For a few lucky people, building muscle is easy. All they need to do is simply walk into a gym, throw some weights around and by the time you see them next week they’re already big and shredded. We call these people genetic freaks. Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re not one of them.
However, for the majority of people, building muscle is hard and it may seem that no matter what they do, their body is not responding. Most of the time the reason is that they just don’t know how to combine all the training variables which trigger muscle growth.
Both men and women find it hard to achieve their goal bodies, because they get a ton of contradicting information from the millions of bodybuilding and fitness magazines, promising them a lean, muscular physique (with some sexy curves for the women), only to find themselves scratching their heads on where and how to start.
That’s what this article is for. It will tell you exactly what you need to do and how to to do it to build muscle and lose fat. The tips provided apply equally to both men and women.
You should get lean before trying to build muscle
A mistake that a lot of people make is to think that they can just pack on some muscle mass first and then easily get rid of the added fat later. In theory, this sounds like a good idea, because the more lean muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate is, however, it’s not that simple: one of the key factors which influences muscle growth is the level of sensitivity of our lean tissues to the hormone insulin.
The sad reality is that the vast majority of people especially in the Western world have some degree of resistance to insulin even if they have a low amount of body fat. Additionally, different body tissues have varying degrees of insulin sensitivity. If this is you, you cannot expect fast results. You won’t be able to change your physique as quickly or as dramatically as someone who is already lean and has a high level of insulin sensitivity.
Insulin is a highly anabolic hormone and will quickly transport the necessary nutrients into your muscle cells, whereas if you’re in an insulin-resistant state it’s much more likely that the food you’ll eat will be stored as fat tissue.
The takeaway point here is that when you get your body to a lean condition, you will create an optimal hormonal environment that will be ready to work in your favor which in turn will make you more muscular in a shorter amount of time.
Multi-joint, compound movements should be the number one priority
One very big mistake that a lot of beginners make is thinking they should train each muscle separately, when in fact they should be doing the opposite. You will get much faster results when you train multiple muscle groups at the same time. This can be achieved by doing multi-joint, compound movements that will allow you to use relatively heavier weights. The “big lifts” as they are popularly known are the deadlift, squat, bench press and the overhead press.
Using heavier weights will ensure that you stress the muscles to a higher degree, which means that you’ll be applying a greater stimulus to the muscle, forcing it to adapt to the added stress and grow.
When you do the “big lifts”, you create a greater amount of metabolic stress causing your body to release hormones which are involved in tissue repair. The key hormones are growth hormone and testosterone (for men), as well as many others which are released in response to the training stimulus which recruits multiple muscle groups.
What’s more, most of the compound movements target the whole body in such a way that it’s applicable in real life, whether it be doing some heavy work, sports, or simply the ability to be flexible and move with speed.
The ideal training frequency when doing most training programs is four times a week using a training split, two days for the upper body muscles and two days for the lower body muscles, to maximize the recovery process.
However, if you’re not able to consistently train for one hour, four days a week, then doing a full-body workout is a good alternative to a body part split. This will greatly optimize your time by training the greatest amount of muscle in the least amount of time, a concept known as “training economy”.
Assistance movements are priority number two
Assistance movements as the name itself implies are meant to assist the main compound movements by bringing balance and targeting your weak points throughout the body. Most people deem them boring which is why they are mostly neglected. Some common examples include unilateral movements such as rotator cuff exercises, step-ups, then some posterior chain exercises such as hyper-extensions, back extensions, etc.
One simple method to identify what your weak points are is to look at the mobility and function of each joint. Your shoulders, knees, and hips should be the first to be examined, proceeding with your elbows, ankles, and wrists as the smaller joints. The best way to do it is by using strength tests, however since that is out of the scope of this article, the next best thing you can do is notice whether you experience pain, restricted range of motion or you have some weird movement patterns when moving the joint.
For example, when performing a single-leg squat, is your knee caving in towards the body? Are you leaning forward too much? Do you get out of balance? If you want to achieve and then maintain a stunning physique, assistance movements are an absolute must, since they help you prevent injury and ultimately help you develop greater strength in the long term. This will allow you to apply greater progressive overload to your muscles, which in turn will allow your continual muscle growth.
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