In a time where there are so many different concepts and protocols being shared around the gym community and on the web, it can be helpful to stop and take a look around in the hope that we don't lose track of where we're going with our goals. One source can tell us something completely different from another, or even the exact opposite - especially with online source material.
This article is here to ground you whenever you feel your training/ diet has gone all up in the air, and you've lost sight of your goals or how to progress. Essentially it is a recap of all the necessities required to progress in building muscle and burning fat.
1. Standard Straight Sets
Despite the excessive burn or massive pump you can get by doing drop-sets, rest-pause sets or super-sets, you must always come back to standard straight sets long term. These take on this structure: set - rest - set - rest - set - rest - set - rest. It is the most basic set structure and should be performed 90% of the time on your exercises. Standard sets are the most potent set structure you can perform in order to improve Progressive Overload long term (increase weight / reps, or time under tension). Best performed with a 4 set X 8-12 Rep structure with a 45sec rest. Other set structures are great to incorporate occasionally when feeling energetic and in need of variation - but should not form the only basis for your training when progressive overload is one of the long term goals. See other set structures here.
2. Evaluate Form Constantly
Bro-Science has you believing that as long as the weight is moving then that target muscle is working. This is completely wrong. Your body is a remarkable machine and can get itself into a bio-mechanical position where it will recruit a little bit of muscle from many body parts in order to complete a task more easily - especially with bad form. E.g. Bench Pressing, if you drop your elbows in close to your sides you start to recruit more Shoulders and Triceps, and without arching your lower back your Chest cannot contract optimally and you'll never grow. The point of bodybuilding is isolating as few body parts as possible so that only one muscle group is working at its maximum. This insures that when you reach muscular failure, it is only the target muscle failing and therefore getting enough stimulation for growth. See here to learn proper form for bodybuilding.
3. Don't Get Comfortable
Intensity will always be on a list about bodybuilding. You simply cannot build muscle long term without Intensity. Your body reacts to the environment it's in, and you must provide that environment artificially in the gym. You may go to the gym to relax your Mind, but your body should be anything but relaxed - your muscles have to really be struggling hard if you wish to solicit progress every week. You cannot take the approach of stopping as soon as it starts to hurt a little bit. You must work until the lactic acid sets in, and then relish the opportunity to push through it for as long as possible. You don't have to 'love' the pain, you just have to create a positive relationship with it, as it's in these moments of extreme pain that you break down muscle fibre, ready to be rebuilt bigger and stronger over the next few days. See here to learn more about the rules to building muscle.
4. Training is Only One Aspect of Bodybuilding
Nutrition and Rest form the other completely unavoidable and vital aspects to successfully building muscle and burning fat. You must eat and rest for your goals, end of story. You're not allowed to be displeased with progress if you are neglecting one or more aspects of Bodybuilding. With Fat Loss, if you haven't seen any progress at all within 3 weeks, you MUST re-evaluate what you are doing with each aspect; Training, Nutrition, Rest. If you are eating cake every other day, is it really plausible that you should be seeing rapid Fat Loss? If you are skipping meals, sleeping late, and eating junk food - is it realistic that you see great muscle gains? Are you eating enough good nutrition for growth? Are you controlling your diet strictly enough for optimal Fat Loss? Do not lie to yourself, progress is progress and stagnation is stagnation. Click here for more info on Nutrition and here for more info on Recovery.
5. Time Scale
If you are a natural lifter, you must know that muscles are going to take a very long time to grow even if you do things right, so you must stay consistent. It may take you 3-5 years to build a respectable natural physique and even longer for you to really be impressed with yourself. 3-5lbs of muscle growth per year on average is excellent to aim for. Fat Loss too takes a long time, you can expect to lose up to 1 pound per week on average if you remain strict. Very over-weight trainees may even experience faster fat loss for the first few months of training. Just remember, it all adds up quicker than you think, so don't lose motivation if big changes don't happen quickly; 3-5lbs of muscle per year is 15-25lbs of muscle in 5 years time, and 1 pound of Fat loss per week is 52lbs in one year. Bodybuilding is as much a lifestyle as it is a personal goal, it's all about consistency. See Below for a Beginner's Bodybuilding Program.
NOTE: Start by doing only 3 Sets of each exercise, then move up to 4 Sets after a few weeks. Rest 30-45sec between sets for upper body and 60-90secs for lower body. Every rep performed with a 2secs Up and 2secs Down Tempo. Keep a workout journal to track all your exercises, weights, sets and reps - this will help you measure progress. Get aggressive with Intensity and take charge of your body changes.
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