“Do you even lift, bro?”
I’m sure many of us have encountered this question, posed both ironically and seriously, throughout our gym life. Annoying, condescending, and usually asked by gym rats who think they know what they’re talking about, but really, are so burdened by their own ignorance, their skinny legs tremble at the weight.
But frustrating as the question is, there are some guys out there who struggle with gaining muscle. Specifically, they’re struggling with gaining the right muscles. Too many guys out there focus on fast results: work out your biceps and your chest for a small amount of time and you’ll see some growth, sure, but without working out your core or your quads, you’ll look less like a Greek God and more like an inverted triangle with chicken legs.
Real muscle growth takes time, effort, and most importantly, patience. It’s not something you can achieve right away, but with proper training, diet, and exercise regimen, you can speed up your muscle growth in a safe, aesthetically-pleasing, and functional manner.
Maximize the Efficiency of Your Workout
Improving your physique and building strong, functional muscles is less about how much time you spend at the gym, and more of how you spend your time at the gym. While spending an hour on the treadmill then doing a hundred push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks might seem efficient, it’s actually quite unproductive.
To get “jacked”, your body has to undergo a process called muscle hypertrophy. Muscle hypertrophy is basically a fancy, medical way of saying “making your muscles big”; this happens when protein cells start building up in your skeletal muscles. Protein production increases every time your muscles contract; over time, micro-tears in the muscle fibers are repaired by the proteins, making your muscles bigger in the process.
Muscle hypertrophy is directly affected by the amount of total work you do at the gym. Simply put, your muscles get bigger based on the total volume of training you do. This can be calculated as follows:
Sets x Reps x Weight Lifted.
For example, if you do 3 sets of 5 reps on the squat at 80kg, your total training volume for that particular exercise will be: 3 x 5 x 80, which means your total volume equals 1,200kg. The goal of your training should be to increase the total training volume every week.
The best way to achieve this constantly is to stick to 8 to 12 reps per set. Why? In a study conducted by researchers, they compared 2 groups of athletes: those who did 20 to 35 reps per set, and those who did 8 to 12. The researchers found that both groups attained the same amount of growth in their muscles, but the 20 to 35 reps per set group experienced more discomfort, more pain, and more difficulty.
So if it’s a question of efficiency, then doing 8 to 12 reps per set with a slim increase in weight every week is the most efficient workout to do. Alternatively, you can also do fewer reps and sets, but with a huge increase in weight every week. This does build strength as well as muscle, but it must be done with supervision from a professional trainer.
Do the RIGHT Workout
While it looks good to have massive biceps, armor-like chest muscles, and ridiculously-carved quads, your body doesn’t agree. You see, it has more important functions, like maintaining your homeostasis (the balance between all the elements in your body). Building muscles disrupts homeostasis, which is why it can take some time for your muscles to grow.
To give your body the right motivation to grow its muscles, we need to do exercises that nudge it gently in that direction. This is where compound exercises kick in. Compound exercises are exercises that workout more than one muscle. Not only does this help your body ease its way into building muscle, it’s also a quicker way to do it. Big compound lifts are much more time-efficient at muscle growth than targeted exercises that work out only one set of muscles.
The following exercises are some of the most ideal things to do:
- Bent Over Row
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press
The reason for the effectiveness of these exercises lies in their ability to exercise a handful of muscle groups all in one movement. This means you can do 2 hours of isolation training in a matter of minutes.
Fuel Up the Right Way
None of this, of course, will be of any help to you if you don’t eat right. You may see those huge bodybuilders like The Rock eat massive amounts of food after working out and think to yourself; hey I want in on that!
You can definitely do that if you’re doing strength training. Strength training is all about building STRENGTH, with little to no regard for aesthetics. People going through strength training need to eat that much food because of the grueling punishment they put their body through every time they go to the gym. They need the fat in order to build the kind of muscles they’re building
Getting “jacked” or ripped, on the other hand, requires a more delicate approach to nutrition, there needs to be a balance between building muscle and losing fat. To do this, a proper diet regimen is necessary. While everyone’s body is different, the general rule is that your diet should consist 80% of the following:
- Lean proteins
- Complex Carbohydrates
Generally, it’s ok to have a little fat in your diet, although any intake of fat should happen before 5pm. This is because your body has a harder time burning off the fat the later it is in the day. Timing your diet is also a key factor to getting shredded: you need to have specific diet plans for your workout days, and your non-workout days.
Workout days are when you need strength, so load up (but reasonably!) on your complex carbohydrates so you don’t faint in the gym. Non-workout days, on the other hand, require a little less energy, so scale back on the rice and potatoes.
Don’t Lose Focus
It can be tempting to skip the gym after a tough day at work, or to have a slice of birthday cake at 10 in the evening. But no matter how tempting your bed or that pastry, do not lose focus. Getting jacked is 10% workout and diet, and 90% discipline. Nothing in life worth having comes easy, so always make sure you’re on the right track and never give up.