Nowadays it seems like everyone and their brother is starting some sort of health & fitness lifestyle. For many people that is weight loss, but for many, it’s all about the gains. Unfortunately, when it comes to both weight loss and weight gain, the market is saturated with equipment, programs, and supplements all of which promise miracles. What most people don’t realize is that you don’t always need a fancy protein powder or exercise program sold by your favorite influencer.
While AAS are key to many of the ideal physiques you see at shows, on social media, your gym, or even your own mirror, we all know that there is more to it than that when it comes to bodybuilding. When it comes to curating your ideal physique, there are key factors to consider which might seem like common sense to some, but a lot of people tend to forget.
When it comes to weight training, training volume refers to the amount of reps, sets, and weight that you lift during a session. It can also include variables such as time (time under tension or time spent training), distance traveled, and effort.
When training to build muscle, some tend to exercise more often, harder, faster, or heavier. Ultimately, when your goal is muscle gain, you should focus on training that muscle group to failure. A study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that you don’t necessarily have to lift super heavy to gain muscle and boost strength, rather it found that going to failure yielded better results.
Essentially, if you are lifting heavy but suffering from form failure rather than muscle failure, perhaps try lowering the weight to something that you can better feel the muscles with and establish a better muscle-mind-connection. Training past form failure can actually set you back by causing a joint or muscle injury- leaving you unable to hit the gym until that area is healed. Finding a weight that makes you go to muscle failure within the 8-15 rep range holds the most muscle building potential. Doing 3-5 sets yields maximum hypertrophy.
Bodybuilding focuses on building muscle through both weightlifting and nutrition. “Food is fuel”, and that means letting go of extreme calorie deficits. Focus on a calorie surplus, that doesn’t mean go ham and eat burgers and beer all day though. Food is the source of the building blocks that create tissue, repair, and build muscles. So if you’re not feeding those your body and essentially those tissues, you won’t see the results you desire, even if you’re hitting the gym hard.
During a bulk phase, most people want to gain muscle with minimal fat, which means you must eat mindfully. The easiest way to see how many calories you need is to weigh yourself often and use that data and find a macro calculator. Record in a “journal” or calorie tracking app to ensure you’re hitting your targets.
Protein is key for muscle growth, but not all protein is created equal. Your protein choices should contain all the essential amino acids your body requires to support muscle and cell health. Animal sources of protein are complete sources of essential amino acids, while plant proteins are not complete sources. However, all that protein may not be bioavailable, not to mention there is a limit to how much protein your body can actually use. And for most people, that’s around 25-30 grams of protein per meal.
Which is why it is often recommended to have several meals throughout the day. Splitting your protein up into different meals allows for more absorption, and therefore muscle protein synthesis. So skipping breakfast and just having a large meal at the end of the night (I’m looking at you, intermittent fasting) might actually be counterproductive to your goals. To stay in the desired anabolic state to build muscle, its often recommended to eat small meals every 2-3 hours.
Rest and Recovery
Some people, especially people new to lifting adhere by the phrase, “no pain no gain”. While fatiguing a muscle is important for growth, rest and recovery are just as important.
Rest is essential for muscle growth because exercise creates micro tears in your muscle tissue. During rest and with proper nutrition (and adequate protein intake), cells called fibroblasts repair that damaged tissue. When the tissue heals, your muscles grow and become stronger.
Your muscles grow in the rest period between sessions, so taking a rest day is important. In fact, it is ideal to wait between 48-72 hours between working the same muscle group again for your body to completely recover.
Overtraining can cause unusual soreness after a workout, sometimes even lasting days. Overtraining can also cause inability to train at a previous manageable level or at the same intensity, can cause delays in recovery, and can even cause a performance plateau or decline.
Ultimately, building muscle can be a slow process and can take time to see results. You may see small results in about 3-4 weeks, but you’ll see some real results after about 12 weeks of training. The way you train, nourish your body, and recover all affect the way you see results, and you should cater all of these factors towards your goals.