Most strength and physique enthusiasts spend a lot of time manipulating their training and nutrition during their lifting career. Rightly so, as they realize these are the two most important variables for helping them reach their goals. On top of this, many also consider dietary supplements as a tool to aid their progress. If you are a regular follower of 3DMJ, you probably know any legal supplement (even those like creatine that have definitive efficacy based on decades of research) will only make a small difference at best (you likely won’t even notice the difference). So, in the end, most people consider training, nutrition, and to some degree supplementation to be the variables of import they need to pay attention to in order to set themselves up for success (with many people also recognizing that adequate sleep is important too).
If you share this opinion, you aren’t wrong. However, while these are the primary variables of import, you might be surprised that there are a number of things you can do which are outside of these arenas which can aid your progress, sometimes substantially.
What follows is a non-comprehensive list of scientific research on straight forward methods of improving your strength or muscle gains, that don’t include changing the acute variables of your training or nutrition plan. If you are wondering where to find out more info like this, check out 3dmusclejourney.com/mass where we review research like this regularly:
Compression garments worn for ~24 hours after a damaging bout of resistance training (think high volume, fatiguing training that causes soreness) can improve strength performance in your subsequent session.
10 minutes of low intensity cycling after leg training is just as effective as cold-water immersion for improving markers for recovery. However, cycling is a better choice as frequent cold-water immersion can blunt long term gains.
Mental training can enhance physical progress. Specifically, targeted positive affirmations directed to reframe negative self-talk performed between sets, in addition to mental imagery can enhance strength gains. Mental imagery, which tends to be most effective in the first person (looking through your own eyes), is performed by imagining yourself successfully completing the next set.
Timing of training makes a difference. Even with identical program variables, performing resistance training in the evening vs morning may result in greater hypertrophy in the long term. Likewise, during contest prep where you may have to do both cardio and resistance training in the same day, performance during resistance training sessions tends to be better if cardio is done after (so you aren’t fatigued going into lifting).
While static stretching immediately prior to resistance training can degrade gains in strength and hypertrophy, static stretching when not performed prior to training may increase dynamic muscle performance. A dynamic muscle action is a movement with a stretch shortening cycle i.e., a lowering phase preceding a lifting phase (like a squat or bench press, but not a deadlift). Furthermore, a dynamic warm up (moving explosively through active joint ranges of motion) immediately prior to training may enhance acute performance compared to short (~30s) periods of static stretching or doing nothing.
To conclude, not everything boils down to just the x’s and o’s of training and nutrition. There are things you can do very easily, like stretching before bed, wearing Under Armour for a day after a hard training session, positive self-talk between sets, visualizing yourself successfully completing a set before doing it, or shifting your schedule so you can train in the afternoon or evening versus first thing in the morning, or even just going on a 10-minute walk after leg day that can make measureable differences in your ability to progress.
With that said, get the big rocks in place first. Ensure an appropriate caloric intake for your goals, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, make sure to get enough protein daily, ensure you have a consistent training setup with attention to progressive overload, and eat your vegetables and fruit (mom was right) before you start to reach for the low hanging fruit on other trees.
By Eric Helms