The Do's and Don'ts for Building Muscle

Personal Trainer Oliver Ody in action, Eastbourne

1. Don't concentrate on isolation exercises for the "mirror muscles"!

It is important with any resistance training regime whether it's building massive muscles or pure strength or power training to include large compound exercises within the regime. Exercises such as deadlifts, back and front squats, power cleans, wide chin ups and bench press are paramount to building a strong and muscular physique. Training the body's larger muscles will obviously lead to a larger, stronger body but this is often missed out by many gym users who want a "six-pack" and big "guns" for biceps. All of these exercises are free weight exercises (although you could do most on a smith machine) where the movement pattern requires the greatest recruitment and stimulation of muscle fibres per repetition. For example; instead of concentrating on leg extensions, squats will result in greater hypertrophy of quadriceps muscles as well as strengthening the deep core muscles, instead of the "peck deck" barbell or dumb bell chest presses will lead to a bigger stronger chest as well as stabilising and strengthening the shoulder and triceps. It is noteworthy that research suggests when training there is a release of growth hormone (EIGH) and when training the larger muscles in the body there is a larger stimulation and release of growth hormone which will aid in the process of building muscle providing another reason to include these large compound exercises.

2. Don't train 7 days a week!

Any type of training requires rest and recovery, this is when all of the adaptations to your training occur not when you are doing the exercise. If you continuously train without sufficient rest and recovery you will not see any gains, this will lead to fatigue, loss of any achieved gains and potentially overtraining syndrome. It is often recommended for people looking to build muscle that you train one muscle group per week, this ultimately depends on the type of training and the training intensity. I would suggest a rest day after every heavy training day and training no more than 4 x a week applied to a basic program would consist of back, chest, legs, and shoulders/core. Other sports specific or strength regimes may require an alternate method where a focus on certain strength or power aspects is needed.

3. Do vary your training regularly.

The body adapts to training very quickly, if you continue the same training don't expect different results! I think it was Einstein who defined insanity by habitually doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This doesn't necessarily mean completely changing the exercise, as I've previously mentioned there are essential exercises that should always be included but varying the resistance with progressive overload by increasing the weights or reps, super-setting with another exercise or drop-setting. As long as the exercise intensity demand is progressively increased there will be gains. Varying the way you lift is also key, changing the tempo that you lift the weights will impact on different muscle fibres. The human body has 3 types of muscle fibre (although one type has a sub category), slow twitch (type 1), fast twitch oxidative (type 2a) and fast twitch glycolytic (type 2 x). Lifting very heavy weights for few reps quickly will recruit type 2x, heavy weights for several reps quickly will recruit type 2a and lifting light/medium weights slowly for multiple reps will recruit type 1. Every muscle contains these fibre types, some has a higher percentage of one than another but it is important that you train all fibre types to achieve the best hypertrophic gains.

4. Don't "bulk up" to then "cut down"!

Bulking up and cutting down as it's known is a lot harder than most people realise and ultimately find out. Some of the top body builders often used this technique to get in shape for competition. However, these guys are at the top because most are subject to very good genes! A lot of the average gym goers who follow this principle will never achieve the results that top bodybuilders do because of their metabolic rates and natural responses to resistance training (not mentioning other suspect supplementation methods). They may find the bulking up part easier by consuming X amount of calories but cutting down will be the difficulty, here is why; As the extra calories are consumed it will make you look bigger but don't be fooled as that won't be muscle! The carbohydrates consumed are then turned into fat stores and NOT muscle fibres. This increase in fat stores effects the muscle building process in more ways than one, you develop a resistance to insulin (and it is hard to reverse the effects of insulin resistance), through a chain of reactions in males fat increases the levels of the female hormone oestrogen and having a higher body fat percentage will also effect your ability to utilise and store nutrients. Not sounding such a good idea now..... Well the best way for anyone who weightlifts to achieve their goals is to have a set clear goal, maybe one that will take some time, maybe even a year or so to achieve and not have different goals every 2 months. What I mean is if you want to bulk to cut down then ultimately your goal is to look "cut" or "ripped" and have "lean muscle" in the first place so why not aim straight for that goal? Find a training program that will lead to hypertrophic gains as well as maintaining a cardiovascular aspect that will help burn the extra calories and help maintain your aerobic fitness as this is important in lifting too. You should get a good diet plan with BALANCED meals (search "the eatwell plate" for a basic reference) that has a high protein content (1.5-1.8grams per Kg of body mass as a guideline) to allow for growth and repair with the majority of the meal (~60%) carbohydrates and include healthy fats (15-20%). Supplementation should include BCAA's as they are the building blocks for your muscles and glutamine is also a well reviewed recovery aid. This way with dedicated time will achieve your goals in a much healthier and faster process.

5. Do get proper sleep!

Earlier I mentioned something called growth hormone which is released when we exercise, the other times in which it is released in large amounts is when we sleep. Those who train and don't get sufficient sleep will therefore be depriving themselves of time when they release the hormones which accelerate there adaptions and growth gains. Although those who sleep too much e.g. longer than 8 hours could be effecting there gains by not eating for such a long time that the body becomes catabolic, so there is a balance that needs to be met.

6. Do drink lots!

Drink post-workout shakes to help stimulate protein synthesis and the recovery process, drink fruit juice or smoothies as a simple way to intake vitamins and minerals and drink plenty of water to maintain hydrated. Hydration is very important for several health reasons such as maintaining blood pressure by maintaining the water content in the blood which then helps maintain stroke volume and resisting cardiovascular strain. Good hydration reduces the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that leads to catabolic effects, good hydration reduces fat storage, and it maintains brain function and helps maintains a healthy gut. There are several other outcomes that will affect your training results such as effected sleep which decreases growth hormone release. A lot of problems can be related and linked to another so if you can limit them you will achieve more as well being healthier. The easy way to tell you're hydrated is by the colour of your urine, if it's clear then you're well hydrated if it's brown then you need to drink a lot more water.

7. But not alcohol, fizzy drinks or stimulant drinks.

Alcohol is fairly self-explanatory when it comes to why you shouldn't consume it, I'm sure we all have felt next day after the night before on the sauce, this only has detrimental effects on any health and or performance in the gym, game, match etc. It contains empty useless calories where 1g of alcohol has 7 calories to protein and carbs 4 calories. Ultimately the only outcome from drinking alcohol is a bad headache, edgy stomach and a gut. Stimulant drinks only should be consumed 40-50mins prior to a workout to increase drive and focus when lifting weights. The problem with stimulant drinks is the caffeine content which again leads to the release of cortisol a stress hormone which has catabolic effects on the body which will seriously hamper any gains. Fizzy drinks again have essentially empty calories in the fact that they are mainly sugar and have a very high GI % they are almost immediately absorbed and unless the individual undergoes high intensity exercise whereby that sugar is going to be metabolised right away it will be stored as fat and cause a temporary spike in insulin levels.

8. Do enjoy your training!

At the end of the day I can talk about the best training methods with all the science behind them but ultimately if you don't enjoy your training you won't want to continue it and therefore achieve nothing! Cut out types of training that you dislike and find ways of replacing them with ones that you do, there are hundreds of different exercises and training methods find one that works for you and stick around the basis of it continually pushing yourself and you will achieve your goals. For any information on training programs contact me about the online programs or my online consultation service and have your bespoke program designed and managed.

I hope this article was helpful and an enjoyable read.

Regards, Oliver Ody.