion OR we would just have to stick with what his body allows.

Individual B on the other hand can sink into a deep squat quite comfortably, as their shorter legs and smaller build allows them to hit a deeper range of motion and can confidently load more weight on the bar in doing so.

Which Individual is more likely to achieve more stimulus out of the exercise? The one that has to reduce weight AND range of motion, or the one who can hit full range of motion and load up the bar? Obvious answer.

This is where the 'One size fits all' approach with exercises can be detrimental to growth over the long term for individuals.

How to achieve maximal stimulus with training

As opposed to choosing 'superior' exercises based off the equipment, I like to choose 'superior' exercises based off the stimulus. The stimulus demands will be dependent on the goal of the individual.

For example, if an individual's main goal is just to get as strong as possible, then using multi-joint well known movements like the squat, benchpress and deadlift are a great choice. But even still, unless they are competing in powerlifting or a sport where the equipment is a demand of the sport (powerlifting must be barbell) then sometimes using other movements similar can fit the individual better.

Example -

An individual who has longer legs or consistent lower back problems:

- Swapping a Conventional Deadlift for either a Sumo Deadlift or even Hex-Bar Deadlift.

An individual who has lagging shoulder issues and hurts when benching:

- Swapping to a Dumbbell Flat-bench Press or even a Neutral Grip Bar for pressing.

However, if someone's goal is to achieve maximum muscle growth, then identifying what feels the best for them is what I aim to do. Regardless of what people might say as a 'better' movement or more 'superior', it really comes down to the individual and the variables mentioned above.

The ways I personally identity whether I am achieving the highest stimulus possible out of the exercise I choose are by a few questions:

- Do I feel that burn/pump sensation when performing the exercise and getting close to, if not failure?

- Does the exercise allow me to achieve the biggest range of motion possible for that targeted muscle?

- Am I able to continually progress on the movement throughout my program?

- Does the movement cause me pain that is separate from the muscle working (If this is yes, then I opt for something else).

If I can tick all of these boxes with an exercise, then it will usually have a place in my program if it is align with my goals at that time. Notice how I didn't say whether I enjoy the exercise though? I did that on purpose. Some exercises I absolutely hate (Bulgarian Split Squats) but my body absolutely loves them. It's meant to be fun, just not all the time.

Key Points when choosing exercises for maximising muscle growth.

- Use movements where you can achieve the greatest range of motion possible.

- When performing movements, can you feel the targeted muscle working? does it feel comfortable when performing it? If not, then find one where you can

- Movements where you can continue to progress with weight without form being sacrificed for it.

- Using less technical movements where it is safe to train close to, if not, failure.

"If you are not feeling the targeted muscle working whilst performing a movement, then it might be worth changing to an exercise where you can".

Final words

Individual variability is one of the biggest pre-determined factors when choosing the right exercises for the individual. When you shift your focus to stimulus, rather than whats 'in' or trending or what has been said as 'optimal', you will be able to maximise your potential for muscle growth.

Remember, at the end of the day, our muscles understand stimulus. They grow from the amount of stimulus we place on them. They adapt to that stimulus. So when following a program or setting out to achieve a goal, make sure that the exercises align with the stimulus needed to achieve those goals.

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