There is nothing like putting on a few pounds of lean muscle to upgrade your personality. Irrespective of your weight range or gender, adding some muscle to your body will make vigorous cardio easy, help you walk taller, feel stronger and overall boost your self-confidence. Though many people recognize the benefits of weight training and follow what their trainers tell them conscientiously, they continue to look the same year round and fail to show any substantial progress despite spending hours daily or even years in the gym!
Taxing muscles with resistance forces your body to adapt and change. To make every session in the gym worth your time, you need to ensure that the weights you lift challenge your body. It does not mean lifting heavy beyond what you can handle. That may be dangerous. Increasing load is just one of the many variables. Create challenge by altering the number of repetitions, sets, exercises or simply switch the exercise order using supersets, tri-sets or circuits.
If you still feel like your strength is stuck in a plateau, then consider the following commonly made mistakes that often hold people back from making serious gains!
Never Taking Yourself to Failure
The weight room is one place where reaching failure counts as a win. Whether you train in the light weight-high repetition range or heavy weight-low repetition range, you need to stimulate plenty of lactic acid production in your muscles to encourage them to grow. How do you know you are working hard enough? Dig deep to wring out as many repetitions as you can after you start feeling the ‘burn’ in your working muscles. That is also an indication that your muscles are approaching failure. Stopping just short of failure or working yourself to failure on the LAST set of a couple of main exercises is an ideal level of intensity to lift.
Failing all the time will not cut it either!
This is the other extreme. Always training to failure on every exercise, at every set, will fatigue your central nervous system. You certainly do not want that happening too early in your workout because it radically compromises your ability to lift close to max capacity and might even ruin your competence to hold on to correct technique.
What counts more is the quality of each repetition and the total volume of sets and exercises performed with correct form in every workout. People looking to gain weight in the form of plenty of muscle might have to take themselves to failure more often. This will convert to long-term gains only if supported by unerring nutrition and plenty of rest. Else, after an initial peak of improvement your strength will start declining very fast.
Distractions galore, killing the ‘mind-muscle connection’
Arnold and Frank Zane might have made this phrase popular in the 70s, but it holds legitimate value in making those gains! Muscle growth correlates to your ability to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible while performing a repetition. This is not exactly possible if your mind is everywhere else but present in the moment to ‘feel’ the rep. Ditch your cell phone, avoid the television on the wall and unnecessary conversations. They do nothing for you but prolong your rest period.
Longer rest periods of 3-5 minutes are ideal only for power training where the focus is on gaining strength, which does not automatically translate to bigger muscle size. Research supports 60-90 seconds as the ideal rest period in between sets to sustain continuous tension upon the muscles and torch more calories. If you find yourself incapable of ‘feeling’ a contraction, you will do so in time as your muscle develops with every workout.
Over-Isolation by the pump and definition obsessed
Every other gym is infested by women who use two-pound dumbbells to perform isolation exercises that strictly ‘tone, sculpt and tighten,’ to ‘avoid’ packing bulky muscle. While, men chase the ‘pump’ especially in their chest by performing never ending sets of dumbbell flyes and cable crossovers.
However, the real miraculous changes in terms of definition come only by gaining a layer of muscle, which is by the way much thinner, and compact than a layer of fat of equal weight. Therefore, whether you want to enhance your curves and get shapely or gain muscle size with enviable detail, for both men and women, working with multi-joint compound movements is the way to go. Movements like squats, deadlifts, push-ups, presses, pull-ups, dips and rows should come first in a workout, followed by isolation exercises as accessory work.
Women who do an hour or more of cardio seven days a week will hardly leave any breathing space for their muscles to repair and grow to get that ‘toned and tightened’ appearance. Similarly, lean men who want to gain muscle but also want to keep away belly fat are better off focusing primarily on limiting simple sugars and eating clean. Limit steady state cardio sessions to up to four per week.
If you already have a strong foundation of strength, then make space for a couple of short HIIT sessions every week. High intensity intervals are an advanced method for metabolic conditioning, popularly used to incinerate fat while preserving muscle.