Three principles for muscle development

Have you been training for a while now but don’t appear to be making any mentionable gains? Maybe you seen an initial surge in development but now you struggle to see changes.


I spent a good amount of time in my younger years looking for development, but I was always disappointed with the lack of progress… no matter how frequently I trained or how much food I ate.


The guys around me were huge and their advice was… eat more food!


But as I became more educated I realised something. It wasn’t necessarily my lack of food that was the issue, it was more my understanding of muscle development.


You see, my training was always 3 x 10 or 4 x 8 because this was what everyone recommended. And while this is not a bad thing it was only one piece of the puzzle. And like any puzzle, if you are missing components you don’t achieve the full effect.


There are three main factors that promote muscle growth, and all of these should be included in your training at some point:

  1. Mechanical tension – To put this in laymen’s terms you basically want to improve your strength. Think of this as anything between 3-5 reps. Look to lift load and challenge yourself.


This is not an excuse to sacrifice technique however. Always keep this as your number one priority but as you gain experience you can challenge that little bit more.


  1. Muscle damage – You know the soreness you get the next day? This is down to muscle damage – but when does this occur? This is due to the lowering phase of a movement. Taking the load under control and not dropping like a stone! Although it’s always good practice to work with a controlled eccentric (lowering phase) you can really emphasis this through the 8-12 reps range.


I like to use tempo as a way to promote muscle damage. This is how I would use it in one of my programs:


3 – Lowering phase

0 -Bottom position

1 – Lifting phase

1 – Top position

  1. Metabolic stress aka “The Pump” – Everyone likes a pump. Even my female clients (secretly) enjoy feeling their muscles swell and fill with blood… especially their glutes. With this phase you are basically filling your muscles with blood and metabolites (cell swelling). This creates an anabolic (building) effect and really is the icing on the cake for development. Anything above 15 reps I would consider metabolic stress… you are going to know when you hit this stage.


The problem is that most people don’t train across the spectrum and stay within their comfort zone. I know this as I have been there myself. I have clients that love the lower range and really struggle at the higher end. On the flip side I have clients that love and flourish with higher reps but struggle with the lower end. But when it comes to adding muscle they work across the spectrum.

To wrap up:


For maximum muscle growth you must work across the training spectrum:


Mechanical tension – 3-6 reps

Muscle damage – 8-12 reps

Metabolic stress – 15-20 reps


And although the big guys were limited with their training knowledge (at the time) they were certainly on point with their nutrition. You must also eat enough food for your muscles to grow. This is not a time to be thinking fat loss but it’s also not an excuse to binge!

One final thought:


All of this is completely pointless if you fail to push the intensity. If you simply move a weight from A to B but it doesn’t challenge you, then don’t expect good things to happen.

If you haven’t first read my basics of muscle development please read it as it will help put all of the pieces together.

Please leave a comment or share this with anyone that could benefit from reading it.



Schoenfeld, B.J. (2010), The mechanics of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872