Muscle Growth Series #4: 3 Reasons Modality Changes Grow MORE Muscle
Often times I talk to people who get stuck or plateau at a certain weight in their lifts, muscle growth or fat loss. When this period happens it could be because of a large variety of things. However, in the specific case of training, it is most likely time for that person to progress in their movements. Too often people stick to the SAME program doing the SAME movements for MONTHS. In the beginning you’ll see some gains because this program is a NEW stimulus to your body. Assuming you did these movements, sets, weights and rest periods with the previous training program you had, your body wasn’t used to it at that point. After a while though, this stimulus back then, and with ANY new program eventually won’t be new anymore. Your body will ADAPT and get used to whatever training program you’re doing.
This adaptation is what makes human beings so powerful. We can adapt to so many things and depending on your fitness level and years of training, pretty quickly. If you’re fairly new to lifting weights, especially heavy weights, you can see some serious changes in your first month or two of training. You’ll feel pretty sore for the first few weeks, depending on the programming, and with ample recovery/nutrition your body will adapt in time and see gains. If you continue the exact same training program past those few months though, your gains will most likely diminish and you’ll stop seeing progress.
Your body has adapted to the training stimulus you’re giving it. The squats, lunges, rows, dips or whatever you’ve been doing will most likely get WAY easier than when you first started. When your lifts get easy, that’s a huge sign that it’s time to progress.
If you’re sleeping well, feeding your body well, stress levels are on point and you’re crushing every session, these are all MORE signs it’s time to progress.
So with that in mind, I’m going to give you a really simple way to progress in your training that will DRASTICALLY change your results: Modality Change.
What does this mean?
Modality change basically means changing the METHOD of a certain movement. We’re changing HOW that movement is being performed. Here’s an example: a squat. There’s SO many ways to squat, but each modality can increase the difficulty of the squat pattern as you get stronger and prepare yourself for gradual progression. Take a look at the graphic below:
All of these exercises are utilizing the squat movement pattern, but whether it be weighted or not, positioning of the weight, or how upright the spine is, each of these modalities are a bit different. And because of this difference each of these movements impact the body in a different way.
So now that we know what modalities are, how do they help us build more muscle? Let’s dive into 3 reasons:
One of the most effective methods of hypertrophy is mechanical loading or challenging the body with a compound movement that requires a TON of muscle recruitment besides our target muscles. Even progressing from a bodyweight squat to a goblet squat utilizes this principle. When adding an external load, like a weight, band, or a machine, your upper body is forced to stabilize through the upper spine and core along with your hips and legs. You have to activate these areas intentionally and use them intentionally to move that weight efficiently and safely. This movement and activation is mechanical loading. All of those muscles are working during a goblet squat. As you progress into heavier weights and barbell modalities like the front and back squats, mechanical loading becomes even MORE effective for building muscle. This principle is the main reason why switching modalities in your training program will help you build more muscle. If you can load more weight into an exercise you're increasing the total volume those muscles are receiving weekly. If you can progressively increase your total volume, you'll grow more muscle.
In addition to muscular hypertrophy, mechanical loading helps you build stronger bones as well. Mechanical loading is completely relative in application making it viable to your young athlete trying to get huge and your elderly population who just want to move and stay active as long as possible. When you’re young utilizing this principle can help build up your bone density to its greatest potential so that when you’re older, you’re stronger and can move for longer with a lower risk of injury since your bones are thicker and stronger. If your bones are thicker and stronger, they’re less likely to break if and when you fall or have some type of accident. If you train into your older ages (lowering the intensity at some point of course) you can actually slow down bone degradation. Keeping it real, after a certain point, your bone density will decrease, it’s just what aging does. But if we can slow this process down and increase our likelihood of not needing a walker, wheelchair or a personal aid well into our 80s and 90s, WHY NOT?
As you continue to progress in each modality by adding more weight, reps or less rest breaks in between for instance, you’ll see more gains with each modality. So, if you were to spend a cycle doing each modality for 3-4 weeks you’d have more than 4 months of squat pattern training just off of changing/ progressing the modality through more intense mechanical loading.
This next reason impacts people who have been training for sometime or are used to doing a certain squat pattern. If you’ve been training back squats and only back squats, a front squat may be a good option for you receive a different stimulus due to the weight being positioned in the front of your body instead of the back causing you to be in a more upright posture. With a back squat you’re in a forward posture due to the modality being very hip dominant. Let me explain:
There are many difference between these two movements as you can see. The spine is more upright which creates a larger demand at the upper spine. Because the spine is more upright on the right in the front squat, it’s very knee dominant. This does NOT mean that the front squat is bad for your knees by the way. Think about this: if you were to squat a box to the ground, would you squat with the box on your back, or in front of your body. If front squats were bad for your knees, good luck moving to a new house! POORLY EXECUTED front squats, or any squat pattern for that matter, are bad for you knees.
In addition, the front squat requires more thoracic spine mobility. The thoracic spine is contained between the 13 vertebrae that house the rib cage.
All the muscles that are engaged during a front squat in the upper spine will be a VERY different stimulus than the back squat. It will require more stability and strength in that section of your body that you may not be used to if you ONLY back squat.
Because you’ll be working harder to move (usually) less weight in a front squat than a back squat, you’re going to force your body to work harder and create a greater stimulus for muscle growth.
Keeps You Adherent
This isn’t necessarily scientific or anything, but it’s simple: YOU DON’T GET BORED!
For those of you who are experienced lifters, and even some of the beginners out there, you’ve been there…
You’re on your 4th exercise of a program you’ve been doing for 6 months and you’re bored as hell just going through the motions. You’re not giving that intensity and intentional effort in each set. You just don’t feel as fulfilled anymore in your current program so you start to go to the gym less often. You dread your leg day because you hate back squats so you stop squatting. Then you stop lunging. Then you just stop all together because you’re so done with this style of training.
Modality change can be the spark to relight your passion for movement if you feel stuck or bored on your current program. This shift can be HUGE for adherence because if you train long-term, we all know that with the right program, you WILL see results. But adherence is THE #1 variable for gaining muscle. It doesn’t matter what program you’re doing, if you’re actually doing nothing. So if changing HOW you lift will make you lift MORE and for LONGER, that’s a win.
On top of that if you think back to the previous scenario where you’re super bored, you’re not trying as hard. You’re not putting the same intention behind each rep like you used to when you first started your new program. That matters A LOT. Ten people can do the same exercise and each person can look and feel different. HOW you execute a movement matters so much and if you’re really not into it, that can take away from your gains long-term.
Wrapping UpSo by now you can see the benefit in simply switching how you perform a movement pattern to gain more muscle. If you’ve been doing a certain modality for a long time and aren’t seeing any changes, it’s time to switch things up! If you need some help figuring out which modality changes work best for you and your body, sign up for a free 30 minute coaching call with me HERE and we can talk about finding the best modalities for you!