Trainer Q&A: How To Increase Muscle Definition
Here's how to get ripped, without overdoing it on the bulk.
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The science behind fitness and health can be confusing—and it's certainly ever-changing. One minute, a study supports a particular food/exercise/claim, then the next, a newer study reports that eating, doing or trying that thing is the worst thing you could possibly do to yourself.
A: Pass on the mac and cheese. The key to putting on lean muscle mass is to reduce your intake of simple carbohydrates and up the protein. If you already have size, decrease your body fat. On the skinny side? Start with a bulk-training style program with limited carbohydrates.
Bulk tends to come at a high energy cost to it—the more muscle on your body, the more calories you’re burning, and the harder it is to do simple tasks. Definition, on the other hand, leaves you stronger for daily activities. While you are what you eat, exercise helps. Follow a 6-day cycle of heavy upper, heavy lower, day off, high repetition upper, high repetition lower, day off.
Start With A Power-Based Exercise: Start with a power-based push or pull exercise like a heavy bench, incline bench press, a weighed wide-grip pullup, or a weighted narrow-grip underhand pullup. As you increase the weight, decrease your reps to build mass. For your first set, warmup with 8-10 reps at 50% of your one-rep max—the amount of weight you can lift for one proper repetition. For the second set, use 55%-65% of your one-rep max for 8-10 reps. For your third set use 65%-75% of your one-rep max, increasing that to 70%-80% for your fourth rep for 6-8 repetitions. Finish off with a fifth set of 3-5 reps using 80%-90% of your total max. Rest for 2-3 minutes between rounds.
Push To Exhaustion: Exhaust the muscle group by pushing to the max with an exercise you can control even when you’re at the point of fatigue. Consider pushups or a dumbbell press. Go to max effort, doing as many reps as you can, then rest for a minute. Go for one more round to break down the muscle as much as possible.
Complete Two Supersets: Move away from the principles of bulking up and towards those of leaning by using exhaustive supersets to tear leftover muscle fiber, forcing your body to repair it and make you stronger. Complete 12-15 repetitions for 3-4 rounds with a short rest period between sets, alternating between the push and pull. Superset A, for example, might include glute ham raises (10-12) and stability ball hamstring curls while Superset B includes walking lunges with dumbbells (12-15 per side) and step ups. Finish off with a supplementary medicine ball based core work.
Sleep And Recover: Go on, hit snooze. The only time your body can resynthesize is while you sleep. Make sure to rest for a minimum of seven hours a night (with nine being ideal). Lose the idea of two-a-days. While your goal is to get lean, you don’t want to hit the gym twice and burn so many calories that you can’t build muscle.
Drink During A Workout: Recovery drinks aren’t just a post-workout treat. Drinking a carbohydrate, protein complex while working out replenishes sugars you’re depleting and keeps the nitrogen pool filled to arm you with the building blocks for protein synthesis.
Power Up With Protein: Achieving lean body fat below 10% is almost fully nutrition based. To walk the fine line between putting on muscle and dropping body fat, determine your daily caloric intake by multiplying you body weight by the factor 16. Don’t make the common mistake of calorie restricting— you’ll risk your body going into ketosis, or muscle wasting. Instead, make protein 40% of your caloric intake. The increased protein will aid the building of muscle fiber. Keep fats and carbs to 30% each, with 85% of your daily carbohydrates coming from fruits and vegetables and the rest from complex carbs.
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