Have you been training and eating right for at least 6 months and are ready to take it to the next level? Learn how to in this article.
- Now is the time to start developing a more thought-out bodybuilding strategy.
- Many bodybuilders got their massive foundation by sticking to the basics a few years.
- You should be starting to experience the positive effects of better eating.
By now you should have gotten the hang of the basic exercises and gym routines. Hopefully you've experienced some growth and increased strength as well. Now is the time to start developing a more thought-out bodybuilding strategy. The first step is reviewing your training split.
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By Now You Should Have Gotten The Hang
Of The Basic Exercises And Gym Routines.
As you get better at targeting muscles and hammer them with heavy sets, you inflict more "damage" to the muscles at each workout. Your mind-muscle connection has improved, and you need to let them rest more to recover. As a result, it's time to revisit your training split.
Some may get away with continuing a twice-per-week schedule, but many natural bodybuilders find that to be too much - overtraining is common and must be avoided. More on overtraining in the Advanced chapter.
Here are two sample training splits, one with three workouts and one with four workouts per week. For simplicity, I've assumed a 7-day cycle where you do the same workouts on set days of the week, but you can of course adjust this as you see fit.
If you feel fully rested and energized after 6 days, by all means, go on a 6-day cycle and ignore what day of the week it is, or vice versa, with an 8-day cycle if you feel that you need more time to recover. Ultimately, it is your body that decides how frequently you can train.
As you get more experienced and grow increasingly stronger, you should be able to start phasing out the assist-part of chins, dips and other movements that uses your own bodyweight. If you're naturally light and can easily do 10-12 reps with your own body weight; consider using a weight-belt to strap on an extra plate or two.
Some exercises, like lateral dumbbell raises and cable crossover flies still require a lot of "feel" to come to its full right. You're wise to increase the weights in small increments to make sure you're not losing sight of proper form.
Another change you will notice is a couple new exercises. Deadlifts and barbell squats are classic mass-builders, which help you build core strength. While it may be nice to use the latest and greatest machines, it's hard to get the kind of mass the classics provides.
Many distinguished professional bodybuilders got their massive foundation by sticking to the basics for the first few years. Then, once you've reached a solid base you can experiment more with machines and cables.
Click Image To Enlarge.It's Time To Revisit Your Training Split.
Sample 3 Day Workout:
Monday: Chest, Triceps And Shoulders
Wednesday: Back, Biceps, Forearms And Abs
Sample 4 Day Workout:
Monday: Back, Biceps And Forearms
Tuesday: Shoulders, Calves And Abs
Friday: Chest And Triceps
With junk food out of your diet and a nutrition log stretching over the past few months, you should already feel more in control of your eating habits and start experiencing the positive effects of better eating. Now it's time to narrow the focus to your specific goals.
Generally, people can be divided into three groups: Those who have a hard time putting on weight (ectomorphs), those who put on weight too easily (endomorphs), and then there's that lucky handful who're just right in the sweet spot and only need to keep eating to maintain their balance (mesomorphs).
Not everyone can be placed squarely to one category, but you quick look in the mirror should tell you which general area you're in. Now, let's look at different strategies for the three basic types of people.
Naturally skinny people need a lot of calories to put on muscle mass. While it's easy to think pizza and ice cream should be the ticket to getting those extra calories, they should come from good sources rather than junk in order to promote the muscle-building effort.
Since you have a naturally high metabolism to begin with, you need to a lot of fuel to burn, especially when you're lifting weights 3-4 times a week. Carbs is your primary source of fuel, in the gym and afterward, so it makes sense to keep the carb intake up.
Examples of good sources of carbs are rice, pasta, veggies, bread (preferably the rough, high-fiber types) and oatmeal. In addition to fueling your workouts, carbs stimulate the release of insulin, which is highly anabolic.
Insulin also encourages your body to store fat, but that's not a big issue for someone who has to fight for each gained pound. Any fat you may gain along with the muscle can be worked off later.
Structuring the diet for an ectomorph is not rocket science - try to eat more of everything! Starting with your daily caloric average (that you derived from your first week with the nutrition log) try to add about 500 calories per day. Adjust this up or down 100-200 calories if you're large or small.
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Structuring The Diet For An Ectomorph Is Not
Rocket Science - Try To Eat More Of Everything!
Sample Ectomorph Diet:
If you're an endomorph, the challenge is keeping the fat off while gaining muscle. It's a hard line to walk, but it can be done. While the popular high-protein/high-fat/low-carb diets may be questionable for safety and long-term results, they do have a nugget of truth: carbs are not the best friends for people prone to packing on fat.
This is largely caused by the dual-edge nature of insulin - it helps you build muscle, but it also nudges you toward increased fat storage.
Protein, on the other hand, does not trigger a release of insulin, yet adds good calories that are unlikely to be turned into fat almost regardless. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, you still need to consume fat to function and to burn body fat.
Also, since less carbs often mean less vegetables and fiber, you may want to consider daily fiber supplementation for keeping your digestive system in shape.
The endomorph diet strategy reflects this emphasis on protein and carb-avoidance. If your goal is to shed fat, start with your daily caloric average (that you derived from your first week with the nutrition log) and deduct about 500 calories.
