Muscle Secrets:- For Gains, Don’t focus on the wrong thing

Another in the series, uncovering where and how people are missing out on gains – and have the potential, with a few little adjustments, for better results in the gym.

FIND OUT ABOUT the new bodybuilding terms: Make sure that none of these are holding back your progress

  • BSF = "Bull-Sh#t Factor”

  • CYQ = “Cheat Yourself Quotient”

  • S&M = “Smoke and Mirrors”

  • PCF = “Plateau Confusion Factor”

  • AW/RW = Apparent Work vs Real Work

  • FW = Fake Weights (and also stands for “F# Wit”)

If you were about to have surgery and a nurse remarked “Don’t worry, your surgeon is the fastest at this type of surgery” – would you be reassured?

If a football coach said “I’d like him on the team – he can kick a ball the furthest I’ve ever seen”.

Or, if a friend recommended a massage therapist on the basis that “he gets right into the muscle, it’s agony!”

And if you were about to board a plane and heard that the pilot used to fly a bi-plane in an aerial acrobatic group, would you feel confident?

Hopefully, in the above scenarios, you’d be thinking instead:-

  • “Is the surgeon good? – what is his success rate with this surgery? I don’t care how fast he is”!

  • “Can the kid score goals or drop the ball on the team mate’s chest? He’s no good to me if he kicks it a long way but the accuracy is way off”

  • “Does the massage therapist know much about anatomy, injuries and rehabilitation, or simply know the nerve centers and how to hurt people”

  • “What experience has the pilot had with large commercial planes and the different flight characteristics? – and what is his personality profile – careful and precise or looking for thrills?”

In each case, what we have is a measure of excellence or KPI (key performance indicator) but the KPI may not be relevant or optimal for our purposes.

You want to survive the surgery with no complications; a team that scores goals; a therapist that understands spine injuries and how to help recovery; and you want to fly without incident and arrive safely at your destination.

Quite often we assess things with the wrong criteria. This is what holds most people back in physique transformations or bodybuilding.

When taken in isolation, an assessment or achievement might seem impressive – but we have to ensure it matches our primary needs and objectives.

The overarching factor to consider is how well our needs are met.

You don’t want to take for granted (or be duped) by something that sounds good but in fact does not meet your end objectives

And this brings us to a common problem for many who are trying to transform their physique or figure.

Firstly, let’s quickly revisit the earlier examples to gain an understanding of the process for identifying the criteria that serves us best:

For surgery, the primary criteria is safety, survivability, and absence of complications – not speed. It’s no good having a quick operation and finding afterwards that whenever you sneeze you also break wind in a most objectionable manner; “okay, I sharted, . . . but I was in and out of the operation in 30 minutes, . . . . how good is that . . . !?”

The quality of an operation has more to do with the skill and care of the surgeon and experience in the particular type of surgery

Similarly, a football team is judged by the goals they score. Someone great at kicking for distance is no good if they can’t work in a team or have no accuracy “Did you see that . . it must have gone 90 meters . . !” – “Yeah, I reckon it did . . . now if he can kick it towards the opposition's goal, we'll be onto something!"

The quality of a player is in moving the ball up the field or converting a goal. Certainly being able to kick some distance may be desirable as part of the mix, but accuracy is more important.

Therapeutic massage is about improving the recovery rate of an injury, or keeping muscles supple to prevent an injury. A massage therapist who simply uses pain as an indicator of his “quality” shows in fact that he nows very little about massage. “Did he do that thing in your back near your scapula? . . it’s awesome isn’t it - I scream like a little girl every time . . . by the way, when do you get out of hospital . . ?”

The quality of massage is not that it is painful (some people think this is a desirable factor of a massage) – but that the muscles, tendons, fascia are mobilized and stretched in a helpful manner. This may mean that some discomfort is felt, but pain may also indicate that damage is being done, so purely relying on pain as an indicator is likely to be misleading.

And finally, we generally want safety in the air. Flying can be scary. We want to know that the plane is in good condition, that all checks have been done, and that the pilot is a conservative soul who values safety. “That 90 degree roll we did was awesome, I didn’t think a jumbo could do that . . . pity you were in the restroom at the time . . . . please just stay downwind from me, preferably 50 yards or more . . !”

