Few people understand how to train effectively for their goals when it comes to increasing size and strength. The sad truth is that most people who think they’re informed are really misinformed.
Whether you’re old or new to the iron game the one thing that is often lacking is knowledge regarding the basic prerequisites to changing body. Some follow routines outlined in bodybuilding magazines (which are primarily geared towards trainees who’re using anabolic steroids), while others hire a trainer who end up putting them through a cookie cutter routine. Or even worse yet, some listen to their friends or the “big” guys at their gym who have no real business telling them anything.
As time passes one main problem starts to arise. There is an unsatisfactory change in size and strength levels. Going to the gym, sleeping well, pushing the body’s limits and eating a lot of food just don’t seem to be enough. So where are the mistakes being made? This question can be best answered by listening to Bob’s story and learning from the error’s he’s made.
Meet Bob Small, he’s a happily married middle-aged man with two daughters. He lives in the suburbs and drives a Honda. Bob’s an average guy, who wants to put on some muscle (but not too much) and increase his strength. He figures it would make him feel better about himself and maybe even impress his wife Mary. So Bob proceeds to start lifting weights. He doesn’t have much of an idea as to how he should start training, but he remembers reading somewhere that a sore muscle is a sure fire sign that his muscles are growing. He also remembers being told by his buddy Biff that he should be training to failure all the time, that’s what all the big guys do at the gym. So Bob Small purchases a fitness membership at the local gym, visits a number of online bodybuilding sites and picks out a routine he likes then goes about his first workout.
The initial workout is tough but Bob manages to finish a decent workout comprised of 12 sets for his back using 4 exercises and 12 repetitions per set to failure. He works his biceps as well performing a total of 9 sets, 3 different movements and 12 repetitions to failure. Bob leaves the gym pumped and feeling pleased that his workout went well.
The next day Bob awakens to a feeling of stiffness and soreness. He is happy, feels great and tells himself that he’ll wait until the soreness disappears before he works his biceps again. In the meantime Bob works another two muscle groups the next day. This time he works on his chest and triceps. Once more he wakes up feeling incredibly sore. Bob feels like he’s on the right path.
After several weeks in the gym Bob notices that he isn’t getting sore, so he decides to increase the number of sets for each muscle group. As a result, the soreness returns, and Bob is happy once again. However, Bob notices that he is performing a large amount of working sets for each muscle group and is finding that his time in the gym is growing longer with each session. To add to this, the soreness he used to receive after his workouts has vanished.
Bob is worried. What should he do?
A. Increase his sets even further.
B. Keep his sets the same and lower the reps.
C. Change his workout routine.
D. Self educate on the basics pertaining to strength training.
The Thirst for Knowledge
Knowledge is power which will allow one to alter the path they are following. Learn to apply this to strength training and you’ll own the ultimate recipe to success inside and outside of the weight room.
However, it is up to the individual to take it upon themselves to learn more about the topic in which they will be immersing themselves in. Most of the time, a book is read or a magazine is purchased on the subject. There is no real pursuit of knowledge just a weak attempt to grasp the basics and take everything they read at face value.
Jumping into a strength training program right away is like playing a sport without any knowledge of how to play the game or understanding the rules by which the game is played by. Instead, some reading on the subject followed by searching out some experienced people who will answer your questions should be done first. Then read some more and ask some more questions. Once you understand the rules of the game and how it is played, you can start.
If Bob had taken the time to educate himself he would have known that there are a number of contributing factors to muscle growth. However a beginner only needs to understand that the number one prerequisite to muscle growth is to overload it beyond what it is currently capable of handling. If you do not overload the muscles they will not grow. It doesn’t matter if you apply a special number of sets per muscle group, a cutting edge exercise or a fancy method in attempt to stimulate muscle growth. If you don’t place more tension on a muscle it won’t be stimulated to grow, it’s that simple.
Overloading a muscle can be achieved through several methods.
Some techniques that often used are, pre exhausting a muscle, drop sets and training to failure.
