5 Weird Tricks to Jump Start Muscle Growth

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The best and bizarre-est tips to bust through your plateau

Physique transformation is a hell of a process, and it’s really not a straight path.

Sure, I talk about fat loss plateaus quite a bit, but as anyone who has ever tried to put on some muscle can tell you, progress can stall in either direction.

A lot of the time, you hear about guys who simply “can’t” get any bigger despite their best efforts—full body plateaus, really. Most of the time, this is an issue with diet more than training; these guys are often not eating enough.

Less talked about but certainly more insidious are single body part plateaus—where someone is experiencing pretty decent progress overall, but one muscle group seems to have stalled out like the ’84 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra I drove in high school. (Hey, don’t laugh; that car had personality. It may not have air conditioning or a working radio… or a functional passenger side seatbelt, but it sure as hell had personality.)

These plateaus aren’t generally dietary; they’re usually a training issue. Not just lack of training, but lack of activation that leads to lack of development.

So today, I want to share five quick tips to jump start growth in any muscle.

Before I begin, I need to mention that these tips are not just about guys trying to add some size to their gunzI often use the SAME tactics to help women develop their calves for a sexier look in heels, or (in my opinion, far more interestingly) trying to add some mass to their ass for a better fit in their absurdly tight jeans.

So ladies, listen up!

 5 Tricks to Jump Start Any Muscle’s Growth

1) Don’t just lift; lift fast!

Unless you’re doing a program that specifically calls for a dedicated lifting and lower speed (like lactic acid training), don’t worry about tempo. As an industry, we’re really getting away from tempo prescriptions as a whole.

In fact, Jason Ferruggia (excellent trainer, extreme bad-ass) has said the prescription of slow tempos for muscle growth is one of the biggest mistakes and wastes of time in his career. For my part, I couldn’t agree more.

Instead, always try to lift explosively.

Increasing bar speed will force you to amplify recruitment of fast twitch muscle. This simple trick will affect your body in profound ways.

The increased neurological efficiency has obvious implications for muscle growth—the term really refers to the degree to which your nervous system will “allow” your muscles to get involved in a lift—but from a fat loss perspective it’s also great, because you’ll use more weight, which is simply more calorically expensive and metabolically challenging.

Ultimately, you’ll have greater activation, recruitment, and development. As an added bonus, lifting fast will increase both neurogenic and myogenic muscle tone, which will help you look leaner even at slightly higher level of body fat.

Try this with shoulder exercises and enjoy the new look of your delts just a few sessions later.

2) Perform Unilateral Exercises

Single-limb movements—particularly with heavy weight—recruit High Threshold Motor Units (HTMUs). Recruitment of HTMUs has carryover to muscle building by escalating overall fiber recruitment and neurological efficiency, allowing you to stimulate muscles more easily and create growth more efficiently

Of course, training your entire body using unilateral exercises will double the workout time, so I normally recommend starting your workout with big bilateral movements, then transitioning to a few sets of single-limb exercises, and finishing back up with some more explosive bilateral stuff.

As an example, going from a front squats to heavy single leg squats, and then jump squats.

3) Pre-Stimulate

To increase growth of a target muscle, pre-stimulation with an isolation movement is one of the smartest things you can do. While I don’t normally like too many isolation exercises, everything has its place.

This is very different from something like pre-exhaustion, where the goal is to fatigue the targeted muscles in an attempt to shift the emphasis later.

With pre-stimulation, the idea is to establish recruitment patterns early in the workout with an isolation exercise that will have carryover to the more productive compound movements you’ll use later on.

Perform a fast and light set of flies before you hit the bench press and your pecs will be activated and actually perform more work; whereas, had you not done this, your triceps and shoulders may have done the brunt of the work.

4) The Magic Touch

Absolutely one of my favorite sneaky tricks to get a muscle going. During your set, lightly touch the muscle you are working. This will boost mind-muscle connection via a method called tactile stimulation, which to send signals to both brain and body to increase the activation of that muscle.

Early in my training career, I had less connection to my back than I did to any other muscle. No matter what I did, I’d pretty much just leave my back out of it. Anytime I did pull-ups, I was basically just using my arms.

Then I started touching myself.

(Well, I did.)

I switched all of my back exercises to unilateral movements, and with my non-working arm, I would reach across my body and touch the lat of the working side. By doing this, I was able to feel when I wasn’t working, and try to actively engage my muscles during the exercise.

Over time, I was able to develop intense mind-muscle connection.

And my back went from being one of my visually weakest body parts to the most impressively well developed.