In other words, if you took in an average of 2,400 calories per day while neither gaining nor losing weight before, your new target average intake is 1,900 calories. Adjust 100-200 calories as necessary if you're large or small.
Click Image To Enlarge.Carbs Are Not The Best Friends
For People Prone To Packing On Fat.
Sample Endomorph Diet:
Mesomorphs are lucky in that they add on muscle relatively easily without having to worry about packing on too much fat in the process. Still, even the most genetically blessed mesomorphs won't get away with a pizza-and-beer diet. Your goal is to provide enough carbs to fuel your workouts and enough protein to enable optimal muscle growth without going overboard.
Complex carbs, such as rice, pasta, oatmeal and rough bread, along with complete food proteins such as eggs, milk, fish, chicken and lean beef should be the base of your diet. Avoid processed foods and don't forget your daily veggies and/or fiber supplements.
As far as the caloric split, aim for 30% protein, 50% carbs and 20% fat. Based on your daily caloric average (that you derived from your first week with the nutrition log), add an average of 500 calories per day. Be prepared to make adjustments as necessary - use a measuring tape to track your waist, chest, arms and thigh measurements on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.
If your waist stays the same and the rest increases you're good, if all measurements increase you need to cut back on carbs and/or fat, and if nothing happens anywhere you can increase the calories in 100-calorie increments until you see results.
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Mesomorphs Are Lucky In That They Add On Muscle Relatively Easily
Without Having To Worry About Packing On Too Much Fat In The Process.
Sample Mesomorph Diet:
As you become better at hammering your muscles, you need more nutrition to support optimal growth.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to achieve this through regular food so your dependence on supplements is likely to go up as you gain experience in the gym. It may also be time to introduce additional new supplements that can help you gain an edge.
Your multivitamin/minerals and protein drinks remain the foundation of you supplementation regime. In addition to having protein drinks as in-between snacks, you may want to get into the habit of having a pure protein drink before bedtime, caloric budget permitting.
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Pure protein drinks, with little or no carbs and fat, typically provide 40 grams of quality protein while staying under 200 calories yet helps your body recover better as you sleep. As protein does not trigger the release of insulin it won't turn into fat.
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Protein powders are formulated to be the perfect meal in a quick and easy shake. It is easy to take them with you to work or school or anywhere that you need.
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A new supplement to try is creatine monohydrate. This is a combination of three naturally occurring amino acids: glycine, methionine and arginine. It has proven to be both safe and effective, with both scientific facts and empirical findings to back it up.
Being cheap and almost foolproof, it's one of the few supplements no bodybuilder can afford to overlook. It works by helping increase the stored energy in your muscles, which enables you to lift heavier and train harder.
In addition, it increases the water retention in your muscles, giving you a more buffed look while making it easier to get a good pump. Another positive aspect of the increased hydration is that it increases protein synthesis by bringing in more ions into the muscle cells.
To take best advantage of creatine you should cycle it with distinct loading-phases and breaks between each cycle. Some studies have suggested a low-dose, continuous approach works too, but it is my experienc e that cycling is more effective.
Drinking a lot of water, especially during the loading phase, is key to taking full advantage of the creatine.
To get the best absorption, have your creatine with something sugary such as grape juice or dextrose. Some supplement companies sell pre-mixed creatine cocktails that promise rapid absorption.
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Another supplement you may want to consider is glutamine. Glutamine is an amino acid that plays a key role in protein synthesis, i.e. helps your body build muscle.
In addition, it boosts your immune system and is a major building block for DNA. You've probably heard about "keeping a positive nitrogen balance" as a good thing for building muscle. Unfortunately, nitrogen processing has a nasty side effect: ammonia.
Too high levels of ammonia in the body are not healthy, but glutamine helps keeping the ammonia in check.
While you can always reap some benefit from adding a couple of 5-10 gram doses of glutamine to your daily supplementation regimen, the real bang comes when you're dieting to lose weight - it can do wonders in helping you preserve muscle mass while shedding the fat.
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Last but not least, taking a few doses of vitamin C throughout the day can help you stay healthy. While not producing instant results like creatine, vitamin C is more of a good-to-have supplement with a bunch of intangible benefits.
But hey, it's dirt cheap and water-soluble so you don't have to worry about overdosing - what's to lose?
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Sample Supplement Program:
Tips & Tricks
If you haven't done so already, get a regular workout partner. As you start pushing heavier weights you need a reliable spotter who knows your strength and can tell when you need a helping hand.
Another positive aspect of a training partner is that it helps you stick to the plan of going to the gym on specific days of the week. Last but not least, a little friendly competition can do wonders for making progress.
Opt for movements that make you use each side of your body separately. Most people have one slightly stronger side, meaning you can for example do 1-2 bicep curls more with your stronger arm than the weaker one.
You want to avoid this kind of muscular imbalance as it can lead to injuries down the road, so don't encourage it by using machines that let the stronger side pull more of the load and thus get stronger at the expense of the other side.
