As the old saying goes: size isn’t everything. And while it might surprise you to think that this expression could apply in the context of bodybuilding, it actually does hold true even when your objective is to pack on muscle.
Why? Because massive muscle doesn’t necessarily mean strong muscle. And if you want to be a more formidable athlete and a successful bodybuilder, you need to ensure that you have both. Even if your goal is to get bigger, you need to focus on strength as well to help this happen. And to get both, you need muscle density.
What is Muscle Density?
Have you ever seen your muscles grow in size but somehow feel soft to touch? In this case, you might have good measurements but you’ll probably find that your actual performance is lacking. Why? Because you have the size but not the density.
Size in the muscles can be achieved multiple ways and one of the most common is through ‘sarcoplasmic hypertrophy’. That means that the muscles have become swollen with sarcoplasm which in turn has left them looking large but also somewhat ‘puffy’.
Muscle density on the other hand is about increasing the amount of muscle fiber – which is the tensile unit in the muscle that actually bears weight and powers your muscle’s mechanical movement. This is called myofibrillar hypertrophy. The idea that sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy are separate and distinct is one that isn’t universally agreed upon but it’s a popular theory among actual lifters who have experienced the difference for themselves.
How to Build Density
To train for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, the best strategy is to use high reps with a relatively light weight. Typically this might mean a range of about 12-15 repetitions.
For myofibrillar hypertrophy however, what’s most important is to train with heavy weights for fewer reps. This could be as low as 4 repetitions up to around 8.
But if you want pure density that makes your muscles rock hard and powerful the best strategy is to go for both. And the best way to achieve that is by increasing your time under tension.
Vince DelMonte explains a training technique you can use to accomplish this: constant tension timed sets.
As the name suggests, this training method is all about keeping the tension on the muscles which increases volume. This is accomplished by ensuring that you don’t pause at the top or bottom of the movement at all.
Then, each exercise is performed for 50-60 seconds which might not sound like much but does in fact translate to a lot of repetitions. By the end, you will barely be able to complete individual reps and this means you’ll be forced to use burns or partials just to see yourself through the rest of the exercise.
That much time under tension triggers both sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy, massively increasing the endurance of the muscle and the explosive strength/muscle fiber recruitment. Give it a go for a hellish next workout with heavenly results!