There are literally hundreds of options (if not more) when it comes to exercise programs that you could follow in order to increase your muscle mass and improve your body composition.
One of the more popular ones is Crossfit. This thing is so popular that it is practically a religion to some people!
Now I am not here to poo poo on Crossfit- the truth is it has many fantastic attributes including an emphasis on Olympic lifts, comradery and hard work. However, Crossfit is far from being a panacea and one of the concerns associated with performing workouts such as “Fran”, “Helen” or any others is that you are working against time and this causes people to lose sight of one very important component of strength training- tension.
An example of Crossfit gone bad…
When you get caught up in performing 21 Thrusters + 21 pull ups, 15 thrusters + 15 pull ups, 9 thrusters + 9 pull ups as fast as you can you are giving zero regard to “feeling” what is happening in your muscles in terms of flexion and extension. Instead, all of your focus is on propelling your body through a given motion in as little time possible.
Building muscle tissue and increasing strength requires that you subject the target muscles to maximal amounts of tension. This requires that you slow down each repetition and focus on contracting the muscle rather than simply trying to move the weight (or your body) from point A to point B.
When you get too hung up on hitting personal bests in terms of repetitions performed in a given time frame you lose this focus and fall victim to one of the greatest results killing mistakes of all- poor exercise form.
Horrendous form is not limited to Crossfit…
Poor form in the gym is epidemic and is often driven by ego and the desire to lift heavier weights. I am all for lifting heavier- in fact, most women would greatly benefit from doing so but never at the expense of proper exercise form.
The nightmare continues…
In order to execute a repetition under maximal tension you must slow things down and pay careful attention to the tempo of each rep. You should work towards eliminating any swing, bounce or unnecessary movement that will take away from the tension being applied to a working muscle.
The focus should be on contracting your muscles and you should be able to feel this happening. Pay attention to the subtle nuances like hand and foot positioning as well as how hard you are gripping the weight as this can also impact how much tension you are able to generate in the muscle. By doing so you may find that a weight that was once light now feels heavier. This is a good thing and simply means that you are isolating the target muscles with greater efficiency. You will soon find that your strength will increase as you are better able to utilize the muscles you have by firing more of the available fibers.
Once you develop the skill of increasing tension in your muscles you can then start increasing the weight being used. Muscles grow as a function of progressive tension overload and if you continue to lift the same weight all the time your muscles will cease to grow. This doesn’t mean that you have to add weight at every workout, but if you’re not gradually going heavier over time, you won’t be growing either.