There’s nothing better than seeing results in the mirror from all the hard work you put in at the gym. From added definition around your shoulders and newly visible veins around your biceps to watching your body fat drop and your muscle percentage go up.
All of this helps with confidence and helps you feel more attractive. But just how do you go about doing all of this?
What are the best ways to build muscle and establish a more defined looking body?
There are a handful of tips and tricks you’ll need to follow. So whether you’re starting out from the ground floor and working your way up, or you’ve already been lifting some and just need a better, more defined routine, here is what you need to know in order to build more muscle and see the results you’re desiring.
Build A Body For Life
Before diving into lifting it is important to look at the diet you need to follow while building up your body. It doesn’t matter how much work you put in at the gym, if you’re not putting in the work with your diet it will be all for not.
First, if you want to put on muscle mass you will likely need to increase the amount of protein you’re consuming. The exact amount of protein you need will vary, and experts all have slightly different numbers. In general though you’ll want to shoot for about one gram of protein for every pound you weigh.
Of course, if you’re 175 pounds the idea of eating 175 grams of protein may sound like a lot. And let’s face it, it is. It’s also a number you might want to work up to. You don’t want to ever instantly over do any kind of dietary adjustment right away. So it’s okay if you work yourself up to this number over several weeks.
As you begin to adjust your diet you will find hitting this number might not be as difficult as it seems. A standard protein drink, for example, will have about 30 grams of protein (depending on the brand). Protein powder is effective and affordable for adding in protein easily.
You can have a quick protein shake in the morning for 30 grams of protein. You should also consider adding in another one right before bed.
Because the majority of your muscle repair occurs while you sleep (which is also why you need to shoot for 8 hours of sleep whenever possible).
Whey protein, which is the most commonly used protein powder, is gentle on the stomach and won’t lead to bloating while you sleep. It also gives your body protein to work with when repairing muscle tissue. And by doing this you’ll have 60 grams of protein down, and the entire day to add the rest (Healthline, 2018).
Beyond protein, you’ll want a balanced diet. Some of the more popular diets will tell you to avoid carbs altogether. You can, but realistically carbs are a great source of energy prior to going to the gym. Carbs really shouldn’t be your enemy.
The bigger issue is the kind of carbs you eat. Simple carbs from white bread and sugar, are broken down into your body faster and don’t give you as much energy (it’s why sugar might give you a quick burst but then make you feel sleepy right away).
Instead, focus on 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, and so on. Having whole grains prior to a workout will give your body lasting energy at the gym, so don’t be afraid of carbs. Most professional athletes will load up on carbs prior to a big event for sustained energy (Harvard Health Publishing, 2014).
There are a number of ways you can lift. These methods will depend on personal preference and even your schedule. Whatever you do though, you’ll want to give just about each body part you work at least 48 hours of recovery time. When you work a specific area of your body you will tear the muscle fiber. The muscle fiber needs time to fully recover before being worked again.
If you work that part of the body before it fully recovers you won’t experience the complete size gains, nor will you be able to put in the same quality workout during the subsequent lifting day. So, if you target your chest on Monday, at the very earliest you shouldn’t touch it again until Wednesday, but even then you might want to give it another day for optimal results.
So what kind of workout schedule should you follow?
There are a few ways to go about this. The classic lifting schedule is upper body on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the lower body on Tuesday, Thursday, and possibly Saturday. This schedule is rather straight forward, but it doesn’t give your body much time to recover.
Additionally, you might be in the gym longer if you want to best target all muscle groups.
You can hit most of your lower body muscles in a single day, but your upper body is a bit more complex. You’ll need to hit your chest, shoulders, traps, biceps, triceps, and lats. Most of these muscles have varying heads, which means you’ll need to hit each muscle group in varying ways. That’s a ton of work to put in on a single day, so unless you have several hours to put in every upper body day you might want to focus on something a bit different.
Another option is the push/pull/leg day. This is a solid way to break everything up. It groups all the lifts that force the body to either push or pull weights away from it. A “push” lift is where you’re pushing weight away from the body. A chest press or bench press are examples of a push. A pull is where you pull the weight into the body, such as a curl or a row. The other benefit to this is you’re separating the upper body lifts into two days.
