To celebrate the 30th anniversary of 'Men's Fitness,' we present our 30 top tips for turning yourself into a lean, mean, brawny machine.
1. Throw your weight around
Using machines to train can get you just as big as throwing up free weights, according to a recent study.
2. Go to bed with casein
Supplementing with casein—a slow-digesting protein powder—before you sleep has been shown to stimulate overnight muscle growth. Also, a study from the Journal of Nutrition found that protein supplementation right before sleep boosts muscle synthesis by almost 22%.
3. Squeeze, please
Squeezing the bar hard for three to five seconds before your set gives you a connected feeling throughout your body and primes you to stay tight during the lift.
4. Lighten up, will ya?
Research from McMaster U. in Canada has shown that lifting with lighter weights (up to 50% of max) for 20 to 25 reps, matched the gains gotten when lifting up to 90% of max for eight to 12 reps. The key to it all is making sure you lift till the point of fatigue.
5. Jump for greater muscle gains
Don't neglect agilty work — moves like box jumps will test those unused muscles. On leg days do 3x3, resting 60 seconds between each set— the central nervous system recruits more muscle after explosive exercise.
6. Consume creatine
Research published in the journal Nutrients found that 5g of creatine supplementation four times a day for six days gave a group of athletes a 14-pound bump in 1RM in squats.
7. Gym it up, part 1
Research that appeared in the Journal of Exercise Physiology Online showed insignificant differences in gains in three lifting protocols: two times a week, three times, or four. The exercises included eight resistance movements with three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
8. Mind your performance
A study on how visualization can help in the weight room found that those who conduct mental exercises of their performance in the gym can lift up to 14% more weight. And studies have shown that the exact same signals that fire when you are actually lifting weights also show up when just thinking about the moves.
9. Rest 3 to 5 minutes before a 1RM
Your body needs to regenerate as much ATP (adenosine triphosphate)—a cell’s main source of energy—to fuel muscle. Take a moment or two and let your body feel fully recovered before attempting a PR.
10. Gym it up, part 2
The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that with volume equaled out, it doesn’t matter much if you train once a week or twice a week.
11. Do cardio after lifting
Aerobic exercise performed before resistance exercise significantly reduces performance even when unrelated muscle groups are involved.
12. Gym it up, part 3
According to a paper published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, both heavy-weight/lower-rep and moderate-weight/higher-rep routines elicit similar gains in muscle growth.
13. Gear up
Proper tools like bands and training shoes will help you get stronger faster:
Reebok Crossfit Nano 7
Though designed for CrossFit, this shoe will work anywhere in the gym. The stiff plastic heel will keep your feet locked in during heavy squats, and the wide toe box and breathable upper will keep you feeling cool and comfy during cardio. $130, reebok.com
PRx Mobility Bands
Strengthen your leg muscles for powering out of squats by using bands to perform side shuffles. These thick, burly bands are 41 inches long and available in five color-coded resistance grades. $10–$90, prxperformance.com
14. Don't always train to failure
For new lifters, taking sets to failure during a 5x5 protocol does not lead to greater strength gains than stopping short of failure.
15. Train with a gorilla
Pumping iron with someone who motivates or even intimidates you can push you to up your intensity.
16. Hit the sack
Aim for seven to eight hours of restful sleep per night to allow your body the time to replenish nutrients and rebuild muscle.
17. Add in Vitamin E
Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant and staple of almonds and avocados, is crucial because it helps heal the muscle cellsthat rupture during exercise.
18. Spread out
Do squats and deadlifts as far apart from each other in a training week—or on the same day—as possible so that there’s ample recovery time before the next session.
19. Gym it up, part 4
A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that after four weeks of training to failure using 30% 1RM or 80% 1RM, both elicited similar muscle hypertrophy, but only 80% 1RM increased muscle strength.
20. Adjust for age
Train the same muscles three times a week for the first year or so, then twice a week when you get stronger.
21. Go for a spin
Light cardio is the best form of active recovery for pretty much any workout. Spin for 10 to 15 minutes on a bike at a low resistance and leisurely rate.
22. Beg off the brews
If you booze before you exercise, muscle biopsies show reduced activity in the chemical pathways tied to muscle growth and recovery.
23. Rub it in
Getting a massage can reduce inflammation and swelling, so sign up for regular sessions.
24. Be an ass man
Tightening your hips and glutes can lead to better stability and will help you put up more weight on any exercise.
25. Get pushy
When bench- pressing, actively push your heels into the floor and force your body backward to help turn the press into a full-body exercise.
26. Get the band back together
Banded side steps are great for improving hip stability and protecting the knees from injury. They can also help strengthen the hips, to prevent the knees from wobbling during squats.
27. Bend the bar
Another great bench tip: Grip the bar tightly—hands about shoulder-width apart—before starting a lift. Then, when you have the bar up, keep squeezing firmly, trying to “bend” it in half as you press.
28. Down some joe
A study from Coventry University in the United Kingdom reports that drinking a cup of coffee approximately 45 minutes before a squat session can give you close to a 29% bump in weight.
29. Hang in there
Grasping a bar and holding on helps decompress joints and improves grip strength, which helps you lift more.
30. Rest longer
A study on eight weeks of training found that three-minute rest intervals stimulated significantly greater 1RM bench-press and arm-mass gains compared with one-minute rest intervals.