Getting stronger is no easy feat. It takes hard work, sacrifice and of course, the know-how of how to get the job done in the first place.
There are plenty of reasons why packing on muscle can be good for you. Aside from the aesthetic appeal, you can enjoy tonnes of health benefits, of which include actually living longer and better. But if not for that, the aesthetic appeal will also suffice.
The siege is fought on three fronts. One from nutrition, one from exercise, and one from your personal behaviour, simultaneously.
Sounds complicated? Fret not. We’re about to break it down for you with six principles for each of the three approaches. Gains-city, here we come.
THE NUTRITION SIX
A controlled surplus of 10 – 15 % of your normal daily calorie requirement.
Forget packing on muscle if you don’t give your body the building blocks it needs to do so. Like money, muscle doesn’t come from thin air. It is a fundamental law of energy. The good news is that you can easily find out how many calories you need in a day by way of a mobile app (such as MyFitnessPal or CarbManager).
Unfortunately, yes. That means you have to track your food.
Be sure to add a little more calories and increase little by little if you don’t see any results after a month.
Natural whole foods and bucket-loads of plants.
Just because you get to eat more, it doesn’t mean that you get to guzzle down all the fast foods. Fat? Carbs? It doesn’t matter. Stick to natural whole foods and you’ll be fine.
Contrary to what many people think, there is no magical fat-to-carb ratio that is required for muscle building.
So long as you are hitting your calorie numbers and meeting a protein need of 1.6 – 1.8 g per kg of your body weight, you can fill in the rest of the calories with carbohydrates or fat so long as it comes from natural whole foods.
Avoid alcohol. Avoid junk food.
1.6 – 1.8 g of protein per kg of your body weight, every day.
We already mentioned this earlier. Now here’s the scoop.
Protein is measured by its ‘bioavailability’, that is the body’s ability to absorb and use it.
Whole-food sources of protein can meet baseline human needs, for health as well as muscle-building. Stick to the most bioavailable sources of protein. Some examples can be found here.
Maintain a body fat percentage of 12 – 15 %.
This range was the best range to promote muscle-building. Ensure you are not going over, though. Doing so means gaining more fat, and we don’t want that. We can mitigate the risks by focusing on food quality.
I mean, it’s hard to overeat on broccoli and asparagus… right?
Make use of the 2-hour window after your workout.
Sugar is stored in your muscles. Exercise makes use of that sugar.
In the 2-hour window following a serious training session (not yoga), the body becomes very efficient in its ability to find a nice home for that sugar, in the muscle.
That process promotes muscle growth.
6: Avoid Alcohol And Junk Food
Processed foods will increase inflammation and impact your health.
If you must, a 4 drink (men)/2 drink (women) limit is important to maintain, if you want muscles.
Otherwise, consuming alcohol at 0.5 g/kg of body weight leads to decreases in hormones that promote muscle building (like testosterone) and increases in hormones that break down muscle (cortisol).
And on junk food – lose it. It will play a role in increasing your body fat. We want muscle. Not fat.
Two to four sessions (for a muscle group) per week.
This can vary from one person to another. If two sessions aren’t cutting it, push it to three. What matters most is that serious work is done in those sessions. No slacking.
What do we mean by muscle group? We mean a group of muscles situated close together that perform similar movements, like the chest and triceps, for instance.
6 – 30 reps per set, ending the sets at 1 – 4 reps before failure.
If your goal is to be as strong as possible, lift heavy weights – fall somewhere in the 6 – 9 rep range.
But if you want to get bigger, stick to higher reps. The latter method can potentially save time, be less fatiguing, and reduce the risk of injury.
4 Sets of 5 Exercises per session (for a muscle group).
Focus on compound exercises, otherwise known as multi-joint exercises. And engage in at least one leg-pressing exercise, one upper body pulling exercise, and one upper body pushing exercise every session.
Don’t know what compound exercises are? Here’s a list of the upper body ones:
- The bench press
- The overhead press
- The bent-over row
And the lower body ones:
- Leg Press
And a full-body exercise: the clean and press.
4: Progressive Overload
Increase reps, weight, or sets with every session.
Volume is the main driver of muscle growth. As long as the volume is equated, it doesn’t matter how many reps or sets are performed.
Strive for soreness – try to get a ‘pump’ (a swollen feeling) with each workout. And track your workouts! That’s how you’ll know that you are improving your numbers!
De-load every 4 – 8 weeks; reduce your training time, load, and/or repetitions.
Doing so will keep you safe from overtraining.
A de-load is an excellent way to facilitate recovery. All it is, is a dramatic reduction of training volume for one week, shifting the focus to full recovery options, allowing a greater emphasis on rest, sleep, and nutrition.
Eight hours of sleep, or more, per day.
Persons who slept eight hours were found to lose more fat and preserve more muscle. And the more sleep you get, the more likely you are to retain muscle.
Don’t rush the process.
We’ve all been there, tempted to try some magic workout or some fancy potion with hopes that the muscles will come swiftly. But they won’t.
There are methods backed by research and others which simply aren’t. Come to terms with the fact that the process will be difficult, that there will be many setbacks along the way.
Set personal goals for strength and body composition and make no compromises to achieve those goals.
Awaken the beast within.
The body you want and the body you are willing to work for are two very different things.
Making them one in the same means effort and consistency – particularly on days where a workout is the last thing you’d want to do. But doing it anyway is what will build mental and physical toughness.
Training is not meant to look or feel fun.
To build muscle, the body needs to undergo stress. The effort it takes to build muscle is no joke – but the return on your investment will be worth it. Be prepared to subject your body to some pain. Embrace the pain.
Write down your goals and check them off when you nail them.
Putting pen to paper on your workout goals is the equivalent of having a contract.
Normally, these goals target strength or body composition, but they can also include other things. Challenge yourself to smash a set of realistic goals and repeat the process when you’re done.
Training is important, but recovery is crucial.
I know. I’ve spent an entire article harping on about how important it is for you to test your limits. But when the testing ends, rest comes into play.
Excessive training does not equate to excessive gains.
Rather, it is through recovery (particularly – sleep) where muscle re-builds and develops.
Seek advice from the accredited pros.
Mounds of studies have shown that professional guidance will help reinforce all of the previous points, potentially providing you with the additional push you may need to break through barriers otherwise left unbroken.
Tag someone who needs to get to the gym, now!
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