That guy. We've all seen him before, whether it was at the mall or at a sporting event, in the gym or at the beach. 6 feet tall with a back that seems to span time zones and arms that make you secretly fall in love faster than your dumbfounded girlfriend next to you. Forearms the size of your waist, traps like the Himalayas and a neck that makes you wonder if his mother survived the childbirth. Oh yeah, that guy. His imposing figure effortlessly commands respect from every testosterone-dominated life force (bears and rhinos included) in the room and leaves most of our estrogen-based counterparts utterly slack-jawed with their hearts aflutter.
This may not be the ultimate goal for everyone, but for most of the typical male gym goers, this is their Magnum Opus. And this article is for you. The most common concern that I get from guys in the gym is "how the heck do I put on muscle?!" and the answers are very simple. (Steps up on soapbox) We as Brothers in Iron have been guilty of severely overthinking how we train and live in fitness. Simultaneously, we as Brothers in Iron have been guilty of severely underthinking how we train and live in fitness. Doesn't make sense? Hang on to your hats boys, because here we go:
1. EAT BIG TO GET BIG!!
Makes sense right? You'd be surprised at how many guys feel like they can grow by eating less. As far as muscle is concerned, your body will only respond proportionally to the amount of food you put in it. As a general rule of thumb, to put on a pound of muscle a week, you've gotta eat 3,500 calories above your maintenance throughout that week. That's 500 more calories a day to play with!
And I don't necessarily mean eating your fruits and veggies or dining on chicken and tuna alone. It's admittedly a little harder for you little guys with lightning fast metabolisms, and to you, I offer a solution. EAT. I'm talking borderline competitively eating. Eat until you can't anymore and then take about four more bites. Two years ago, I was 5'11", 150 lbs, and I put on 50 lbs in 3 months. You heard me...3 MONTHS. And I sure as heck wasn't eating clean either; try a gigantic bowl of chili cheese fries every night, plus whatever else I felt like stuffing into my mouth at the time (keep side comments to yourself please.) In addition to that, I hit the gym hard and lifted as heavy as possible, every time. Now, did I gain some body fat? Yes, I went from 8% to 16% by the time I was done...but who cares? I was SWOLE. And when I decided to lean out, I wasn't back to 150 lbs again. You don't necessarily have to follow my lead here, but here's my point. If you're lifting, your body wants to build muscle, but you have to give it the resources to do so or you can kiss that mass goodbye. Got it? Good.
2. Train Muscles, Not Weights
SO many people get this misconstrued. In order to truly grow, you must understand the difference between a weightlifter and a bodybuilder. A weightlifter's objective is to move the weight efficiently. A bodybuilder's objective is to stimulate growth in his/her muscles through contraction. Actually moving the weight is secondary, and the weight should be treated as a tool used to stimulate those contractions. Not knocking weightlifters of course, do what you do and much respect to you. But just because we are Brothers in Iron doesn't mean we have to train the same. Contraction is everything in bodybuilding.
(Stepping onto an even higher soapbox) One of my biggest gym-related pet peeves is when somebody does an exercise and complains that they didn't "feel" anything. Pisses me off to no end! As Brothers in Iron, we should be able to contract the muscles ourselves without having to use weight. Example; there is a young guy in the gym I work at that wants to be able to compete soon, and he's making huge strides in his gains. We were messing around posing one night last week and he could not contract his traps, quads, or calves, despite the fact that I've seen him train all three before. Remember what I said before, contraction is everything. As a bodybuilder, you should have such a strong mind-muscle connection that you can contract a particular muscle on every exercise, whether the weight compels you to feel it or not.
3. Change Your Approach
Now that you know to scarf till you barf and to pay attention to your muscles first, let's hit the gym with a purpose. Notice I said "with a purpose." Focus will be the key to your growth. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Limit the chatting at the gym. We all want to keep our testosterone up, and there's a proven drop-off after the first hour or so. Get in and get out.
- Slow your reps down. Use your newfound ability to isolate your muscles and treat every contraction like it was your 1-rep max, like you were posing in the mirror. SQUEEZE!!!
- Focus on your eccentric movements, ie. the downward phase of the bench press, as it is the strongest phase of muscle contractions. You can always lower a weight, even after you can't lift it anymore.
- Lastly, prepare to check your ego at the door. Since you will be squeezing every rep like your life depended on it, you can expect to be fully exhausted by the end of each workout. Don't load up the plates like you did before and think you're going to do the same amount of reps, it just won't happen. Besides (and you should be tired of hearing it by now), contraction is EVERYTHING.