I use this with my clients now, and we’re able to see significant progress over a short time.

This works incredibly well with back and calves.

Most people also have an issue with glute activation, so resting a hand on your tuckus while you’re doing lying hip raises can definitely help get your glutes to fire and begin to improve development and strength.

5) More Work, Less Time

Another fun (and challenging) way to bring up a lagging body-part is to try to complete your given workout in less time. Decreasing training time without cutting workout volume increases training density; the targeted muscle will experience more stimulation without recovering, forcing your body to compensate with an increase in work capacity, power output, muscular density (hardness) and size.

On top of being great for jump-starting development in a given muscle, increasing training density is incredible as a fat loss technique—and performing density training for a single muscle while on a fat loss plan can certainly help you bring up that body part while losing a little fat.

Density training is one of the featured training styles in my bad-ass ebook, Final Phase Fat Loss.

There you have it—short and sweet.

Five simple but instantly effective ways to jump start growth and development in any muscle, tips that that you can put into action as early as tomorrow.

If you’re interested in constructing an entire specialization program dedicated to building just one muscle group, you can learn how by checking out my blog post about specialization training here.


Got any tricks of your own? Post below!



About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

Comments for This Entry

  • Resource: Ultimate Push-Ups Guide | Befitsme

    […] This is where you’ll earn your bachelor’s degree in push-ups and the kind of advanced bodyweight skills that will come in handy for the rest of your life. For those keen to up the ante, it’s good to remember that slowing down any exercise will make it more difficult, so don’t be afraid to relax the pace of your push-ups. Slowing down might even be more beneficial for fat loss, since it releases more lactic acid! […]

    March 24, 2014 at 4:57 pm

  • Brad Campbell

    Nice post, Roman. I'm planning to implement this to my training program. Have to try this one.

    December 30, 2010 at 3:19 am

  • John Romaniello

    I like it and throw it in my programs. I wouldn't like a whole training program on it, but as a component of a larger program it's very useful.

    March 6, 2010 at 2:34 pm

  • Dean

    Roman, what do you think about contra-lateral training for a period of time? I've got some books with Dr. Darden about this, it makes sense. And have you tried it out?

    March 6, 2010 at 12:05 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Hey Michelle, just got your email, will respond. What's a hebs night? Wait I'm an idiot. Is that a hens night/bachelorette party?

    March 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm

  • Michelle Brosnan

    Hi John, I just e mailed you, i was wondering how to get into contact with you as i have purchased the final fat phase from Sue from idealbodies on line in Australia. I have a few questions as food wise things are a bit different in Aus how can i get to speak to you or e mial you in reguards to this as i really want to give this program my best shot as i am getting married in may and have a hebs night in 3 weeks that i need to trim down for!! My e mail is [email protected]

    March 1, 2010 at 3:17 am

  • Wes

    My girlfriend really likes your program. I'm training her

    February 28, 2010 at 8:59 pm

  • Matt

    Hey John, Thanks for the really good info again...very helpful. Quick question: what is your opinion about muscle growth and doing a spin class 2-3 times a week? From what I understand, shorter, high intensity interval cardio is better in regard to fat loss without losing muscle, so is a 45 minute spin class 2-3 times a week ok? The classes usually are a good combo of high speed, low resistance to slower, high resistance but am I sabotaging my overall muscle gains?? Thanks for your input!

    February 28, 2010 at 5:23 pm

  • Justin

    Hey Roman, When you do Arm specialization workouts, does the 50 sets per week include Biceps and Triceps or should i just specialize one at a time? If done together, should forearms be included in there? Thanks, John.

    February 27, 2010 at 1:43 pm

  • KevL

    Greetings, John. I've got a question on LAT. Before I present the facts of which I know, please correct me if I'm wrong - LAT increases the production of lactic acid, and that can mean bad news for having a heavier DOMs. To counter this, I use interval showers to flush out the LA. Would interval showers affect the effects of LA training? Do I need to store the LA in the muscles the whole day to see the effects of reduced cortisol, or it doesn't really matter that they get flushed out? Thank you.

    February 27, 2010 at 10:25 am

  • Mike Arone

    Great info John! 1. It's funny you mention using unilateral movements to enhance mind-muscle connection. I truly had the same trouble targeting back back until implementing movements as basic as a single-arm lat pulldown. 2. It is also funny how you mention an '84 thing mind had that your didn't...MOON ROOF SON! I didn't matter that I lacked AC. I called it the "GUT"-less. All show and no go...dual exhaust, sick rims, lawnmower for an engine! Great article man!

