The Real Secret to Muscle Growth: EFFORT!

By IFBB Pro Josh Wade

Working hard is the most important thing to stimulate muscle and cause growth! Taking it easy in the gym won’t do much of anything.

We should always make goals for ourselves and have benchmarks to improve from, but progress comes down to consistency. A lot of people make New Year’s resolutions, especially when it comes to fitness and getting in shape, but why wait for a specific time or date to make that happen? I personally always believed that if today’s workout wasn’t better than the previous day’s workout there would be no way I would improve. That’s not saying we don’t all have off days, but the goal was to always push as hard as I could every day.

As a beginner just starting out with weight training, almost anything should work, and your body should respond by growing so long as you are giving it enough calories to recover and grow. People don’t need to switch programs or vary workouts too much in the beginning. And for that matter, I didn’t alter my workouts very often my whole career once I found the exercises that I felt most comfortable with and felt the best results from. If you don’t give anything enough time to see what’s working, then you’ll never find what personally works best for you. With all the information out there and so many people selling the “perfect program,” I understand how it can be confusing especially just starting out on your journey. I’m going to tell you the real secret to muscle growth; are you ready? EFFORT!

Yes, you need to have enough volume to stimulate muscle growth, meaning multiple sets need to be done. But just going through the motions isn’t going to help you further your growth no matter how many sets you do if you are not giving full effort. You are the only one that can truly know if you are giving full effort, so you are only cheating yourself if you are not! Plus remember that building muscle is a slow process and takes many years of consistency, effort and time. When you see the “finished product” in the physiques of elite bodybuilders, you might not realize it took them years to look that way. Consistent effort + time = growth! If you are constantly pushing yourself as hard as you can, how would your body not respond and grow?

I’ve always trained in the same manner, usually standard pyramid type training, doing a set of 15 reps as a warm-up then increasing weight for 12 reps, then increasing weight again for 10 reps, then increasing weight again and failing around six to eight reps with partials or forced reps if I have a spotter. I make the 10-12 rep sets hard, taking them to temporary muscle failure without assistance, then taking the last set to failure and usually beyond!

I’m also a big fan of drop sets, which I feel is one of the most effective intensity techniques. A lot of times I will finish my first exercise with drop sets, taking my last set to failure around eight reps, then reducing the weight by 20-30 percent and trying for another eight or however many reps I get to failure, then reducing weight by another 20-30 percent and going to failure and beyond. If I’m on a machine or using dumbbells I usually tack on a few partial reps until I’m no longer moving the weight no matter how hard I try. That is what I consider EFFORT, and I know my effort is what got me to the size of a professional bodybuilder no matter what supplements you take or genetic makeup you may have! I use the same EFFORT even when supersetting, a technique I also love to do because it’s hard. If I’m working hard, I feel I will grow. As you can tell, I feel working hard is the most important thing to stimulate muscle and cause growth! Taking it easy in the gym won’t do much of anything.

Here’s an example of how I incorporate all my training principles into a chest workout:

Seated Chest Press

4×15-8, increasing weight every set and taking the last set to failure plus tacking on two drop sets.

Incline Bench Press

4×12-6, increasing weight every set like a standard pyramid progression.

Machine Flye/Incline Dumbbell Press Superset

4×12-10 each. I use a slow negative on the machine flye, always squeezing the chest, and then changing direction explosively through a hard squeeze and holding the contraction for a split second before slowly controlling the negative again. This burns like crazy and I feel if it’s burning, it’s working. Then I go straight to incline dumbbell press and do the same thing, slowly controlling the negative, then exploding up and squeezing my chest at the top. Again, this burns like fire when done right.

Then I’ll finish with four sets of “stretch push-ups,” where I lay two dumbbells on the ground in line as if it was a bench press, grabbing the handles so I’m elevated a few inches higher than if my hands were on the ground. I stretch my chest all the way to the ground under control before pushing off through the chest and squeezing each rep hard to failure on each set. When I say failure, I mean you aren’t done until you are lying chest down on the floor and can’t push yourself up again. The pump is crazy after this!

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