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WHEN BUILDING MUSCLE, THERE ARE LEGAL AND SAFE SHORTCUTS THAT CAN GET YOUR QUICKER RESULTS WITH LESS INJURIES.

To make a broad generalization, men are most interested in increasing muscular size when exercising at a gym. Women, in contrast, are more interested in toning and weight management than size increases. This may well be a greater factor for men with hair loss, where a noticeably fit body matches the image of famous shaved-head action-movie stars. Vin Diesel may lack for hair, but what gets discussed most (and in favorable terms) is his body.
Who minds that kind of attention? Who wouldn’t trade up for a Hollywood physique if given the choice?

Easier said than done, of course. There is no magic pill that one can take to healthfully and effectively increase muscle size and strength. Even someone taking legal or illegal performance enhancement substances still needs to perform the exercises.

There are legal and safe shortcuts. Building muscle size is largely a matter of knowing what you’re doing. When you do, the results can come quicker, be more effective, make you less prone to injury – and often can be accomplished in just as much time as a routine, stuck-in-a-rut exercise regimen that sorely needs to be altered.

Eccentric movement, the upside of “negatives”

One such shortcut to increased muscle size is referred to as eccentric or negative training. It’s a technique that can be applied to exercises you are already doing, as well as those you may never have tried before. In a nutshell, eccentric training is when you lower a weight slowly, engaging the muscles in a way that is in physiological contrast to the lifting part of the exercise (known as a contraction).

A simple illustration is the bicep curl. Raise a weight (such as a dumbbell) over two seconds’ duration then lower it over four or six or ten seconds. When you do, the muscle fibers are asked to do something differently on the negative path compared to the positive, concentric lift.

On a muscle-fiber level, eccentric movement causes filaments to work in an arrangement that is the exact opposite from what lifting (concentric) movement involves. The muscle lengthens as it accepts opposing force, for example when you slowly lower into a squat (the hamstring muscles are pulled a greater distance than when standing straight). Virtually every concentric movement has its opposite eccentric movement, meaning that most exercises have two distinct components. Newton’s law of gravity – what goes up must come down – takes on a whole new meaning where it comes to building muscle. Ignore this fact and you miss out on a very useful tool of bodybuilding.

Here’s how to do it (exercises)

You can apply this principle to almost every resistance exercise. Just think of exercises in which you already engage – triceps press, chest press, back rows, calf raises, squats, bicep curls, shoulder press and others. For every “up” movement there is a “down.”

To push it a bit further, consider this additional fact: the muscle is able to handle ten to twenty percent more weight in the eccentric mode. Therefore, if you are capable of bench pressing 150 pounds for at least five repetitions, you would be able to do the same number of repetitions in eccentric mode with 165 pounds. Some machines might accommodate the mechanics of raising something heavier than your concentric muscle capability, but with free weights you would benefit from the assistance of a workout buddy or fitness trainer. On a bench press, for example, your assistant would help you press the bar up, then let go at the top and allow you to slowly lower the weight.

Need you do this in every workout? No, you could just try it here and there, taxing one or two muscle groups where you do.

But you might also try to dedicate a two-week period where it’s what you attempt to do in almost every exercise within every workout. The speed at which it affects muscle size and strength may surprise you – without extending the time you spend at a gym.