    February 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

  • Mark

    "I have no problem doing this in front a mirror in a gym, because a) I enjoy looking in the mirror and b) I don’t give a fuck what other people think." Lol classic. I'm going to do this before chest and biceps today at the gym!

    February 27, 2010 at 7:22 am

  • Matty

    Thanks for response. Ok cool, i can see how that works. Now if i were to remove a lactic acid training workout per week. what workout would i replace it with? Would i structure the workouts the same way or manipulate the order of workouts? Regarding calories, how much over maintanence would you go? i havn't done any FPFL workouts, but from what i here they are f**king deadly. for an example. lets say my maintanence calories were 2800 calories. If i go to 3200 calories, since workouts are extreme, would the workouts cancel out the possibility to gain fat ? and would this amount of calories above maintanence be efficient enough to gain muscle? matty

    February 26, 2010 at 8:13 pm

  • Sean

    Originally Posted By John Romaniello@Sean - Great tips, Sean--visualization is huge. I like the chanting, too. Like Ronnie Coleman, "light weight babyyyyyy" I forgot another one, workout with a partner that is stronger and more dedicated than yourself. This way he/she can challenge you and taunt you: "You wuss, that is too light, lets go a little heavier than last week." "A break, WTF? We are here to lift, so get lifting!" "Com'on you little biatch, one more rep!" Nothing is better than a good lifting pal that can push you! This goes visa versa. I had big dudes wanting to workout with me just because I was so intense and motivating. I miss having guys around me that are bigger and stronger, it kept me motivated; however, I do stay very motivated by checking out videos online!

    February 26, 2010 at 7:12 pm

  • Mick

    I must add that the most important point in explosive lifting is the ammortisation phase, shifting between lowering and raising, going from eccentric to concentric contraction as quickly as possible, under control and without cheating, this is where the muscle gets maximal recruitment of fibres. Maximal recruitment means that more fibres are involved and therefore more hypertrophy can potentially occour. Although you mention that tempo lifting is now old hat, a factor which is still valid is time under tension, the muscle fibres need to be stressed for a long enough period to get maximal benefit from the exercise. Depending on the exercise and the weight used, explosively lifting may require extra sets to get the full benefit of the exercise, I am not expert on this one and am unsure how much and for how long, but as a rule of thumb when I do strength training I drop sets down to 4-8 but I still endeavor to do a total of at least 24 reps, which means in the order of 3-6 sets.

    February 26, 2010 at 6:25 pm

  • John Romaniello

    Originally Posted By MattyHey John, Great post. Have you ever thought about a Muscle BUilding program. You got a killer Fat loss program, but what about a program to beef up? Until then, Is there a way to convert FPFL into a Muscle bulding program. If so, what would you adjust to incorporate the possibility to gain muscle while using FPFL. I personally would like about 5 more pounds before i enter the final phase. Any advice? because i would really like to start FPFL but im currently finishing the Bodycomp blitz, in hope to gain maybe like 2 pounds, but really i would like 5+. Thanks, Matty Hey Matty, Thanks for the compliment. Down the line I will probably do a muscle building program, but right now I am working on so many projects that I don't think I'd get to it until next year. In terms of converting FPFL to a muscle program, the main thing is that you'd want to increase the rest periods to about 2-3 times what they're written as. That way you could recover more, use more weight, etc. I'd also cut down the lactic acid training to once every other week, and obviously increase calories.

    February 26, 2010 at 4:53 pm

  • John Romaniello

    @Mick - Sweet tips; I don't test my 1RM that often, I prefer using 3RM. But you make an excellent point.

    February 26, 2010 at 4:33 pm

  • John Romaniello

    @Sean - Great tips, Sean--visualization is huge. I like the chanting, too. Like Ronnie Coleman, "light weight babyyyyyy"

    February 26, 2010 at 4:28 pm

  • Matty

    Hey John, Great post. Have you ever thought about a Muscle BUilding program. You got a killer Fat loss program, but what about a program to beef up? Until then, Is there a way to convert FPFL into a Muscle bulding program. If so, what would you adjust to incorporate the possibility to gain muscle while using FPFL. I personally would like about 5 more pounds before i enter the final phase. Any advice? because i would really like to start FPFL but im currently finishing the Bodycomp blitz, in hope to gain maybe like 2 pounds, but really i would like 5+. Thanks, Matty