The quality of a pilot flying a commercial jet is not his ability to do loops or mid-air stalls, but his ability to be conservative and thorough.

When we train in the gym, most of us are aiming to develop our physique or figure. Sure, fitness and strength will be side benefits, but the primary motivation for most is to look better. This means dropping fat and building and conditioning muscle.

So, if this is our primary need, then developing and conditioning muscle is the objective.

This is where many miss the mark and slow up their progress and miss their full potential or fall short of their goals.

Here’s how you could be short-changing yourself.

Just as it’s easy to think that kicking a ball a long way is a great skill, it’s easy to think that in the gym a few more reps (repetitions) or a little extra weight on the bar is a good thing.

Even now, the question may be arising that surely extra reps means progress?

But that’s where it gets back to our primary objectives and how they are best met.

In order to force a muscle to grow, we have to place it under a load that “shocks” it. You will have heard about the theory for muscle hypertrophy – that placing a big demand on a muscle with an anaerobic load (i.e. repetitions that cannot be carried out indefinitely) the muscle suffers slight “damage” in the form of “micro-tears” and the body then repairs the muscle. However the body will generally super-compensate by adding a little extra back in the repair process to prevent the same load from causing such damage. The body is trying to “adapt” to the load. However, with “progressive resistance training” we continually up the ante to continue pushing the muscle adaptation further and further.

Now, this is where it gets interesting and confusing;

If we use biceps curl as an example; You will be aware that it is possible to “clean” a weight from the hips to shoulders using some leg, hip and lower back thrust.

So if you get some extra reps because you have “improved” your “clean” technique, you may in fact be placing LESS stress on the biceps!

For instance, let’s average out the loading on the biceps and say that it is around 20Lb through the rep if done in strict style. And let’s say that in your initial efforts, your style was good and you got 10 reps – so your Work is 10 reps x 20Lb = 200Lb-reps

Now let’s say that your technique over time reduces the effective weight to 18Lb (i.e. the “cheat” style means the weight is partly “thrown” up using other muscles so the load on the biceps is less) – and as a result, you now get 11 reps per set.

Your actual Work is now 11 reps x 18 = 198Lb-reps

Let’s assume that as you “perfect” you cheating style, the effective load is 16Lb and you now get 12 reps per set.

Your actual Work is now 12 x 16Lb = 192 Lb-reps

You have in fact gone BACKWARDS.

You can start to see that when the FOCUS is MUSCLE STRESS, the lifting style is critical.

To yourself and to others watching, it may APPEAR that you are making progress. If you and your “audience” do not realize the importance of loading the muscle and the effect that lifting style has on stressing the muscle, they will assume that you have improved about 20% (2 extra reps out of 10)


As in our earlier examples, it comes back to the key CRITERIA – WHAT ARE WE REALLY TRYING TO ACHIEVE?


In this case, we can now see that it is not reps! – it is MUSCLE STRESS which is a factor of the lifting style and the ACTUAL TRUE WORK that the muscle performs.

Our OBJECTIVE is to STRESS The MUSCLE – the weights and reps are simply the tool and the mechanism is the way that we lift the weight and how much work the muscles perform!

Similarly, in this example, you may have, instead of increasing the reps, increased the weight.

You may now be using 25Lb for 10 reps.

It APPEARS as though the work you are doing is 10 x 25 = 250Lb-reps.

But let’s say that your “improved” cleaning style now means you are actually lifting 19Lb out of the 25Lb – your TRUE WORK is now 10 x 19 = 190Lb-reps – so again, you have gone BACKWARDS when it APPEARS that you made progress.

Too many trainees have as their objective the reps they achieve – and as we have seen the objective SHOULD be the muscle stress and their technique (which they develop in order to do better at the wrong KPI) actually robs them of some muscle stress.

To the observers who see the weight and count the reps, they appear to be doing really well.

However, if they had a “Stress meter” built into their bicep and it showed the actual load on the bicep (imagine a dial like a set of scales) the observers suddenly wouldn’t be so impressed!

And besides cheating on the lifting techniques, the other factors that we tend to introduce to chase the wrong KPI (reps and weights) instead of muscle stress are:

  • long rests between sets;- you know that if you get 10 reps and rest 1 minute and get another 10 reps, that is more intense than if you wait 2 minutes between sets. So rest times are another factor in the KPI and “muscle stress” equation – but often we wait a long time because we figure we might get another rep out – and maybe we do – but at the expense of muscle stress!

