Bodybuilding Tips for Newbies & Beyond
If you're a bodybuilding beginner or hardgainer, you could use some tips. Even if you're past the beginner stage or have conquered your hardgainer status, it's wise to review some foundational bodybuilding truisms occasionally.
Taking an honest look at yourself, your lifestyle, and your attitude can be eye-opening, not to mention possibly laying the groundwork for some insane gains. Check out these tips.
Routinely moving big weights can be a blessing and a curse. Many lifters think challenging their strength regularly has a direct link to how big they're going to get. Though there's some truth to this, especially when bringing the nervous system into the picture, cosmetically increasing the size of your muscles has more to do with the volume demands and rest intervals of your workout.
Granted, doing 8 sets of 3 heavy squats at 300 pounds equals 24 tough reps, but doing 10 sets of 10 using lighter resistance and short rest intervals equates to 100 reps of hard work. The latter is much more taxing on your muscles (not your nervous system) and you'll feel the difference the next day and see the results in the next month.
Sounds strange, doesn't it? Usually, you'll get better results if you train more often, but when you don't give your body enough time to rest, you could be sabotaging your muscle-building potential.
When you rest, your body is the most anabolic, and workouts are catabolic by nature. In layman's terms, the more frequently we're working out, the more we're breaking down our muscles. Done excessively, you don't allow them to grow, recover, and develop in size and strength. All those things happen when we're NOT training. Avoid overtraining and take a nap. You can almost hear those muscle fibers morphing into something bigger.
One easy way to tell if you're overtraining is to look at your immune system. If you're becoming more susceptible to illness, or your temperature is dropping below normal, it's usually a big red flag.
Every hardgainer I've met told me they ate a ton of food every day, but none of them actually did. The reality? Most people in this boat are horrible at eating any extra calories (especially from protein sources) while training for added muscle.
Remember, muscles use protein for growth and repair. Amping up your workouts without amping up your food intake serves no purpose and may even lead to injury.
Start by ingesting 1 to 1.5 grams of protein x your body weight in pounds per day. You weigh a buck-eighty? Fine, you need to start taking in 180 grams of protein a day (for starters).
You'll have to add a little body fat to add size and strength, but don't be afraid of that. It's expected. Besides, the rewards will make up for any extra Jell-O on the waist.
Sure, a "clean bulk" is a real thing if you're content to only put on 10 or 12 pounds over a year. But that's a bit too slow for most people. Be at peace with the fact that adding 12 pounds in three months can absolutely still look good, even if it might not all be muscle.
We must make sure our workout programs revolve around the bigger movements to develop muscle. Simple as this may sound, I see too many entry-level programs that consist of open chain (when your hand or foot is free to move, such as when doing a leg curl), single-joint isolation exercises that won't elicit the desired result, especially for novice hardgainers.
Squatting, pressing, pull-ups, and deadlifts are prime examples of "hub" exercises that belong in your program. They stimulate the most muscle, and they're generally the most taxing movements you can do. Use the squat cage to actually do squats, not biceps curls.
Cardio and adding muscle don't mix. Okay, that's a bold statement, so let me put it this way: Cardio does nothing but train your endurance-based muscle fibers, burn calories, and tap into protein supplies that you need for growth.
That doesn't go too well with our goals to add size and keep up strength. We want to tap into the fast-twitch muscle fibers when training because they're most responsible for our development and growth.
That doesn't mean I'm saying training your cardiorespiratory capacity and aerobic system is the devil's playground. Cardiorespiratory capacity is one of the components of fitness, and it should be respected and trained. But your current goal right now is size and strength. As such, compromises need to be made, at least for now.
As long as you have no physical issues, use sprinting as your primary source of cardio. In addition to burning calories and building up your cardiovascular system, sprinting can also tap into the explosive muscle fibers that lead to growth.
For more info on how to sprint, check out this article to learn the basics.
This is one most people ignore. The flexibility of a working muscle is important. Exercise and weightlifting are pretty much just the shortening of muscles under load. When we have muscles that lack flexibility and tissue quality, the result is poor range of motion on exercises coupled with eventual joint issues and muscle imbalances.
You may still put on some muscle if you ignore flexibility, but your added size will be accompanied by chronic pain, moving like an old man, and a distinctly inconvenient inability to wipe your own ass. Bodybuilders are usually never mistaken for football players because football players retain their mobility and flexibility. Hell, they have to. It's the key to remaining athletic and capable on the playing field.
Flexibility can be a bit of a knotty subject, though, since stretching all day long isn't the answer either. However, using flexibility work in a strategic way can lead to greater performance and a better physique:
- Do static stretches post-workout. This will not only calm the nervous system down after your workout but, because the muscles are still warm from your workout, also give them the opportunity to "take" the flexibility work imposed on them.
- Use loaded stretches when training. Exercises like full-range leg presses, dumbbell chest presses, Kang squats, and ring push-ups (videos below) are great ways to put joints through a giant range of motion. John Meadows advocated this during warm-ups and ramping sets to optimize the length-tension relationship and access every last muscle fiber. Using lighter loads and pausing at key points of deep stretch makes the movements even more effective for the desired goal.
Of course, pursuing a full range of motion on all main exercises is something that goes without saying. Make it a habit to become a rock star at using the entire range of motion an exercise can provide, especially if you're a beginner.
I was certified as a personal trainer at age 20. I was also a kinesiology student. But still, I wanted to exchange my lanky, 194-pound body for a bodyweight that wouldn't have me leaving my feet after a slight wind gust. So, I hired a strength coach. I did it because I didn't have the discipline to stick with a program for long enough to see results.
I put all that business in the hands of someone else so I wouldn't have to worry about it. My point? I understood the importance of following a program and tracking the results. Doing things halfway wouldn't have gotten me the desired outcome.
Making realistic and trackable goals are the best way to make gains – and that goes for any goal, be it fat loss, muscle development, weight gain, or weight loss.
As the program went on, I also noticed my motivation levels going up. My results served as positive reinforcement. I could see that things were working. I've written articles that talk about programming being overrated for advanced lifters or lifters who've been around the block more than a few times, but that's not you.
If you want to grow and you've never been big, you need structure. If you can't depend on yourself to follow programming and track your progress, then hire someone to do it for you. All that's left for you to do is show up and put in the work.
What you do in the 163 hours you don't spend in the gym every week is important. And I'm not talking diet. We all know that eating right is a key to seeing results, but I'm talking about daily habits. Do you get enough sleep? Do you drink often? Do you regularly spend your nights partying and practicing debauchery? Do you work 80-hour weeks or have a high-stress job?
The old car analogy fits in nicely here: Treat your body like a vehicle. The better you take care of it, the better it will run. Perform proper maintenance and don't drive it into the ground.
Pay attention to any warning signs, too. Be aware of any susceptibility to sickness, along with other overtraining symptoms like decreased appetite, lowered energy, and a blatant plateau in your results. Trying to get to bed earlier is a good start, but reorganizing your daily and weekly affairs for a better balance is key.
It's a tough conversation to have, but discussing problem areas is what I'm here for. It's time to review the training approach you thought was "perfect" and take a more holistic view.
Start with these tips and enjoy the benefits. Doing so can be the difference between having an athletic and strong physique or one that gets you mistaken for a cast member on "The Big Bang Theory." But hey, if that's what you're going for, I surrender.