    February 26, 2010 at 3:02 pm

  • Mick

    I agree with the isolation and unilateral exercises, I have been doing this for years with good results, to the point that people ask me what I'm taking to give me growth. The other thing that I recommend is regularly taking your lifts to the 1 rep max, the nerves in the muscle have fibres which are involved a negative feedback system which senses that the body is under greater load than it has ever experienced and will send signals to the brain to stop you hurting yourself. Going to 1 rep max, not only builds strength but clears this feedback system so that you can make greater progress in your routines. There are calculators which will work out what your 1 rep max will be like this one: My philosophy in the gym is that we work our bodies at a fraction of their real capability, so there is always room for improvement, so aim for constant improvement. You need to keep a record of what you do. Always try to improve on the last workout, even if its just 1 rep, while you make progress there has to be hypertrophy. If you can't get another rep during your usual number of sets then add a mini set on the end and take that one to failure too. Then go back on the next workout and get those extra reps in your normal number of sets. I also swear by multi joint exercises, squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows, dips and chins, these form the basis of my workouts. However, in order to make further progress on dips and chins I use a weighted lifting belt. (doing dips with 3x 20kg plates slung between your legs gets the girls excited too, (and some of the guys) so be careful. Lol)

    February 26, 2010 at 2:59 pm

  • John Romaniello

    @Benjamin - Ben, Glad you're enjoying the program. Joel finished NNT and KILLED it. It's like 63 pages long. Shoot me an email I'll send it over to you.

    February 26, 2010 at 1:54 pm

  • John Romaniello

    @Clement - I would say that anyone who is furiously pumping isn't using enough weight. However, if they attempted to create that same speed with a weight that was actually challenging, the bar would obviously travel slower, but the principles would carry over and they'd get better results. I like neuromuscular contractions. And I ALWAYS recommend flexing; usually about an hour before a body-part specific workout for about 5 minutes, then again for 2 minutes right before the workout, and again for 5 minutes after. I have no problem doing this in front a mirror in a gym, because a) I enjoy looking in the mirror and b) I don't give a fuck what other people think.

    February 26, 2010 at 12:06 pm

  • Benjamin

    I love FPFL so far. Every workout I seem to push my self harder than before. Im off to do the strength workout #1 today. Felt like I was gonna chuck during every workout this week. AWESOME. I thought it would be challenging but WOW. I just stopped TT 2K10 a week early to start your program. Did Joel ever finish ninja nutrition? if so I haven't received it yet. If not tell him to get on it bro. haha.

    February 26, 2010 at 12:04 pm

  • John Romaniello

    @Angie - Angie--you should have gotten an email about that--the call hasn't happened yet. It's scheduled for Tuesday, March 9th, at 8pm

    February 26, 2010 at 11:54 am

  • Angie

    I thought when I bought the FPFL that I would receive the audio with you and four of your fitness gurus......I didn't seem to see this when I downloaded FPFL. Please reply. Angie

    February 26, 2010 at 11:36 am

  • Ted

    Excellent suggestions. I am just glad you didn't say "squats," like a lot of your contemporaries would whenever the topic is new growth. "If you want better abs, do this age old secret exercise: squats." "If you really want to bulk up your masseters, the only move you need is breathing squats." That said, one of my "what the hell is that guy doing" exercises, is jumping squats with a Smith machine. Just make sure you poop before hand...

    February 26, 2010 at 10:55 am

  • John Romaniello

    Originally Posted By ChuckHi Roman, thanks for sharing those tips. So what if I combine some of them with your final phase fat loss program? I mean I know I can't do that with the Lactic Acid Workout because you're supposed to lift slowly on purpose. But maybe I could try to lift faster when I do the Density and Strength workouts. What do you think? Chuck Absolutely. Especially with the strength workouts. With that type of training, focusing on bar speed and aiming to complete each rep in the shortest time possible will absolutely speed progress along.

    February 26, 2010 at 10:54 am

  • John Romaniello

    Hey Sam, I do apologize for the long delay between posts! In terms of your's a bit more complicated than that. Correcting unilateral imbalances isn't really the same thing. But the same principles apply to a degree. The main thing is that you train your right bicep first, with slightly heavier weight. When you train your left arm, ONLY mimic the reps that your right arm completed, regardless of whether you can do more. Further, this should be done about twice a week. But, yes, explosive movements will help

    February 26, 2010 at 10:46 am

  • Clement

    And the roman returns! Hey roman, great article you've got there! I especially like your "magic touch and "lift explosively" points, but I think you meant lifting at a fast but controlled pace? I see people pumping up the bar from their chest at lightning speed when benching and windmilling their legs to get some explosion to reach the bar when pulling up! Also, I don't tend to do isolation exercises ore-workout. What I do is focus on neuromuscular contractions. For example, I either stimulate the motion of a pullup while contracting my lats hard or curl my hand into a fist and tense my biceps extremely hard. I feel that this trains my brain (CNS) to recruit these muscles very very well. I do it before proceding to do a light warmup and practising and FOCUSING ON the contraction and recruitment of those fibres before the actual heavy lifts. I guess vainly flexing your muscles in the mirror has it's place in a warm up! Ok, just kidding about the mirror part. I don't flex in front of the mirror... Just in private!