When you work both sides independently, such as dumbbell presses, it ensures both sides get hit equally hard with the same weight and reps. It may feel odd to not fully clobber your stronger side as much as you theoretically could. Use your frustration to push the weaker side up to par instead.
Don't ignore the cardiovascular training. You need to keep your heart and lungs in shape to get enough oxygen for intense squatting and lifting, so aim for 2-3 cardio workouts per week in addition to your weight training.
This can be machines in the gym, biking, jogging, skiing or chasing cars on the highway - whatever gets your heart rate up for over 30 mins should do the trick.
As use heavier weights in your back training you may find that your grip gives in before your back muscles do. If that's the case, it's time for lifting straps or hooks.
This will reinforce your grip to get you through the back workouts, but don't forget to make up for it by giving your forearms a few extra forearm rolls so as to prevent them from falling farther behind.
Click Image To Enlarge.Don't Ignore The Cardiovascular Training.
Since your body is adjusting to your workouts, you need to crank up the intensity beyond simply lifting more weight. The way to nudge yourself out of the comfort zone and triggering growth is to reach beyond what you could normally handle.
That is, while staying within the realm of safety. At this point in your development there are three primary methods for increasing the intensity: Forced/assisted reps, drop sets and supersets.
This technique is pretty straight-forward - you do as many strict reps as you can, and then you or your partner gives a little extra nudge through the toughest spot so that you can squeeze out a few more reps.
The biggest challenge of this approach is to restrain yourself from resorting to the extra help before your really need it. Another challenge is to keep the help to the bare minimum, so that your targeted muscle still pulls most of the load.
Last but not least, the help should only be applied to the positive phase, i.e. while the muscle is contracting.
In the negative phase, where you're resisting the weight on its way back down, should be completely unassisted. You're up to 40% stronger in the negative phase anyway, so you shouldn't need the help.
In fact, this difference in strength between the positive and the negative phases comes in handy for one of the advanced intensity boosters, but it carries a fair risk of injury so you don't want to play that game until you have a couple years of experience under your belt.
RELATED VIDEO: Negative Reps Video Guide
What Are Negative Reps?
This technique focuses on the negative portion of muscle contraction (the eccentric or lowering phase).
While closely related to the basics of forced/assisted reps, drop sets work a little differently. The idea is to do as many strict reps with your regular weight as you can, but instead of taking a breather and sipping some water you immediately grab another, lighter barbell/dumbbell/whatever and push out half a dozen more reps (in the case of cable exercises, you just move the pin up in the weight stack.)
This is great for getting an awesome pump and is a good option for those training alone, but you lose some of the benefits of having the heavier weight in the negative phase. Some exercises are especially suitable for drop sets, such as lateral dumbbell raises, bicep curls and cable crossover flies.
|RELATED VIDEO: Strip Sets
What Are Strip Sets?|
Confused about the difference between a regular drop set and a strip set? Check out this video demonstration of a strip set!
Supersets is really two sets done back-to-back with no rest in-between. There are two ways to go about it: hitting the same muscle group with both sets or alternating so that the first set is for muscle group #1 and the second set for muscle group #2.
Arnold liked to superset back and chest, but for intensity-boosting purposes I prefer hitting the same muscle group. Obviously, you'll be weakened for the second set so choose weights accordingly.
Also bear in mind that some muscles are more suited to supersets than others. Chest, for example, is a perfect muscle for supersets, where you can start with heavy dumbbell presses and then immediately go to cable crossover flies.
On the other hand, there are only so many ways to hit hamstrings - can the body really tell the difference between seated leg curls or face-down leg curls?
What Is A Superset?|
Supersetting involves doing two exercises with no rest in between.
The Mental Game
It can be discouraging to see your progress slowing down even though you're learning more and more about training and dieting. This is perfectly natural - once your body is past the initial surprise of weight training, there is no reason to pack on a lot of additional size and mass as quickly as before.
Don't lose the spark that got you started in the first place! Keep your eyes firmly on the end goal and keep hitting your small partials goals. Adjust your expectations to fit reality and push on.
As mentioned earlier, a workout partner can be golden when it comes to staying motivated. A good training partner will urge you to go beyond what you thought you were capable of, while a bad partner can make you wish you were back home on your couch.
Ideally, pick someone who is slightly stronger than you and have an upbeat, positive outlook. Try to match that mindset and don't be afraid to engage in friendly competition. Keep things fun yet focused on the task at hand.
Another dumb but surprisingly effective trick for pushing yourself is to imagine an eccentric millionaire walking in with an offer of a million dollars for breaking your old record.
With a thick stack of $100 dollar bills under your nose, wouldn't you find some extra reserve someplace to squeeze out another 2 reps? Sure you would, so just do it. You may surprise yourself.
Last but not least, learn to accept pain. If you shy away from the fact that the last reps of leg presses will make your quads burn like fire you'll never realize your full potential as a bodybuilder. There's no need to go masochistic, but the sooner you learn to suck it up and push through to the other side the better off you will be.
Acquainting yourself with pain will also help you identify regular, harmless pain caused by a good workout as opposed to unhealthy pain caused by joint injuries, muscular tears and similar.
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