Fitness expert shares training technique that could improve your muscle gains

Struggling to build muscle? This could help

Man doing a dumbbell curl sat on weight bench
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Building muscle (hypertrophy) isn’t an overnight process and according to Healthline it can take several months to notice any changes. However, if you’ve been consistently pumping iron, either in the gym or at home, for a while now and still haven’t seen any results, then fitness expert and 25x record powerlifter, Stefi Cohen, has shared a training technique that may help.

When following a weightlifting programme to build muscle, many of us will start with with our compound exercises first – your big lifts that recruit multiple muscles, like the squat, deadlift and bench press – then finish with your isolation exercises, that target just one specific muscle. But, if you haven’t seen any noticeable changes doing this, Cohen suggests flipping the script, by starting with your isolation exercises first and then finishing with your compounds. 

“If you’re training legs, traditionally you’d start with squats,” she wrote on her Instagram. “Try starting with a leg extension, or a split squat for volume reps and then move into your compound lift. Prioritize the mind muscle connection and volume over the amount of weight lifted and watch yourself rack up pounds of muscle.”

If this has left you feeling a little concerned that you won’t have enough energy for your big lifts, or just confused as to ‘why’ you should do this, don’t worry, as some of Cohen’s followers felt the same. However, she was quick to respond, pointing out the different components that are needed for building muscle and that this is about focusing on volume, rather than intensity.

 “It’s a good way to get more volume in instead of being focused on the amount of weight being lifted,” she responded to one of the comments. “Ultimately muscle growth is a product of three things: mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress. You can do all three by accumulating lots of volume, at an intensity that FEELS challenging - not necessarily your true max. It’s all about subjective effort.” 

Cropped shot of a young woman working out with a barbell at the gym

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If your goal was to build strength over muscle, then Cohen would most probably suggest doing your compounds first and lifting as much as you can. But, remember, hypertrophy training requires you to do lots of reps —anywhere between 8 to 12, usually for three to four sets. If you therefore use all your energy on your compound lifts, you’ll just fatigue and have nothing left in the tank for the rest of your workout. Instead, focus on mind-muscle connection and doing your compound lifts at a 60-80% of your one rep max. Cohen has also shared four other protocols to help build muscle, so make sure you're doing these too.

In need of some workout inspiration? Grab a pair of dumbbells and give this eight-move dumbbell workout a try, or grab a resistance band and give this banded upper body workout a go, to grow your biceps and triceps.

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.