This winter can and will be your best. Just follow the rules to growing more muscle that are listed right here. It’s time to get your gym game up to par.
For the majority of guys I’ve worked with and often see training in the gym, nothing builds more confidence, respect and power than a strong, healthy, muscular physique. It’s actually the main reason that many train.
One of the top questions I get asked almost on a daily basis is: What is the best way to help my muscles grow faster? In the gym, there are multitudes of training plans to choose from, but some work better than others to achieve the specific goal of gaining mass.
It’s All About Muscle Fibers
Resistance or weight training causes small tears in the muscle fibers. As muscle fibers heal, they come back bigger and stronger than they were before. After the muscle fiber has been broken down, it will go to work rebuilding itself.
With enough rest and good nutrition, the muscle cells within the fibers will continue to expand and prepare themselves for the next time you train. The bigger the muscle fiber breaks down during a workout, the bigger the muscle will be when it heals after you have rested.
We are all born with two types of muscle fibers: Slow-twitch (type 1) and fast-twitch (type 2). The key to encourage new muscle growth is to work both types of muscle fiber hard enough to cause them both to break down and rebuild.
Using a higher rep scheme with lighter weights (in the 12 to 20 rep range) will ensure you break down the type-1 fibers, so that they grow larger. Train with less reps (in the 6 to 10 range) with good form and almost the maximum amount of weight, and the fast-twitch (type 2) muscle fibers will get worked.
Therefore, you should vary your workouts to include high-rep days (anywhere from 12 to 20 reps for no more than 3 to 4 sets) and low-rep days (6 to 12 reps for no more than 4 to 5 sets).
The winter months would be an ideal time to focus on gaining size, as you’re not as likely to want to show off your abs when it’s freezing outside. And when spring comes around, you can switch your focus to more of a fat loss plan.
Should Your Body Type Matter?
It’s important that you first understand your body type. There are three main body types – also known as somatotypes. These types are ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs. They’re also commonly known as thin, athletic and “fat!” William Sheldon, the originator of the body type classification theory, believed that each body type had its own distinct physiological and psychological traits.
Many of the top endurance athletes are ectomorphs and their slim build means they will find it hard to put on muscle, even if they wanted to. If you have a similar build, you too will find it difficult.
To stand a decent chance of gaining muscle, you should reduce your endurance activity significantly. It may be a good idea, if you’ve been a regular endurance athlete for at least six months, to reduce the cycle/run/swim time to a minimum and go through a two-month muscle-building phase.
If you have an athletic body type, then chances are you will be able to maintain your muscle mass pretty well, even when endurance/cardio training. Mesomorphs bodies will respond quickly to virtually all types of training and will be less affected by increased cardio activity.
Endomorphs will be carrying a lot of muscle and potentially fat, and will be more able to maintain size when performing cardio training. To put it simply, they have more to lose!
How You Need To Train
The most important factor in building muscle is your training. You need to push yourself and train with intensity. You should experience some discomfort as you squeeze out that last rep! It is good to have some soreness. Likewise, muscles grow when they are resting.
Overtraining can be a common issue for athletes. If a muscle group is still sore, don’t train it again until it’s fully recovered. To put it simply, to gain muscle, you have to train hard and train smart! So let’s get focused.
There’s no two ways about it: If you want to bulk up, you’re going to have to be willing to sweat. Quality muscle mass, the kind where every vein, peak, and bulge is visible, isn’t achieved without sensible effort and intensity. This doesn’t mean, though, that you’re going to have to spend two or three hours every day in the gym. In fact, doing this isn’t recommended.
Your workout sessions need to be short and intense, because that’s what gets your metabolism fired up enough to put on muscle. It’s possible to put on 10 pounds of lean muscle mass over the course of a few weeks. However, eventually, your body is going to run out of space to expand muscle mass and the rate of lean mass growth will subside.
But, there are so many programs and workout routines designed to help fitness enthusiasts put on as much as two to three pounds of lean muscle mass on a weekly basis. To achieve such a goal, you’re going to have to dedicate yourself to it, both at the gym, as well as in the kitchen.
What Are Some Of The Basics To Putting On Muscle Mass?
Gaining muscle mass is all about applying resistance to the muscles. Reps are the heart of the workout routine and building muscle. The workout should be designed so as to contract as many fibers as humanly possible in the course of a set. There are a whole host of principles and techniques to use to effectively work the individual muscle groups. What follows, are just a few of the options.
You Must Be Strict With Your Reps
For the majority of your training, you should use strict repetitions. This means that when you perform exercises in good strict form, you eliminate any help gained by using momentum or swinging your body to raise the weight. To put it another way, you make the muscles do all the work.
Starting the exercise slowly is very important. For example, when you’re curling a barbell or dumbbells, begin the lift slowly and deliberately. When you are pressing, begin gradually. Never bounce out of a squat, as this will only destroy your knees. When you’re doing calf raises, use deliberate up-and-down motions with a full stretch.
Muscles can only contract and shorten, and therefore they can’t push. The upper arms biceps muscles, for example, contract and pull the forearm upward. The opposite movement (straightening the arm) involves the triceps muscles at the back of the arm, and they pull the arm straight.
Some exercises in the pushing category are the standing press, supine bench press, push-ups, triceps extensions and leg press. Those often referred to as pulling exercises are curls, upright rows, chins, bent-over rows and hamstring curls etc.