Pre exhausting a muscle occurs when two movements are used for the same muscle group. One movement is an “isolation” type and is performed first to target the primary muscle, and then a compound movement is used to further fatigue the supporting and primary muscle. Usually there is no rest between the two movements.
Drop sets are used to bring a muscle to total exhaustion (concentric failure) Starting with a working weight the load is further reduced by 10% when failure is reached in each set. There is no limit as to how many drop sets can be performed.
Muscle failure is when a muscle can no longer produce a proper concentric contraction in the working muscle.
Maximal strength training is achieved through lifting loads that are between 90-100% of an exercise. Since the load is so high lower reps (1-3 reps) can only be used. This type of lifting will not have as significant an impact on muscle growth than the repeated effort method. It is however very effective at creating increases in strength through neural (nervous system) processes.
This method revolves around accelerating light and heavy sub maximal loads.
There are a number of techniques that can be employed. Olympic lifting, ballistic movements that utilize medicine balls, bands, cables and other implements and regular lifts such as the bench press, squat and dead lift can also be utilized. All techniques can use either a heavy (90%) or a light load (45-55%) based on an individual’s one rep max. The key to successfully applying this technique is in the ability to lift sub maximal loads and apply enough force to accelerate the object or bar with the end result being an increase in maximal motor recruitment.
So what the heck does soreness have to do with muscle growth and why did Bob think it was the key to bigger and stronger muscles?
Stiffness and soreness of a muscle is often related to the feeling that growth has occurred and must be present for muscle growth to happen. This is incorrect. Soreness of a muscle is simply a side effect or a response to the cellular damage that has been created in a muscle during a bout of resistance training. Some muscles are more sensitive and will become sore after an intense workout while other muscles almost never become stiff and sore no matter how much stress they take on. This however does not mean that the muscle has not been overloaded; rather it means that the muscle is merely more susceptible to structural damage that resistance training causes.
Poor Bob, he fell prey to one of the many misconceptions that litter the bodybuilding community. So, now that Bob is armed with this information he now has a better understanding of why he doesn’t have to always feel sore after a workout and what he should do to increase the size and strength of his muscles. Too bad Bob didn’t do this before he started. So instead of taking a step forward he’s now taken one back.
So, Bob should have learned how to exercise first then he should:
A. Purchase some protein powder.
B. Go out and buy some Under Armor clothing to wear during his workouts.
C. Work on building a solid base in which further advanced activity can take place on.
Building a Fortress
Building a solid foundation is an investment that is guaranteed to pay back dividends, plus it acts as safety net which decreases the chances of injury and/or nagging aches and pains.
When someone decides to build a house they don’t just go out and pick any piece of land that suits them. They look for land that is stable and will not compromise the structure of the building. The same can be said about weight lifting. One must learn how to exercise correctly and perform a variety of basic movements. Once this has been achieved the whole process of fortifying and strengthening the structure (body) is easier. Ignoring how to learn proper form, technique and basic strength movements is like building a house on sand. It is sure to crumble in only a matter of time because the foundation is weak.
Taking this one step further, an individual starting out should not just learn the form, technique and various movements, there should be a period of time in which they must put into practice what they have learned. After all safe practice creates safe habits, granted what you do is correct.
So, Bob’s first mistake was jumping head first into the program he chose. Instead he should have set aside several weeks to focus on preparing a solid foundation to support his upcoming training. In other words, he should have learned how to squat, dead lift, perform a chin up, pull up, overhead presses, bench press and worked on mastering his body-weight in a variety of movements.
Eating Your Way Towards More Muscle
Now that Bob has been armed with some basic training knowledge he can now turn his attention to learning how to fuel his body to gain muscle. He knows he must eat protein because that is the primary macro-nutrient for the building-up of muscle tissue.
Unfortunately that’s all Bob knows. So he decides to go to see a nutritionist to learn how to gain muscle mass. The nutritionist gives Bob a food guide and explains that he should be eating more calories than he expends in order to gain weight, and that he should be aiming for roughly 3500 extra calories a week. This equates to one pound a week. The nutritionist also points out that he should be eating 60% of his calories from carbohydrates. The remaining calories should be divided between protein and healthy fats.
