There are literally millions of bodybuilding articles on the Internet about top ten or top five or top whatever lists for hundreds of fitness-related areas.
And it can get get tiresome to read them after a while, since they seem like a re-hash of stuff you had already read. But it wouldn’t hurt to remind ourselves of the most essential basics.
It seems, no matter how much these truths are repeated, they still do not have the desired effect one would expect. Because, if that was the case, we would see a bigger number of muscular men walking the streets than we currently do.
The majority tend to brush off these basics, thinking they already abide by them or just thinking they already know them.
And we all know that knowing and doing are very different things. No matter your training experience, it is always good to remind ourselves of them every now and then. So, let’s dive into what I call “Bodybuilding’s Essential Dozen”.
1. Train intensely to stimulate muscle growth
Hardly anyone would admit that they aren’t training hard enough, since no one even has the starting point or concept what hard training really is. Like the idea that you shouldn’t take sets to failure and always “leave something in the tank”.
Now, that might work for a beginner trainee, but for a pro going to failure might be the only way to stimulate muscle growth in the advanced stages of training. Muscle growth is, in its essence, the body’s response or adaptation to mechanical stress.
Logically, if you do not induce greater mechanical stress than your last workout, no adaptation will take place. Some even say that less than 100 percent effort is needed to induce the aforementioned stress.
What is the percentage then? 80%, 90% ? In order to make sure we are training intensely enough to cause muscle growth response, we need to incorporate taking sets to failure in our training.
Meaning, pushing or pulling until you cannot complete another repetition despite giving maximum effort. There is a way you can “bypass” this failure by using forced reps, drop sets or rest-pause sets. You should have already realized by now that giving anything less than full effort and dedication on your part will yield the results you desire.
Bodybulding is hard work, most of the time it’s not pretty or fun, which is why the lazy ones or those with low pain tolerance shouldn’t be bothered to try it.
2. Lift heavy, but use good form at the same time
The rep ranges, most conducive to stimulating muscle growth for the upper body fall within the range of 6-8 and 8-12 for the lower body, even sometimes going as high as 20.
Don’t buy those lies you read in the magazines about some pro using 15-20 repetitions for his upper body and even going further for legs and thinking that the same can be applied and will work for you.
That’s one way he might train at the moment, but he surely didn’t get where he is now by training that light. You can only get that big by lifting heavy weights. There’s no two ways about it.
While we are at it, heaving and jerking heavy weights will not give the results you are after either. You need to execute the exercise with proper form in order to target the muscle you are training and keep it enough time under tension to induce the damage at a cellular level, that is actually the starting point in the muscle growth process.
So, one should train as heavy as possible, but only when proper form is kept throughout the set and the target muscle itself is doing the actual work.
A nice example would be strictly curling 100 lbs, as opposed to cheat-cutling 200 lbs and using every muscle of your body, except the biceps to lift the weight. Which one do you think works better?
3. Don’t buy into the “more is better” lie
This is where most people go wrong. The usual line of thinking is, if 5 sets are good, then 10 must be better. If I train for an hour and I get results, wouldn’t training for 90 minutes or two hours be even better.
Training days are also increased from three to four up to all seven days of the week. What happens next is a serious case of overtraining, a condition most victims aren’t even aware they are suffering from. The late Arthur Jones said it perfectly: “You can train hard or long, but not both.”
This ties perfectly into the previous point. You need to always keep this in mind: You don’t grow in the gym. In the gym, you are only stimulating the growth response, and that growth will never happen if you don’t give your body enough time to recuperate.
Many people are using body part split workouts, yet they don’t understand that they are still putting enormous stress on the CNS (Central Nervous System) every time they workout. For the majority of people, training more than two days in a row will result in training, sooner or later.
5. Eschew exercises you are not built for
Some people swear by specific exercises, saying how much they helped them build certain parts of their body, so another lifter would think it would be a good idea to start doing them.
However, there are exercises we are not built to do due to each of us having our own biomechanic parameters. For example, if one isn’t meant to squat, he can freely substitute them with leg presses, hack squats and even Smith machine squats to build their legs without sustaining an injury.
6. Take care of your nutrition
All your training will be in vain until you get your nutrition in check. The body needs the vital macronutrients in the form of protein, carbohydrates and fats in order to build muscle. People often say working out in the gym for an hour is the easy part.
What matters just as importantly is what you do 23 hours out of the gym. That means diligence with your nutrition, as much as with your training.
You would need to space out your meals evenly throughout the day, most of the cases, that means you would need to eat every 2-3 hours. Quality food is of the utmost importance, eating junk will make you look like junk.
Some would also say preparing your meals would take a lot of time, but again this is bodybuilding, if you are not ready to do it, better find yourself another endeavor.
7. When you are in the gym, train
A common sight when one enters a gym nowadays is people socializing or being too busy with their phones looking up what’s new on social media or posting selfies.
Guess what? Those are the same people who look exactly the same year after year. When you are in the gym, get in “the zone”, focus, turn off the outside world and start lifting. You have a job at hand and that job needs to be finished. Again, nobody said it’s going to be easy or fun. It’s hard work.
8. Don’t hop between programs
The bodybuilding world has become saturated with an endless supply of workout routines. There’s always a new program promising better results. The indecision over which one to choose or change the current program altogether affects both beginners and pros alike. They suffer from information overload.
They think they might be missing out on some superior methods the new program might provide. Some programs confuse you with calculations you have to make in order to look scientific. None of those has proven to be superior to the basic ones. The recipe is simple: train hard, use basic compound exercises, eat, rest, sleep.
9. Curb your partying
Sleep is one of the variables needed to see good results, the same as proper nutrition. That means no more staying up late. If you know you will need to stay up late, plan to take a nap tomorrow.
Otherwise, you will feel exhausted which will leave you unable to train optimally and recover and grow afterwards. Alcohol and drugs are also proven to seriously derail your progress, so stay away from those as much as possible. Again, your own priorities will determine which decision you will make.
10. Use supplements
Supplements are an excellent addition to the food you should already be consuming in proper quantities. Protein powders can ease the way into achieving your daily protein goals, creatine can boost your energy levels, L-glutamine and pre-workout supplements can help you train harder and longer and recover more easily.
You should also be taking multivitamins, minerals, fish oil etc. When you have created the optimal environment in your body, you will grow better and faster.
11. Anabolics aren’t everything
Let’s get something straight, anabolics do work. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. However, that leads some people to believe that they are the magic solution to every problem they are encountering in their bodybuilding pursuit. So, they stop training as hard as they did or eating as properly, thinking the ster*ids will do the work all by themselves.
I would make the following comparison: the ones who give it all they got into their training eating and recovering, plus using small amounts of s******s will look a lot better than the ones using huge doses and aren’t doing the necessary work. The second group will, of course, find excuses in that the former group is using a lot more than they are, the reason being for them looking better, although it’s quite the opposite.
12. Believe you’ll succeed
To really succeed in this game you need to truly believe in yourself and your capabilities. You need to envision it in your mind first in order to apply it in reality.
You will almost certainly find opposition from others, either family members or friends, who will try to dissuade from pursing it further or try to discourage you and belittle your goals. Others will tell you what you’re doing is vain, unproductive or ridiculous.
It might sound a bit corny, but you really need to have decided strongly, both heart and soul, that you will achieve the physique you want. The hardest part is believing it when no one does. When you are left without support and you are the only one who supports you!
Bodybuilding is thought of as a purely physical pursuit, but the mind, in fact, plays a much bigger role, in that it drives you towards your goals and keeps you in check about everything you do in order to achieve those goals.