At first I was hesitant to write about x number of tips, because A) it sounds so generic and B) I didn’t want to do a re-hash of other types of articles like this. I also didn’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence, since I assume most MD readers are past the beginner stage. But then I thought, why not hammer home the basics? Reinforcing the principles critical to gaining muscle isn’t such a remedial course after all. If it were, there would be a lot more big, muscular men walking around than there currently are. Most guys brush off “basic” advice because they think they know it all. Maybe they do, but knowing and doing are two very different things, aren’t they? Whether you’ve been training for a week or 20 years, it never hurts to review the fundamentals.
1. Train with enough intensity to stimulate muscle growth.
Everybody thinks they train hard. Many of these people simply have no concept of what hard training truly is. There is this idea, probably taken from watching some current pro’s training, that it’s not necessary to take sets to failure. Rest assured that beyond the absolute beginner stages, taking sets to failure will be the only way to stimulate further growth. Muscle growth is an adaptation to stress. Therefore, if you fail to provide greater stress than before, there is no need for adaptation. It’s been argued that perhaps something slightly less than 100 percent effort is required. If that’s the case, what is it, 87 percent, 92 percent? The only way to be sure that your training is sufficiently intense enough to cause a growth response is to take sets to failure. That is, push or pull until you cannot complete another rep despite maximum effort. Some sets can even be taken past positive failure via techniques such as forced reps, rest-pause or drop sets. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that anything less than full effort will yield the results you seek. Building muscle mass is bloody hard work, which is why the lazy or those with a low tolerance for pain need not apply!
2. Go heavy, but use good form.
The rep ranges I have found to be most productive at stimulating growth are 6-8 for the upper body, and 8-12, occasionally as high as 15, for the lower body. Don’t fall into the trap of reading about how some pro uses 15-20 reps for upper body and even higher reps for legs and thinking that will work the same for you. That’s how the guy might train now, but you can bet your arse he didn’t get to be the size he is now training that light. It takes heavy weight to build muscle mass and density. That being said, heaving and jerking heavy weights won’t do much for you either. Proper form is necessary to engage the target muscle and keep it under tension long enough to incur the damage at the cellular level that starts the process of repair and growth. Training as heavy as possible should be the goal, but only when the actual target muscle is doing the work. For example, your biceps will see much better results from strictly curling 120 pounds than they would cheat-curling 200 with hip thrusting, which would transfer most of the resistance to the shoulders and lower back.
3. Never fall into the “more is better” trap.
This is where most bodybuilders go wrong. If 3 sets are good, six must be better. If training for 45 minutes yields results, they often assume 90 minutes or two hours would give them even better results. They go from training three days a week to four, five, six and sometimes seven! Doing far too much in a workout quickly leads to overtraining, an insidious condition that most of its victims don’t even realize they are suffering from. The solution naturally seems to them to always do more, not less. The late Arthur Jones of Nautilus fame put it perfectly when he said: “You can train hard or long, but not both.”
4. Allow for proper recovery.
This goes right along with what we just discussed. Get it through your head that you don’t grow in the gym. You merely stimulate growth, and that growth will never take place unless you give your body ample time to recover. Guys split up their body parts, but they fail to realize that they are still stressing the CNS (central nervous system) every time they train. I find that for most bodybuilders, training more than two days in a row with weights is a recipe for overtraining, sooner or later.