    February 26, 2010 at 10:22 am

  • Dean

    Great info, reminder, Roman. Enjoy you writing and wish you had an article come out every week! I really do. Before I work upper body, be it chest or back, I like to perform med ball overhead throw downs...right in front my my feet. Another one is flexing, I'll flex/tense my back or chest for a few secs, or, for chest I like to work on making the muscles 'dance'. Back & forth or together, then I'll tense them really tight. This take all of 20 secs. Then I'll work my chest. I work out at home & been wanting to rig up some mirrors so I can see my back working while doing chins/pullups. I have plenty of mirrors but I've yet to try it out.

    February 26, 2010 at 10:04 am

  • Karen Samhouri

    Thanks for the great information Roman! It is well written and easy to understand. I have added your blog to my 'favorites' list. Awesome stuff, and entertaining too!

    February 26, 2010 at 9:28 am

  • kevin vos

    hello there my back is lacking a bit to just like you sayd when i do pulups it's seems like it al coming from my arms great for my arms they are masive in comperison with the rest.what i do now helps a little i do bent over dumbel rows[single arm] wen i go up i hold it there for a second and when i';m in my last set i do not extend my arm completely keep the tention on my lats and when i'm feeling ican't do much more i strech my arm comletely whait a half second ore shorter and i/m able to push out a few more reps al in the range of 8/12 reps i do the same with cablerows ore bent over barbel.wel it's works for my. wel grteets from the lowlands holland. cincearly yours kevin

    February 26, 2010 at 8:31 am

  • Sean

    I will stretch in the middle of a workout to do the same thing as #4 above. This is after a couple of hard sets to get the mind-to-muscle link going, then a really hard 15 second stretch after each bodypart is worked out before moving on to the next. I will also do a chant saying "big lats" or "big chest" at the beginning of a lift in my head for focus, then always look at my heavy lifts and say, "easy weight, no problem". You have to get into the "zone" when lifting so that you are "present" while training instead of going through the motions. Visualization is another trick for plateau-busting workouts or lifts. For example, if your stuck on a certain weight in bench press, visualize yourself pressing your goal weight with ease in detail and how it actually feels as your lifting it as well as afteward. It really works! Do this often and just before lifting. You will be amazed about how strong your mind is over your body. ;-)

    February 26, 2010 at 7:47 am

  • Karin

    Hey John :) I've been doing resistance training for a couple of months now but my left arm has been a problem... or, my left bicep just stays really weak compared to the right. I can hardly even flex my left bicep and during workout I find that sometimes I use my shoulder too much when I'm close to getting tired! Besides unilateral exercises would "magic touch" be a good idea here? Thank you for some really great tips :)

    February 26, 2010 at 7:09 am

  • Chuck

    Hi Roman, thanks for sharing those tips. So what if I combine some of them with your final phase fat loss program? I mean I know I can't do that with the Lactic Acid Workout because you're supposed to lift slowly on purpose. But maybe I could try to lift faster when I do the Density and Strength workouts. What do you think? Chuck

    February 26, 2010 at 5:23 am

  • Chuck

    Hi Roman, thanks for sharing those tips. So what if I combine some of them with your final phase fat loss program? I mean I know I can't do that with the Lactic Acid Workout because you're supposed to lift slowly on purpose. But maybe I could try to lift faster when I do the Density and Strength workouts. What do you think? Chuck

    February 26, 2010 at 5:22 am

  • Per

    Great post, I'll incorporate some of it in my routine this weekend! @Sam: Just make sure you don't end up like this guy:,2006/Lady_in_the_Water__Freddy_Rodriguez.jpg

    February 26, 2010 at 4:00 am

  • Sam

    Bout time you came back to us. I kinda missed your off-beat, egotistical humor :) So let me get this straight- All I have to do to get my right bicep to be the same size as my left one is to do unilateral exercises with an explosive pace?? Do I sill work my left arm with the same weight?

    February 26, 2010 at 2:07 am

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