  • resting at the top or bottom (or both) of the reps;- if your reps take 4 seconds but you rest one second at the top and one second at the bottom, the set takes to 40 seconds but your biceps are only “working” for 20 seconds out of the 40 – so your intensity is reduced (again, if this does not make sense, imagine doing the 10 reps with them each taking 2 seconds and no rest at any stage – you intuitively know that this will be more intense than a one second rest after every second of effort)

  • having a training partner help with “Forced reps”;- how much are they actually lifting? When a training partner helps with a weight, you don’t know whether they took 5Lbs or 10Lbs off the load – and you have no way of comparing to the last workout

So what’s the answer?

Here it is in a nutshell – and it may seem minor – but it will make a major difference to your training and your gains.

The key message is to HAVE THE RIGHT OBJECTIVE – be aware of what you really need to be achieving - and then to ENSURE YOUR ACTIONS ACHIEVE THAT OBJECTIVE

Basically, DO NOT Chase the wrong KPI

What this means is:


  2. sets, reps and weights are simply the TOOLS – and are not the primary objective

  3. cheating techniques to “get the reps” actually rob you of muscle stress and mislead you about your true progress (or lack of progress)

  4. all cheating techniques introduce unknown variables into your workout so you have no real idea on whether you have progressed or not. If your style is strict and consistent then gains in reps or weight are obviously from increased muscle capacity. But if the style is inconsistent and immeasurable then the true muscle gains are completely unknown

  5. besides the standard sets, reps and weight, if our goal is muscle stress, then we also have to consider the lifting style (preferably make the muscle do the work), time under tension, and the rest between sets (the intensity of the Work being performed)

  6. when you have the items in point 5 covered properly, you will then know if you are building muscle

  7. further to point 6, you will also be able to identify if you are over-training or under-training – i.e. maybe you aren’t doing enough to really grow the muscle, but your cheating techniques mask the fact because you appear to be progressing. If you train in strict style, you will see the plateau at a certain weight and reps and realize you have stagnated – i.e. you will not fool yourself. Conversely, you might realize that the plateau is due to too much volume per workout or insufficient recovery time, or diet changes that are preventing proper recovery and growth

  8. other factors besides these lifting technique issues include also nutrition inaccuracies – these are generally in the form of exaggerated figures on Calories and macros consumed. “I’m on 6,000 Cals per day, 600g protein etc – this is believable coming from Jay Cutler, but not so believable from a guy who is 170Lb soaking wet

To cap this off, we can cover the new body-building terms at the beginning of the article:

  • BSF = "Bull-Sh#t Factor” – the degree to which your cheat style helps you get some extra reps. The BSF is proportional to the load you take off the working muscle

  • CYQ = “Cheat Yourself Quotient” – similar to BSF but expressed as a ratio of the extra Work you appear to have done due to the BSF vs the Work that would have been done in proper style

  • S&M = “Smoke and Mirrors” – the act of employing BSF and CYQ in your training to make it appear that you are progressing. Unfortunately, the S&M works not just on others, but also on ourselves

  • PCF = “Plateau Confusion Factor” – the confusion that results when we inadvertently subject ourselves to S&M and stop making progress

  • AW/RW = Apparent Work vs Real Work – the AW is what people see if they aren’t aware of lifting techniques and the fact that the real goal should be muscle stress, and the RW is what our muscles are actually subjected to as a result of the S&M, CYQ, and BSF. AW/RW should of course be 1.0 but is larger if the S&M is high. Generally, AW/RW is proportional to CYQ.

  • FW = Fake Weights – these are objects that appear to be weights but are considerably lighter and therefore put the BSF and S&M through the roof – We are now, via instagram, Facebook and Youtube seeing BSF’s and S&M at the highest they have ever been in recorded history

  • The FW’s are used exclusively by FW’s (F#-Wits”) who are extremely adept at S&M and BSF

Happy lifting - I hope that this article has been helpful and paves the way to NEW GAINS

Drop me a line if you have any queries

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Paul Anderton

AMP Master Coach

Lifetime natural - using a scientific approach to training and nutrition

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