What About Superset Reps?
The original idea behind supersets was to switch, quickly and with no rest, two exercises, one pulling and one pushing. The most common combination was to alternate bicep curls with triceps extensions.
Many trainers simply alternate two curling movements or two pec movements, or two triceps movements. Superset only indicates the alternating of two exercises in speedy succession.
A few weeks of this type of exercising routine can really shock your muscles into new growth. It’s a tough way to work the muscles. Overuse could cause you to grow stale and bring you to a halt.
Pre-Exhaust Reps Are Excellent For Isolating Muscles
Pre-exhaust is the training of a specific muscle with a carefully chosen isolated exercise, immediately followed by combination movement. It’s tough, but very effective!
Think of your chest. The triceps are involved in many of the common chest exercises, and for many trainers, they’re the weak link. This means that when you do dips, bench presses or incline presses, the triceps are worked hard and the pecs only slightly. So, your triceps could grow quicker than your chest. It’s fine if you already have a big chest, but if you want to develop your pecs, the best way is the pre-exhaust method.
To get around the weak link triceps, isolate your pecs first with an exercise like the dumbbell flyes, where the triceps aren’t directly involved. After a tough set carrying the exercises to the point of failure, move immediately to the second exercise, such as incline or bench presses. When you do the presses, the triceps will temporarily be stronger than the pecs, which are almost exhausted from the first isolation exercise. And now, you aren’t limited by the weak link in the triceps.
A Basic Sample Pre-Exhaust Schedule
Wide grip chin behind the neck (isolation exercise)
Bent over rowing (isolation exercise)
Bent over rowing (combination exercise)
Lateral raises (isolation exercise)
Press behind the neck (combination exercise)
Incline flyes (isolation exercise)
Incline bench press (combination exercise)
Leg extension (isolation exercise)
Full squat (combination exercise)
Triceps press-downs (isolation exercise)
Narrow grip triceps bench press (combination exercise)
Preacher bench curls (isolation exercise)
Narrow grip chinning the bar (combination exercise)
What Are Cheat Reps?
The word cheat makes it sound like you’re doing something wrong. But, cheating (also known as a loose style) can be very useful if performed correctly. You shouldn’t start to cheat on an exercise until you have performed the last rep possible in strict style. What you’ll find is that the less cheating, the better the effect.
How To Perform Forced Reps
You’ll need a training partner for this one. When you are no longer able to complete a rep using your own power, use the help of your training partner. They should place their fingers under the bar and apply just enough pressure to allow you to make the lift. It’s not advisable to use more than two forced reps, and forced reps should never be used for every workout. Why? It would lead to burnout over time.
What Are Rest Pause Reps?
This method has been used ever since barbells were invented. Rest-pause is not a system to be followed all the time – again to prevent overtraining or burnout. But it does allow you to make gains in tendon and muscle strength and in overall size in a just a few weeks. It’s best used only every now and then to break a sticking point.
It’s a simple technique. After warming up, you load up the barbell enough to allow just one rep. Let’s say you’re bench-pressing. Press out one difficult rep and replace the bar on the stands. Let 10 to 20 seconds pass, and then perform another rep. After another short rest, perform yet another rep, and so on. Allow your body to partially recuperate every time. As the reps build up, you may have to lower the weight slightly to get your 6 to 8 reps in.
Some Information On Compound Training
Compound training, sometimes know as giant sets, is definitely an advanced technique of muscle building. Compound sets for the deltoids would involve performing three or four shoulder exercises, one after the other, with a very short rest between exercises. A whole shoulder routine using compound-training principle may look something like this:
Press behind neck ………………………………………………………….10 reps
Seated dumbbell presses …………………………………………………10 reps
Upright rowing……………………………………………………………….10 reps
Standing lateral raise ………………………………………………………10 reps
Repeat the routine twice for a total of 3 sets.
Why You Should Consider Pyramid Training
This method is used a lot. You’re able to start easily, build up to a peak and taper off. You start with a set of higher reps (12 to 15) just to warm up the muscles. In the next set, you should add some weight and lower the reps. Do this with every set until you’re only able to perform a few reps. Then, work your way down the other side of the pyramid.
With each of the following sets, your weight load is decreased to allow for the extra reps. A sample pyramid routine for the bench press would look like this:
Set 1: 20 reps, 120 pounds
Set 2: 10 reps, 150 pounds
Set 3: 8 reps, 170 pounds
Set 4: 6 reps, 190 pounds
Set 5: 6 reps, 210 pounds
Set 6: 3 reps, 230 pounds
Set 7: 8 reps, 140 pounds
Set 8: 12 reps, 120 pounds
Nothing will be achieved by being lazy in the gym. To gain quality muscle over the winter months, try to follow this rule: When you can’t do any more reps, do two more! Push yourself to exhaustion on every set.
If you’re aiming to do eight reps and you get them done, then don’t stop. Push yourself through the pain barrier and perform a few more reps. Even if you don’t have anyone helping you, just do half reps. By doing these extra reps, your muscles will grow much faster.
Stick to the basic, old school exercises like barbell rows, deadlifts, barbell squats, bench presses, etc. These promote growth-boosting hormones causing you to grow and gain size and muscle. Gaining muscle size over the winter months is a sensible and achievable target. It just takes dedication and a structured routine to meet your personal goals.
By Keith Cormican, RD
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