Part 1 – Training to Grow!
“The Winter Coat”
The contest season is as good as over… it’s getting cold outside… the shows are withering away until 2019… that means – it’s “off season”! “Grow time”! Time to put on that “winter fat” and make those improvements which stopped you taking 1st place this season, ready for next season!
So what’s the plan of attack?
… well hold that thought for a second! This article may help you rethink or re-evaluate what your plans are.
First of all, let’s be realistic. Whether you’re male or female, new to bodybuilding or seasoned, whether you’re “enhanced” or natty – making goals to put on 10-15lbs of lean tissue is pretty unrealistic for 12 months. What’s more, chances are you’ll look to start getting ready for the 2019 season within the spring months of next year, which means you’ll have less than 12 months to make those changes…
So is a large muscle mass increase realistic? If you’re a genetic freak, maybe. Chances are though, you aren’t.
My suggestion? Pick one or two body parts which you feel need improving. After looking at stage photos or progress photos – where do you feel your physique needs improving? You have to focus on those areas. Don’t expect progress to be insane, either.
Consistency is vital.
Determination is imperative.
Hard work is an absolute.
Staying injury free is a no-brainer.
Not giving up when it feels like nothing is happening – well, THAT is above all.
… oh, and enjoying the process – now that’s where it’s really at because if you don’t enjoy something, you won’t do it to the best of your ability!
Also, the chances are your “weaker” body parts are the ones which you enjoy training the least! And your favourite body part are usually the ones you need to focus on less… so unless you’re wanting to create more of an imbalance in your physique, prepare to do things you enjoy less more often! You’ll also find the weaker body parts are the ones you have a worse mind-to-muscle connection with. We’ll talk about this more later…
From the get-go… Let’s not focus on scale weight!
When you focus on scale weight (and believe me, I’ve done this) you become so obsessed with that number increasing, you can never be sure it’s muscle growth or fat accumulation which is happening faster… chances are, if the weight gain is rapid – it’s fat.
Golden rule: Fat comes and goes faster than muscle!
And we don’t want too much fat! It’s an inevitability that you will put some fat on, but a leaner physique grows and responds better, so logically it makes sense to keep body fat in check.
The most important component in improving a body part is of course the stimulus, where all the magic happens – The gym!
I know, I know – “abs are made in the kitchen” – so surely biceps and glutes are, right? Well yes, but as of late there’s been a massive decline in bodybuilders really going balls-to-the-wall in the gym. Everyone is so caught up on doing fancy stuff (glute kickbacks… you know who you are!) that on the whole, the basics and effectives have been neglected. So, how do you build muscle?
If you’ve been training a certain way and been getting no results you need to asses a number of things:
- Am I training hard and smart enough?
This doesn’t mean piling weight on the bar, moving it with form which would make Branch Warren look like Ben Pakulski (i.e. a mess!). It might mean looking at your form (get a training partner to video your if needed?) and seeing if you can tighten, it up to ensure the tension/load is on the muscle on not on tendons and joints (for obvious reason) or hit the full range of motion.
- Am I training for too long?
One of the most common mistakes I see is people being in the gym for too long. Rep after rep, set after set, exercise after exercise… Basically they may as well be doing cardio! This isn’t key to muscle growth.
Essentially you’re going to be churning through calories like crazy… calories which should be used to aid recovery and growth. Now I know it’s not quite THAT simple, but overall it is! The chances are you’re exhausting yourself our aerobically and not anaerobically. You have to hit the muscle hard, smart, and effectively.
I am generally in and out of the gym within 45-60mins… and that includes warming up, talking between sets, changing the music… don’t be in there for too long! Aim to take the body part to failure and get out of the gym to recover!
- Am I using the right exercises?
Are you using too many cable cross overs and not enough dumbbell flies to build your chest? Are you doing glute kickbacks and not enough squatting? Are you wimping out on bent over rows in favour of machine rows?
Stop kidding yourself!
The hard exercises to build muscle which take longer to recover and catch your breath between sets should be your priority! The “finishing” movements (i.e. cables) have the place, but make sure you get the hard work done first!
- Are you taking enough time in your sets?
Time under tension! We hear this word thrown around, whether ridiculously slow sets actually make a difference. I’ll leave that to the experts, but one thing I do know is that when you slow your reps down, you have more time to think and put the mind in the muscle!
If you aren’t feeling something whilst in your sets, chances are you aren’t hitting the muscle. Our goal is to make the muscle do the work – stress it, recover it, grow it. Very simple, and the best way to build muscle. Moving a weight from point A to point B doesn’t mean that’s happening, you’re simply trying to get the set over with in as fast a time frame, which (by nature) means the body will subconsciously do whatever it can to move the weight – i.e. use tendons, ligaments and joints… this leads to zero muscle stress and injury. Two things we DO NOT want!
- Are you resting and recovering?
This goes without saying. Ladies are a nightmare for this… they want to improve their glutes (shock horror…). The lads want to improve their chest or biceps – so they end up training them 13 times a week.
Doing more doesn’t yield better results! If you can hit a body part frequently and not feel sore, it means you didn’t really train it hard enough the first time around! Let recovery happen.
We grow when we’re out of the gym!
I felt like this needed addressing because it is so important. Especially when trying to improve a body part. As I said earlier, chances are that you have a much better mind-to-muscle connection (let’s abbreviate to m2mc) with the body parts you have developed the most.
So let’s say you have weak biceps… Your mind to m2mc is awful. You barely feel anything when you train them. And it shows on stage. How can you improve this?
First of all there’s no magic way. You have to find what you’re doing and improve it. Take a look on YouTube and see what the function of the muscle is. All muscle contract, they all serve a purpose in the body moving. That’s the function of muscles. The way to grow muscle is to add weight – put that muscle under tension and it’ll grow!
Something I had trouble with was my chest… due to my shoulder width, I had to have a lot of muscle to fill that space. But I also have very strong triceps and front delts. In this scenario, it’s unfortunate that human nature dictates that the body will try to move a weight subconsciously using whatever muscles necessary to get it from A to B… so secondary muscle groups (i.e. the triceps/delts) will subconsciously take over in order to move the weight… Bodybuilding is the opposite of that!
So if, like I did, you find your chest (or whatever other muscle) isn’t growing as you’d expect, you almost have to try to retrain your mind. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
For my chest, I find that fly movements (i.e. dumbbell flies, machine flies etc) help me better isolate the muscle. Since I began focusing on these exercises more, I’ve found the response in my chest has been incredible!