Gaining muscle can be thought of as a science; an art, in truth. There’s a lot of misleading information circulating out there, which can cause you to either overlook certain aspects of your routine, or be too vigilant with others. Below, I’m going to outline the top three training blunders that anyone who’s looking to gain mass often falls prey to, and what you can do to fix them.
Too many reps
It can be tempting to think that ‘more is more’ – but this isn’t always the case when it comes to your rep count. If you’re completing as many as twelve reps per set, you might want to try increasing the weight, and do fewer reps – in the region of 3-6, until you reach failure. This is because heavier weights target the ‘heart’ of the muscle, and thus, encourage the best strength gains when weight training.
So, instead of more, think heavier.
Of course, that’s not to say that doing more reps is ‘incorrect’ – it simply depends on what you want to achieve. Lifting lighter weights and doing say, 8-12 reps can help to build muscle strength and endurance, and can be combined with the above (especially if you’re more of a novice).
In terms of sets, this all depends on the level you’re currently at, as well as factors like your age, goals, and any existing medical conditions or injuries that need to be accounted for. Generally speaking, 3-6 specific types of exercises per muscle group should suffice, taking about five minutes to do each (with a 30-60 second rest period in between each set). So, that will total about 3-5 sets.
The slightly vague figures are due to the variance mentioned above. It’s always important to listen to your body, and make steady progress to avoid injury from over-training.
The role of cardio is often misunderstood; it’s tempting to be over-zealous on the treadmill or rower, thinking that if you’re practically drowning in your own sweat, fat is ‘melting’ away – like a purge, of sorts. This isn’t actually the case, since carrying out high intensity cardio for prolonged periods will cause the body to burn its glycogen stores, primarily. Also, too much cardio kills muscle mass.
Most of us want to keep our body fat levels to a minimum, and fat loss lends rather nicely to increased muscle mass, since it helps to showcase the goods, so to speak. However, cardio is not the key to fat-burning – lifting weights is (which you’re already doing). The more muscle mass you have, the more adept your body becomes at burning fat – around the clock! Also, since when did you not break a sweat when lifting? That in itself is enough to get your heart rate up.
Cardio serves as a great warm-up; it gets oxygen and nutrient rich blood pumping around the body, prior to weight lifting. It also helps to improve heart and lung function; if you’re training to increase your endurance, i.e. you’re planning on partaking in a marathon, running’s your sport. If mass gains are the desired outcome, it’s not necessary to factor in more than about 20 minutes of cardio, three times a week, for conditioning purposes. Otherwise, your workouts will end up being counterproductive.
Ideally, it’s best to do short bursts of cardio, such as HIIT, which is far more effective; it ‘gets the job done’! It also helps to accelerate fat loss, even for hours after you’ve left the gym!
The phrase ‘Muscles are made in the kitchen’ makes a lot of sense. Yes, you need to get your training spot-on, but without the correct diet, your body won’t be receiving the nutrients required to support recovery and growth.
There are usually two main pitfalls when it comes to nutrition; the first is not eating enough for the body’s requirements, which can affect progress. The second is eating a high proportion of carbs. Whilst carbs can assist protein uptake into muscle cells, and provide energy to sustain your workout, they can also lead to unwanted fat gain (or hinder losses). This is often found when people automatically choose weight gainers, as opposed to whey protein. It’s important to bear in mind that mass gainers are basically, protein shakes with an added carb source; they’re invaluable if you’re super-lean and require a notable calorie boost to put on size. If you’re prone to fat gain, though, they’re best avoided (stick to whey).
It can be difficult to ascertain how many carbs you need; as with all aspects of fitness, individual differences are at play. The best way around this is to eat carbs after training, to replenish glycogen stores, and to eat meals/snacks based on healthy fats and protein for the remainder. This way, fat acts as your main fuel source which (paradoxically) is less likely to be stored as fat. You can always adjust this if need be, so that you’re steadily losing or maintaining weight.
If you’re under-eating, however, you’ll likely find that you’re progress will be stunted. If your training is up to scratch, and you’re not seeing the results you’d like, it could be your diet that needs a little tweaking.
Protein is of course, imperative to muscle building – 1.5g per pound of body weight is the rule of thumb, though more might be required if you have a bigger build (for example). This can be achieved through a good balance of meals and snacks, and two to three recovery shakes per day.
Don’t skimp on healthy fats from sources like oily fish, nuts, seeds, and coconut oil. Of course, there are specific supplements that can reap dividends to your results; you can read about these here.
Results are always achieved through discipline! Good training, proper nutrition, and the right use of supplements is a three-way relationship, and the more you put in, the more you’ll get back!