For example, a push day would be Monday, a pull day would be Tuesday, legs would be Wednesday, and then the series is repeated on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
The third option is to target specific areas of the body on different days. For example, the chest would be Monday, the back (lats and traps) would be Tuesday, legs would be Wednesday, shoulders would be Thursday, and arms (biceps, triceps, and forearms) would be Friday, a second leg day would be Saturday, and then the entire series repeats itself the next week.
It really comes down to personal preference here as it depends on the kind of time you can put in at the gym, but the main benefit of the second two lifting methods is you’ll give your body time to rest and recover (Telegraph, 2017).
There is a method to the madness of lifting. When you head for the gym don’t just start out with any kind of lift. You are only at 100% energy and endurance for a short time. You don’t want to waste that on a minor lift. That will reduce the impact of the major lift, which can hinder the quality of your workout.
Instead, you want to focus on the big muscle lifts first. So, on chest day, you want to do the main bench first. This targets the most muscles and is likely the heaviest weighted lift.
Always go for the lift that targets the most muscle mass with your first lift. On leg day you’ll want to focus on the squat, as this hits your gluteus, hamstrings, and quads. From there you lifts should proceed to the second lift that targets the most muscles, until you are hitting the smallest muscle group.
An example if a lifting day, if your focusing on your chest, would be the main bench press first. It hits the entire front of your chest. Then move to an incline bench press. This will target the top portion of your pectoral muscles. Then you’ll want a decline press. On your pecs there is a small sliver of muscle where the bottom of the pecs connects with the abdomen, which is targeted with the decline press.
These are also all the bigger weight lifts. Then, you can perform a chest fly if you’d like. This will target your entire chest with less weight, and it hits the muscle fiber in a different direction, which can help maximize fiber damage and help you build stronger muscles. It’s always important to work on your muscles with varying movements, as this helps maximize fiber damage and, in return, give you the greatest potential for boosting muscle growth.
Lifting for size and lifting for strength is slightly different. When lifting for size you want to go heavy. Heavy to the point where you’re lifting four times and you can’t squeeze out another rep. However, for size, the 8 to 12 reps per set is the target area. Always lift to failure though. Don’t just stop at 8 or 12 when you can squeeze out a few more.
If you do you’re short-changing yourself and you’ll never experience the kind of results you’d like. If you’re hitting 12 and still have more in the tank just add on more weight the next set. And for the main lifts (squads, chest and shoulder press, deadlifts, and so on), shoot for 3-5 sets to maximize the impact (Harvard Health Publishing, 2015).
Also, ideally, you’ll use free weights over machines. This isn’t always possible, and there are times when machines are better, but in general, free weights is the way to go.
Because with free weights you’re also training stabilizer muscles right along with the main target muscles.
When you perform a bench press using the Smith machine, you don’t have stabilizer muscles engaged. Your body relies on the machine for balance. However, when performing a bench press using free weights, there isn’t anything holding the weights up, which means your body needs to engage the stabilizer muscles, maximizing your workout.
Another benefit of using free weights is you’ll maximize your muscle stretch. A greater stretch when lifting will maximize the impact of the lift. This can help boost muscle gains.
For example, an incline curl will greatly increase the stretch placed on your biceps, helping you build bigger arms. With a standard curl, you’ll begin at your torso, curl up to your pec, and then back down. This gives you somewhere between 140 and 180 degrees of movement.
But, if you’re on an incline bench, your arms move well beyond your torso and add another 90 degrees to the movement. Increasing the muscle stretch is not an option on machines, so always try to use free weights whenever possible.
You’re Not Lifting To Impress Others
This is where injuries happen. People see others in the gym who lift more than they do, so they try to lift more than they should. This leads to bad form and possible injuries. Don’t worry about what other people are lifting. You need to first perfect the proper form of every lift, then shoot for 8-12 reps. Don’t over do the weight just to impress someone. It’s a recipe for ending up with torn muscles and tweaked nerves (Harvard Health, 2015).
You can do this. It doesn’t matter what your starting point is, with determination and consistency you will begin to see a stronger, more defined boy. From improving your strength numbers to building larger muscles, you don’t need to be a professional athlete in order to see results.
Just make sure to stick with it.
Once you start taking multiple days off it becomes easier to avoid the gym, and in no time all the results you accomplished may become all for not. But, thankfully, after just a few weeks of heading out to the gym and adjusting your diet you’ll want to go to the gym as often as possible.
Whatever your goals may be, stick with these tips and tricks and you’ll end up with the best looking body you’ve ever had.