Building with the Basics
It amazes me how many people remain stagnant in their health and fitness aspirations. What amazes me more is the advent of so many new programs and exercises that are popping up on prominent fitness magazines that promise faster results, and untold secrets of bigger biceps. Despite the diligence of your average gym rat, most implementers of the six-weeks to a six-pack routine continually fall short. You have all seen the guy carrying the ripped out page from the last muscle mag following the routine to a T. What seems to have happened is that a majority of those seeking to put on more lean muscle mass have given up on the fundamentals, or at least the cause may be a changing society not willing to wait for results.
The Basic Principles
Lifting weights in an attempt to build muscle mass is all about adaptation. Your body needs a reason to change, and you need to create that need through lifting weights by using some fundamental principles:
• Specificity: When it comes to the bodybuilding community this simply means executing exercises and training styles that are conducive to creating hypertrophy of the targeted muscle you are working. For example, doing a flat dumbbell chest press to build the pectorals. Pretty straight forward isn’t it.
• Overload: The stimulus the musculature experiences must be greater than what it has experienced before in order to need to change. This doesn’t always need to be more weights, it can be more total repetitions, or sets, as well as decreased time of recovery.
• Progression: Not only should the body experience overload, but experience it in a progressive manner, having the stimulus brought about by each subsequent workout that builds on the last. Although a strategy known as “de-loading” or a planned decrease in particular workout variables, has also shown to be beneficial in the long run. In essence your program should target the muscles you want to grow, should be relatively intense, and should provide a means of progress from session to session. This all seems elementary, but it amazes me how many people do not implement it!
Within the actual workout session many different variables can affect the outcome of training. The amount of repetitions, sets, rest period length, and total volume (total repetitions x total sets) of the session will greatly determine what systems of the body are being predominantly taxed, and again what the outcome of the workout will be. There are several general goals that are sought after from lifting weights including increased strength, power, hypertrophy (increased muscle size), and muscular endurance. The goal you desire will dictate how you design your workout variables. Because we are talking about building with the basics, here are some guidelines:
- Repetitions per set: 6 – 15
- Sets per exercise: 3 – 5
- Total sets per muscle group: 8 – 20
- Rest periods: 60 – 90 seconds
These are very general tried and true methods, especially for a beginner. There are many trains of thought on what manipulation of the variables above are best, with some methods reaching far above and far below my recommendations.
Splitting Up Your Routine
Your workout split is your overall program template. It is a breakdown of what you’re doing on each day of the week, but can also be broken down irrelevant of the calendar. The idea behind your workout split is to allow for proper recovery in between bouts of lifting the same muscle group. Many programs will pair up muscle groups to allow for more frequent exposure to a lifting stimulus for each muscle, and so long as there is 48-72 hours between a muscle group being exercised, adequate recovery should be achieved. Here are a couple of traditional split routines:
• One body part a day split: The traditional bodybuilding split including Chest/Back/Shoulders/Arms/Legs/Rest. One muscle group a day, which allows for adequate rest. However, some advanced athletes will implement a 2-a-day training style where they have 2 weight training sessions a day, but still split them up into one body part a session.
• Push-Pull-Legs: This includes and Upper Body Push day consisting of Chest, Triceps, and some Shoulder exercises. Upper Body Pull day, which consists of Back, Biceps, and again some shoulders exercises. And finally a Leg day.
• Chest/Back-Shoulders/Arms-Legs: This one is exactly what it says, and is a very commonly used 3-day split.
This list is not nearly exhaustive, but outlines a great start for those just getting into lifting, or those wanting to get back to basic progression. Some methods of training will also switch the workout variables within a given week. For example, the Push-Pull-Legs routine can be used with a form of programming know as “Undulating Periodization.” This form of training would have the first time through the 3 – day split at lower repetition and set ranges, focusing on heavier weights, and then the second time through the split at higher repetition and set ranges focusing on achieving a higher total workout volume. As you can see there is also an art to programming exercise, it isn’t all science.
What Does a Generic Plan Look Like
Here is a Back day from the one body part a day routine:
1) Pull Up 4 sets x 8-15 repetitions (use assistance if needed)
2) Overhand Barbell Row 4 sets x 8-12 repetitions
3) Lat Pulldown 3 sets x 10-12 repetitions
4) Seated Low Pulley Row 3 sets x 10-12 repetitions
A Couple More Important Factors
When it comes to building muscle there are many factors outside of the weight room that will affect your success. Setting goals before you begin your program will give you guidance, and measuring your initial weight, body fat, and even body circumferences, as well as taking photos is crucial. I would be remised if I didn’t mention something about nutrition. Ensuring you are getting enough calories to support weight/muscle gain is important. There are plenty of recommendations of how much protein, how many grams of carbohydrates, etc., you should be consuming, but that is for another article. The point is you need to be nourishing your body enough, and feeding it more energy than it needs to just maintain itself, you need enough to grow.
If you have read all this and you feel it was a regurgitation of information you have seen a thousand times, you may be right, but ask yourself honestly if you have been making sufficient progress towards your bigger biceps. Maybe you need a refresher. Remember that everyone starts somewhere and the information provided may be very new. Even if you still feel like you have the basics nailed down, the least you could do is direct the fellow walking around the gym with foldout routine to this article so he or she can see the same kind of results you have experienced! Until next time, get Big, be Strong, stay Fit, and keep Healthy.