So armed with this new information Bob goes to the gym to workout. There he gets to talking with someone who informs him that the key to gaining mass is to eat more protein, keep fat intake low and that carbohydrates are not good for him. He also tells Bob that he should be ingesting a variety of supplements to boost his muscle growth potential.
Ouch! Bob’s head hurts. Bob’s really confused. What should Bob do? Should he:
A. Buy a whole array of supplements.
B. Eat more protein and lower his carbohydrates.
C. Listen to the nutritionist.
If you picked any of these answers, you’re wrong again. Here’s what Bob should do.
Bob should learn what carbohydrates, fats and protein are. In addition, Bob should also learn how many calories are in grams of fat, protein and carbohydrate. He should also know a) what types of food he should be eating, b) when he should be eating them, and c) how much he should eat. Once Bob has ‘digested’ this info he should put together a nutritional program and follow some basic guidelines:
- Eat every 2-3 hours.
- Do not let hunger dictate when you eat.
- Track your calorie intake and note how much you are taking in, and how much you are gaining each week.
- Take a post workout shake that is comprised of maltodextrin and a blended protein mix.
- Eat before bedtime so as to minimize the frequency between feedings.
- Drink a carbohydrate beverage during exercise to minimize cortisol levels.
- Be consistent. Learn to maintain a certain level of effort, otherwise the results won’t happen.
- Don’t be picky. Variety is key to staying on track. Tuna, eggs and rice all the time are no fun.Weight-gain should include lots of different kinds of foods.
So what’s the next step for Bob?
Just Track It
Writing things down is one routine that is often overlooked. In Bob’s case, if he works on recording everything he does he can minimize the number of relapses that might occur along the way. So what does this mean?
Track your progression. Although the mind is a wonderfully mysterious and complex system it often fails us at times. Even the best of intentions cannot keep us on the road to success. That is why we have to use certain tools to our advantage. One simple effort (when it comes to gym-time) is to spend a dollar on a small notepad/journal- potentially be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.
When it’s time to change a routine or you hit a wall, just looking over a journal can make pin pointing a problem much easier.
Think about it this way. If you don’t document what you’ve lifted how will you remember for sure what you accomplished during your last session? Or what you ate the previous day? Or how many calories you took in? Or how frequently your feedings were and what your macro-nutrient breakdown was? Not only does tracking your workouts, sleep patterns and eating habits serve as a reminder, but it can work as a motivational tool and be used to break through plateaus. You can look back at where you were a year ago and compare it to where you are now. You can see what your weight was and how much heavier or leaner you are.
It would be in Bob’s best interest and advantage to go out and buy a small book in which to track his workouts, nutrition and sleep patterns.
Now that Bob has worked on his nutrition and begun to keep track of what he does, he begins to wonder about the supplements he should be taking. Judging from the muscle magazines and their advertisements it looks like they could be a very worthwhile purchase. Bob decides he wants some protein powder, and a few other “goodies.”
A. Blow half his pay cheque on a supplement-shopping spree.
B. Stick to eating food.
C. Buy one supplement and see what effect it has on his body.
Bob needs to understand that supplements are just that – an additive. Supplements are not a miracle potion and they will not work if he doesn’t understand how to use his nutrition and training to his advantage. Bob needs to work on himself first, before he starts on
breaking the bank.
This means he should first work on eating and training properly. If he can successfully use nutrition to lose body fat and gain muscle, then he can look to add supplements to his program. The only exception would be if Bob had a hectic schedule that wouldn’t allow him enough time to sit down and eat a quick meal. The other time would be post workout. Having a protein shake or meal-replacement shake is quick and easy because it doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare or consume. These should be the only times supplements might be used in Bob’s program—until he gets a good grip on his training and nutrition routines.
The Moral of The Story Is….
If you’re like Bob, work on following these basic guidelines. Separate yourself from the crowd and begin your journey on the right track.
Written by Maki Riddington
Discuss, comment or ask a question
If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Learn from Bob discussion thread.