If you want muscle, you probably don’t want to sit around and wait for it. It’s no mystery why there are tons of “quick-fix” and “fast-mass” programs out there. Guys want to look good and perform well, and they aren’t very patient. The fact of the matter is that building muscle is a gradual process that involves some waiting. There’s no workout trick, underground technique or revolutionary supplement that’s going to have you rolling out of bed tomorrow looking like Brock Lesnar. However, there are several ways you can minimize the in-between time and boost your muscle-building potential. By implementing these techniques into your routine and lifestyle you’ll spend less time waiting for muscle and more time, well, being muscular.
WARM-UP: The Central Nervous System (CNS) is the oft-neglected gatekeeper to muscle growth. Your CNS, among its other functions, controls the amount of muscle fibers your body uses during any given activity. Most of the time, you are only using a fraction of your muscles’ available fibers, leading to weaker lifts, less muscle broken down, and ultimately less muscle built. By utilizing your CNS’s capacity to control muscle use, you can recruit the maximal amount of muscle for maximal results. Here’s how: warm-up. Sounds simple, right? It is. By warming up for each specific exercise you do you are letting your CNS know which muscles are going to be used, and in turn it recruits as much of the available muscle as possible. Going in cold, your CNS is unprepared and doesn’t have time or signals to make as many fibers available, leading to weaker performance and weaker results. So try it—before every lift you do, complete 3 warm-up activation sets at 60%, 70%, and 80% of the weight you plan on using for your work sets. For example, if you are going to be bench-pressing with 225 lbs, start with activation sets of 135, 160, and 180 lbs. The sets should be between 5 and 8 repetitions and each rep should be explosive. As soon as you begin slowing down, stop and rest before moving on to the next set—the point is to rev up your CNS, not to burn yourself out. You’ll be lifting more in no time, which will undoubtedly be reflected in your muscle gains.
HORMONE OPTIMIZATION: Along with the Central Nervous System, hormones are the least understood biological factors contributing to muscle building. We’ve all heard of Growth Hormone and Testosterone, but the general understanding is that the only way to affect them is through steroids and artificial compounds. Wrong. By making some minor changes to your routine, you can harness the potential of these biological powerhouses and take advantage of their muscle building properties.
- Compound Lifts: Compound lifts are exercises that incorporate movement from multiple joints. The bench press (shoulders, elbows), squat (hips, knees, ankles) and chin-up (shoulders, elbows) are prime examples of compound lifts. Because they utilize multiple joints, these exercises involve work from several different muscle groups at the same time. The stress that this type of work-intensive maneuver places on your body and central nervous system has been shown to significantly increase the body’s production of testosterone. More testosterone = more muscle. Building your workouts around compound lifts is a no-brainer.
- Rest: One mistake that guys often make is not allowing their bodies enough time to recover. All muscle growth takes place in your down time—when you aren’t doing anything—so it’s essential to get enough rest. A 3 to 4 days-a-week training program of a few compound lifts is the ideal scheme for building muscle, as opposed to 5 or 6 days of workouts per week containing 18 different lifts. Additionally, naps have been shown to spike growth hormone in men. Try napping on both training and non-training days to increase your body’s output of this powerful hormone.
EAT: Muscle requires a lot of fuel. Someone trying to build muscle should be consuming about 1 gram of protein per pound of their ideal body weight per day. For instance, if a 160 lbs guy is trying to put on 10 lbs of muscle, he should be consuming in the neighborhood of 170 grams of protein per day. This protein should come in the form of both whole foods (lean meats, dairy, and eggs) and a supplement (whey protein powder is the popular choice of most athletes and body-builders). Other helpful practices are to save most of your carbohydrates for workout days (bread, pasta, etc.), and to consume a meal of carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes following each workout (this is usually in the form of a protein shake and a piece of fruit). In general, you want to consume more. There’s no need for neurotic calorie counting, but if you figure that on average you eat about 2,500 worth of calories every day, try to bump that number up to 3,500.