In the fitness industry everyone is selling something, be it a “new” programme that provides “instant results.” Indeed type fat loss or muscle gain in to google and you will find a host of e-books, specialist coaching programmes, never seen before methods and a whole host of other BS that basically peddles the same information and in most cases mis-information or “bad science.”
Fundamentally, my job is coach first, writer second and this blog is a product of the few minutes I have spare- hence the shocking grammar and the poor spelling. From an applied point of view there are a number of fundamental rules to strength training and muscle gain- this is not the be all and end all but in real terms “massive in minutes” doesn’t happen and unfortanalty you won’t get big arms after one workout or even getting “super strong” in 4 weeks. Lyle McDonald sums this up quite well indicating:
Hard Work + Consistency + Time = Results.
What should the base of a good programme provide though? A motivating and informed atmosphere like Results FAST (www.resultsfast.co.uk ) can help though hard work only takes you so far. The following points are where we start with a lot of our clients (by the way- 90% often have unrealistic time frames on their goals):
Rule 1. If you are not getting stronger or bigger your training programme sucks, you are not training hard enough or the intensity is not hard enough.
Rule 2. You need to train each body part at least twice a week, if someone has 4 days available each week train your upper and lower body twice a week. If you only have three days a week to lift then one day of upper body, one day of lower body and then a full body day. If you only have 2 days a week your results will be sub-optimal- if though you can get results from training full body twice a week- in truth though both your strength and muscle gains will be limited. This though is if muscle and strength is your priority- athletes it is dependent upon your amount of team based or “skill” training. Keeping strong enough and avoiding injury a lot of the time in this case is more important.
Rule 3. Intensity is the driving force behind most programmes. Increasing the amount you do is not always the answer. Strength in essence is a skill that is learnt by hard work and practice, blitzing yourself in to oblivion therefore is not the answer. Training stimulus should be regular to get improvements….. that sort of rules out going to the gym once a week for 2 hours.
Rule 4. Two things recruit muscle fibres optimally, move quickly or lift something heavy. This highlights the need to make your concentric (the shortening of the muscle) movement explosive (quick) or heavy and to make your lowering (eccentric) part of the movement as heavy as possible- you can do this by either lifting a heavy weight or lowering a weight slowly.
Rule 5. No training programme is the best. All programmes are a stimulus to cause an adaptation. Once you adapt get the programme changed. How often do you change the programme? When it stops working is the answer. This is why a lot of people’s results don’t get much beyond average- they are often doing the same routine with a few different exercises. Don’t get tied in to a single training methodology, squats on their own won’t cure cancer, kettlebells on their own won’t dramatically reduce your injury risk and definitely solely training on a powerplates won’t improve your abs. You are a product of your own training. Variation and complexity need to be added to keep progress- this in turn can make almost every form of movement based exercise relevant at some point (though some methods will be more useful than others).
Rule 6. Compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull ups etc.) are vital to getting stronger. This does not mean though they are the only thing to do. Getting stronger and growing muscle are slightly different but are always linked to each other. Strength is a product of neural efficiency and the ability to recruit muscles to move. Near enough all of your muscles will have to work in tandem with other muscles to stabilize your joints and provide a stable base for movement- with stable movement we can load more weight. Growing muscle is a product of breaking the muscle down and the recovery process (diet here is key). Therefore, isolation work (e.g. bicep curls) is relevant for muscle gain, for strength gains less so though it can help bring up strength deficits in muscles that may be holding your bigger lifts back.
Rule 7. If strength is the foundation of movement and in turn muscle growth is part of the adaptive process to stress then increasing strength effectively increases the amount of potential stress that can be placed upon muscles. This means that strength and the variants of strength (strength endurance, strength speed and maximal strength) are fundamentals that should appear in your training.
Rule 8. No one gets stronger or grows more muscle if they are not eating enough calories… period. Most people don’t eat enough for their goals- relying upon supplements is not the answer, if your training programme is perfect and your diet is near enough spot on then supplements can help. Buying a weight gainer may bring your protein levels up but it will also pump you up with a load of processed sugar. Having two a day may take your calories up but you may hold body fat- this is where people trying to gain muscle back away. It is hard to keep very lean while trying to build muscle.