In part 1 of this post, I gave 4 tips for buidling lean muscle. Here are 4 more training tips for genetically average, drug-free trainees.
As a review, here are the 4 tips from last day:
- Keep coming back to safety and effectiveness
- Build the house, then finish it
- Select the best exercises
- Get strong
And now the rest...
5. Seek your optimal weekly frequency for results
Many hypertrophy training programs have people lifting 5-6 times per week. If this works for you – great. I have made decent progress in the past on 5 days per week, but I did not have a wife, children or a mortgage at the time. I also found that after the 3rd day in a row, day 4 and 5 were not as good as they would have been if I had a rest day before them. For the average, drug-free trainee with work and other responsibilities, 4 days a week (e.g. Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri) is a much better choice. In fact, if life gets even more crazy, 3 days per week may yield even better results. 3-4 days per week will allow plenty of time for recovery and prevent you from having too many days in a row and burning out.
When it comes to how often you should train a muscle group, again come back to what works for you. I start all beginners on whole body routines 3 times week. I usually use an upper/lower split (each one hit 2x per week) for most others beyond the beginner level. Those who are truly advanced, I may use more of a body part split or more likely a movement split (more on this in future posts) where each muscle group or main movement is hammered once every 5-7 days.
6. Seek the optimal balance, volume and intensity
Both heavy weight and a decent amount of volume are necessary to grow muscle in most cases. Again, there are exceptions to this and that is fine. The trick is finding the balance. If the weight is too light, nothing will happen (except a loss in muscle mass). If it is too heavy, the volume will be too low. This may lead to an increase in strength due to neuromuscular adaptations but no real structural change (i.e. increase in muscular size). If the volume is too high, you will not be able to recover and you will not make progress.
For many people, 5-8 reps is a good rep range to allow the combination of heavy weight and enough reps to grow muscle. This does not mean that you cannot or should not do some work in lower rep ranges as this can be very helpful for building strength. Also, certain muscles (e.g. the quads) respond well to higher reps. In addition to this, with some accessory work (e.g. forearms, neck) it can be dangerous and ineffective doing super low reps.
Along with heavy weight and appropriate reps, it is important to ensure adequate volume. In his classic "Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding", Arnold recommended doing 50 reps of chins. While there may not be anything magical about this number, there is a key principle: you need to do sufficient volume to gain muscle. Some years back, Chad Waterburry recommended a similar idea: 25-50 total repetitions per workout for a given muscle group in a given training session. I have found this to work well for most people. I recommend starting at the lower end of this range to ensure that you are getting stronger and recovering. If you find you are getting stronger without getting bigger and you are truly eating a surplus of calories, then you can increase the volume.
It is also important to note that some people seem to thrive off of lower volume programs. Again, come back to what is working for you. However, research and anactotal evidence suggests that they are not as effective for most people. Also, this style of training is most effective when used after a period of higher volume.
7. Train hard but don’t get carried away
In an effort to grow muscle, many people try to really trash their muscles in the gym. While occasionally pushing yourself extra hard is fine (and probably has more mental than physical benefits), when done regularly, it often kills progress. I still remember reading one of my first strength training books – the classic “Getting Stronger” by Mr. Universe Bill Pearl. In it he recommended to readers to save a little in the tank when training. Good advice from one of the biggest, strongest bodybuilders of his time. Eight-time Mr. Olympia winner Lee Haney said it best, “stimulate, don’t annihilate.” This is not an excuse to wimp out in the gym, but it is a caution to avoid regular use of intensity techniques and slowly grinding out reps to utter failure. Don't bomb, blitz and thrash your muscles into a plateau or injury.
8. Take care of your joints
As mentioned in the previous tip, hypertrophy training requires some heavy weight with a decent amount of volume. Another issue that becomes apparent as one advances is that some exercises just seem to work better than others and so you naturally use them more. The problem with this is that it is hard on your joints. Pay attention to how your joints feel – particularly your shoulders, elbows, low back and knees and back off if they start giving you problems. Have some deload weeks where you do not do exercises that are hard on these areas (e.g. give your body a break from deadlifts every so often). In addition to this, have enough variation in your exercises that you do not wear down the body by doing the exact same movement pattern over and over. Recently I made this mistake and have lost strength, muscle mass and valuable training time recovering from it. It is also important to keep up with your foam roller work, dynamic mobility exercises and accessory exercises to maintain structural balance. Also, some work from a qualified manual therapist can go a long way in enhancing your training longetivity.
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