There is something about ripped, shredded muscles! When you see them on other people, you cannot help but admire them. When you see them on yourself, they boost your confidence to the point of giving your entire personality an overhaul!
No, no we are not talking about the kind of men who spend 20 minutes pumping their arms and follow it up with an hour of flexing in front of gym mirrors. Nor are we talking about women who visit the gym slathered in heavy make-up to dally around a couple of machines only to hop on to the nearest cardio equipment and work it at the easiest pace!
Merely a handful of people realize the long-term repercussions of over-indulgence in food, drink and laziness. They are the kind of people who treat their bodies with respect and train seriously to retain a lifetime of self-sufficiency and emotional well-being that comes with strength and endurance. Even if you do not really care much about the various benefits of building muscle and just want to look good, we say go for it! But, you should do it right!
If you have taken the trouble to spare time and money for a gym membership, you have already provided yourself with all the resources you need to get into the best shape of your life. While any good gym will have a knowledgeable staff to instruct you on sound nutrition, correct exercise technique, and post workout stretching, keep in mind the following principles to leverage maximum gains from each workout.
We want you to build a body that does not merely look good, but delivers the kind of strength that can withstand just about anything!
- Increase your gym attendance
Serious muscle growth that counts as an impressive change is a slow process that demands frequent stimulus through a diverse range of exercises targeting all the body parts over a course of 4-6 workouts every week.
Never skip training for any body part just because it feels too hard. That is a sure shot way to ruin the natural symmetry of your body.
If you are short on time then you need to be extremely vigilant about the quality of workouts you are doing. Try to cover all your body parts in at least three workouts each week.
- Do not compromise with correct form for the sake of lifting heavy, ever!
Keep your ego in check and never let it dictate your workouts. While all men and women should train to work their way up to lift heavy, if you are a beginner then prioritize to master all the basic lifts first. It is okay if you start with moderate lightweight training for the first few weeks.
Under a trainer’s supervision, once you find yourself instinctively executing each exercise with correct form, it is time to start challenging yourself with heavy weights that you can lift only for a total repetition of 10-12 per set.
A few beginners try to ape seasoned lifters and in impatience to get a good body overnight push themselves too hard, swinging and jerking heavy weight with incorrect form that exposes their body to severe injury. Beware of such tendencies.
- Keep your muscles guessing with frequent changes in your regime
Lifting heavy within the repetition range of 8-12 is safe and effective enough to ensure consistent growth in strength, but in the absence of variety, the body tends to plateau very fast.
Ask your trainer to not only change your weekly routine every 2-3 weeks, but also shift focus on building fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers alternately.
Fast twitch muscle fibers are responsible for generating short bursts of explosive, hard-hitting power that typically requires training with heavy weights for 6-8 repetitions per set.
Slow twitch muscle fibers improve your ability to withstand rigorous physical activity at a consistent pace for long durations of time for which you need not lift all out heavy, but just heavy enough for 12-15 repetitions per set. However, you can still increase the intensity of your high repetition workouts by including super-sets or triple sets for different body parts or even fit in some plyometrics for a greater metabolic push.
The high-repetition format of training is highly fitting for those who intend to build endurance for a specific purpose like, running a marathon. It is not only more suited to the fitness needs of women but also relevant to men who intend to highlight the definition of the muscle they have already gained.
- Swear by Compound Movements
Real strength, size, and dense muscle tone that respects the natural symmetry and co-ordination of the human body comes from big, multi-joint movements and hence they should be a staple part of all your workouts. Exercises such as squats, lunges, bench press, barbell row, standing military press, deadlifts, pull-ups and push-ups target several muscle groups at the same time and hence stimulate greater muscle growth.
In fact, if you are ever short on time, you need not bother with any other exercise except for the ones mentioned above and you will still manage to pack greater mass and multi-dimensional strength than the people who spend several hours training each body part separately with isolation movements.
- Pumping heavy iron is a not a free ticket to being completely lazy!
Many men and even quite a few women throw away all their gains by depending enormously upon spotters. People get lazy and not only demand assistance through all their repetitions but also ask the spotters to bring over weights from the rack, place the weights directly into their hands once they get into position and on top of that ask them to take the weights back to re-rack! Making someone else pull off most of the work will do little to build your strength.
Do not be a sissy! Prepare your own exercise station as frequently as possible unless you find your energy burning out between supersets or are lifting within a huge weight range. Grab the dumbbells, barbell-plates and barbells from the rack and take them back to re-rack once you are finished. Being more self-sufficient during your workouts will improve your posture and reinforce your core strength as you learn to walk upright with heavy weights in each hand. It will also build the tendency to lift heavy objects safely off the ground by bending at the legs and waist and lastly, holding and carrying heavy weights will improve your forearm and grip strength.
- Strategic placement of isolation movements in your workouts will amplify their benefits
It is surprising to see how many young men initiate their workouts by working their biceps or triceps first thing before taking up a bigger multi-joint movement. This pre-exhausts their arms to prevent execution of a big move to the best of their ability.
Always start your workouts with a compound movement that trains your biggest body parts like squat/leg press for legs, deadlifts/pull-ups for back, push-ups/bench press for chest or military press for shoulders. Follow up with isolation exercises later in a workout when you have time to spare.
If you are new to the gym routine, it is okay to start a workout with only one major compound movement. Taking up isolation movements thereafter will exhaust the targeted muscle completely without fear of injury or muscle pull. These movements are particularly beneficial for strengthening lagging body parts. For instance, calf raises to bolster the calves, which do not face direct stress in squats. Shoulder exercises like side lateral raise, front raise and shrugs improve shoulder mobility and training the arms unilaterally with dumbbells will ensure that both the left and the right side of the body toughens up uniformly.
On the other hand, a major drawback of isolation movements is that while training, people tend to favor some body parts over others. For instance, men often focus on building their arms and chest but ignore training their legs. This leads to irregular growth that leaves the body vulnerable to injury.
- Do not ignore cardio completely even if you are trying to bulk.
Cardio not only helps the body burn fuel more efficiently and restricts fat storage, but also, improves blood flow. Enhanced blood circulation ensures faster nutrient delivery to all the cells in the body that spells prompt recovery and growth for your body.
Include at least 30-minutes of cardio 2-3 times a week. However, people who intend to lose weight will require lot longer total hours of cardio per week.
Slow steady state cardio should be your choice only when your energy levels are drooping. A smarter cardio session would include intervals such as 30 second sprints alternated with 30 second power walking or vary marginal resistance within a similar time frame on the cross-trainer or stationary bicycle which maximizes the post-workout after-burn effect to burn calories even while you are resting.
For the most time efficient fat-burning gruel, try to include plyometrics or hiit-intervals at least 3 times a week right after weight training. You will find a sample fat-burning cardio circuit on your right.
- At the end of the day, your attitude defines your accomplishments.
There is no question about the fact that radical improvements require serious discipline. Whether you want to lose fat or gain mass, the sincerity and determination with which you tackle every rep and set of all your workouts while supporting them with healthy nutrition, rest and recovery will compensate for lack of in-depth fitness expertise, diversity of exercises or absence of frequent progressive improvements in your workout program.
Your self-awareness will only increase with the maturity of your strength and discipline and thus motivate you to take up and meet harder fitness challenges from there on.