These last few weeks in my column we have covered a number of recurring topics, entirely focussed around the key importance of understanding and implementing nutrition as a core element and principle behind any training/exercise plan. As well as ensuring, if it is weight loss and body development you are seeking, the inclusion of lifting to lose weight and gain shape, is as integral part of this for BOTH men and women.
However as you will probably have gathered by now, despite the absolute nonsense peddled by the "quick fix" merchants, training properly is not and never will be, an easy fix. It's all about patience, hard work and repeatedly doing the right thing.
Of course as with all things this can be frustrating and mistakes are made along the way.
You work hard in the gym, or so you think. You eat right, or so you think. You're pretty strong, at least for your size, or so you've been told. So why are you still stuck looking like someone who doesn't even lift?
If you're a regular gym goer but don't look like a lifter, then you're certainly not alone.
There are thousands of guys all over the country just like you. They hit the iron regularly, but unless you actually saw them there doing it , you'd probably never tell.
Do you struggle to fill out your tee shirt or turn heads on the beach? Then it's time to take a step back and fix it.
If you're sick of looking small and weak, here's where you're probably going wrong.
You're not training often enough
Until you reach an elite level, it's very rare that you're going to suffer from overtraining. Most general gym goers will never reach a state of overtraining. And if you're a hardgainer who only hits the gym three days a week, the word 'overtraining' shouldn't even enter into your vocabulary.
The fact is, if you're a skinny guy with average genetics, you probably need to train more. You're going to need to hit each body part a minimum of twice each week, which on a typical training split, will equate to five or six sessions each week.
The key to getting the most out of high volume training is learning how to maximise your recovery. The reason most people struggle to train any more than three days per week is because they're not putting enough effort into their recovery. They go home, slob out on the sofa and stay up late watching TV. If you want to get the most out of your training, this can't be you.
To recover faster from higher volume training, you're going to need lots of sleep (minimum 8 hours per night) and plenty of high quality food. You'll also need to incorporate stretching and muscle mobilisation into your daily routine to prevent any soreness.
Bottom line: if you want to grow faster, you've got to train more often.
You're not sticking to a programme
We live in an age of information overload. Take one scroll of Instagram and you'll see hundreds of shredded dudes each promising that their training programme will get you bigger and stronger faster than all the others.
So you shake up your entire training programme and do exactly what they say. But because you don't end up looking like them in two weeks, you drop it, switch to another guy's programme, and the cycle repeats itself.
One week you try high volume, the next you try high frequency. You alternate 5 x 5s, dropsets, strongman training and everything else in between. And as a result, you end up getting nowhere at all.
Here's the thing - you've got to pick one programme and stick with it for a minimum of 8 weeks. Otherwise, your body won't have time to adapt and grow stronger.
If you want to grow, you have to get better at a particular exercise. To do this, you use a principle called progressive overload - meaning you lift more weight, or perform more reps, in each session. So how can you monitor progress if you keep switching from exercise to exercise?
Find a programme, and stick with it. Spend less time overthinking your workouts, and more time actually doing them.
You're only training the 'show muscles'
The typical gym goer is all about the biceps, pecs and abs. But how can you expect to grow a bigger physique if you're not focusing on the muscles that add width to your frame?
If you want to build a larger physique that actually makes you look like you lift, you need to train your shoulders, back, triceps, glutes, and legs more frequently. You probably also need to suck it up and train them harder than you ever have before if you want them to grow.
Most guys who train can get a decent set of guns and visible abs. So if you want to stand out, you have to focus on the things they're not doing. You know, the hard stuff - trap bar deadlifts, heavy shrugs, farmers walks, overhead presses, barbell rows. Yes, they hurt like hell. But that's a sacrifice you're going to have to make if you want to grow.
You're not maximising your testosterone
Testosterone is the number one most important hormone for building muscle. But our modern lifestyles wreak havoc with testosterone production, meaning that many of us don't produce anywhere near enough. If this is you, then you have your reason why you keep failing to put on an even ounce of size.
The first step to optimising testosterone is eating right. That means cutting out the processed junk food and focusing on high quality proteins, carbs, fats, and an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Don't fall into the 'low fat' eating trap, as this will seriously inhibit your testosterone production. Whole food fats like egg yolks, oily fish, coconut and avocado are your friend, not your enemy.
You also need to make sure you're getting plenty of sleep, and eliminating stress. Lack of sleep and high stress levels are the two biggest modern day contributors to low testosterone. Fix them, now.
You're not training for hypertrophy
The final thing that is probably holding you back from looking like a lifter is not training appropriately. Remember this: there is a big difference between training for maximal strength, and training for aesthetics (hypertrophy). Low volume training and high rest periods might be good for getting stronger, but they're not going to help you win any physique prizes.
In order to pack on the most amount of muscle from your training, you need to train specifically for hypertrophy. You will still get stronger as a result of this training, but you will do so in a way that builds muscle in the most effective way possible.
The key principles of hypertrophy training are:
- Working in the 6 - 12 rep range for the bigger lifts
- Adding in isolation and 'pump' sets of 10 - 20 reps
- Utilising drop sets to failure
- Keeping rest periods between 60 - 90 seconds
- Maximising tension through every rep
The last point here is key. In order to build the muscle, you need to activate it. So focus on really squeezing the muscle through the movement to maximise tension.
Ready to look like a lifter? Fix these five mistakes above and you'll be turning heads in no time!
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Twitter - @jameshaskellhf