While you probably don’t want to admit it, chances are it’s the latter. You see, so many of us find ourselves making zero progress after months, even years of battling in the weight room. Unfortunately, and contrary to popular opinion, building your body is not an endeavour of brute force. When you aren’t making progress, simply dropping your head and powering through the same workout regime week after week won’t eventually wear down the forces that halt your growth. But that’s what many of us do.
Just like in boxing, the man usually left standing is the one who knew his opponent – he knew when to jab, when to duck and when to go in for the kill, not the one who tucked his chin and came out flailing. You need to take the same type of strategy to your training: fight smart.
To help you strategize, I present 18 tips on gaining and understand the “sweet science” of resistance training. I hope that as you incorporate this advice into your own regime, you realise that the bout for more muscle isn’t about one swift knockout punch; it’s about going the distance and slipping in some well-timed blows. Keep your gloves up!
PUSH yourself. If you’re lifting about the same weights now as you were a year ago, don’t expect to be much bigger. While the biggest muscles aren’t the strongest muscles and the strongest muscles aren’t the biggest, a substantial link exists between strength and size, providing you avoid very low reps, the rest/pause technique, partial reps and long rest periods between sets. Those techniques generally yield lots of strength, but little or no size gains.
MAKE “good form” your mantra. Don’t just give mere lip service to the cliché “use good form”. Permit absolutely no bouncing, heaving, exploding or excessive range of motion, and never get so greedy for poundage increases that you sacrifice good form. Good form is needed not only to avoid injury but also to stimulate optimal muscle growth. In addition to proper form, avoid high-risk exercises such as any squat with your heels raised on a board or plates, bench presses to your neck or upper chest, or behind-the-neck shoulder presses with very heavy weights. Also, use a controlled rep cadence: about 2 to 3 seconds for the positive phase of a rep and three seconds for the negative phase.
INDIVIDUALISE your exercise selection. If an exercise hurts, and you’ve been performing it using good form with a controlled cadence and have tried sensible modifications, drop that exercise. The first rule of exercise selection is “do no harm”. Discard the reckless “no pain, no gain” maxim.
SQUAT. Do your utmost to squat well and intensively. The benefits aren’t just limited to the thighs, glutes and lower back; the squat stimulates muscles throughout the body. While some people truly can’t squat intensively in a safe way, most can. Reverse the squat, improve your squatting form and pay your dues in the rack, and you’ll reap the rewards.
DEADLIFT. The deadlift is one of the most productive exercises for bodybuilding mass. Master the technique – conventional style, sumo or stiff-legged – and slowly build up the weight to something very impressive. Impeccable flat-back form is imperative; avoid any exaggerated range of motion. Deadlift properly, or don’t do it at all.
TRAIN hard, but smart. Do enough to stimulate growth, then get out of the gym and give your body the chance to recover and grow. The bottom line is progress, not training intensity. If, however, you always cut your sets short by a couple of reps, stopping even though you know you had more in you, get serious, pull out all the stops and put 100% effort into finishing what you start.
LOG it. You’ve heard of the importance of keeping a training log, but how many people actually do it? Accurately record all your reps and poundages. As the weeks go by, you must be able to see small but gradual improvements in weight lifted and/or the number of reps performed. If not, you have clear proof that you need to alter some aspects of your training regime.
HARNESS the power of one. Get a couple of half-pound discs, home-made weight increments, or some creative alternatives such as wrist weights or large washers so you can add just 1 pound to the bar at a time. Adding a minimum of 5 pounds to an exercise at a single shot when you’re at your current best weights, as many people try to do, often leads to a breakdown in form and injury. Instead, nudge up the weights. Strength is built slowly.
PARTNER up. Find a training partner who has similar recovery abilities to yours, so you can use a similar training programme. Then push each other to deliver perfect workouts every time – intensive, progressive and always with good form. But, just as a good training partner will help, an inappropriate training partner can be your undoing. If he or she can recover more quickly than you, can tolerate more sets and exercises, and pushes you to abuse forced reps and other intensity enhancers, cut your ties pronto.