Have you ever wondered why many bodybuilders and fitness athletes fail to make the gains they desire? Why is it that, despite information being available to many at a key stroke, people are not obtaining the results that they want? Have people forgotten, or failed to understand, some things over the course of their bodybuilding and fitness careers?
Ponder, for a moment, the nature of our post-modern Western society. Never at any other time in the history of humanity has more information been available to the masses. The economic and informational wealth possessed by Western civilization is staggering. The depth and breadth of this knowledge may be seen by the vast number of books and video and audio recordings available for sale on the open consumer market.
Yet, despite the proliferation of knowledge on every scientific and intellectual frontier, there is an ever-present cloud of confusion hanging over the heads of the untold millions of consumers of the bodybuilding and fitness industries. Millions of people the world over are trapped in bodies they are desperately trying to change, without success. Worldwide scores of bodybuilders and fitness athletes are not making any gains for their hard, dedicated work. WHY IS THIS SO?
Recognition Of Things As They Are
The first step to understanding or solving any problem or difficulty is recognizing that it exists. In fact, the direction of your bodybuilding / fitness career will be determined primarily by three factors:
- What you decide to focus your attention on in your bodybuilding/fitness career
- The meaning that you assign to the things that surround you in your life
- The actions / decisions that you take /make to manufacture your reality as you desire.
Many people wander aimlessly in life, REACTING to the events of the world as they happen. Because of this many fail to understand WHY events happen as they do. Very few people MAKE events happen as a result of consciously directed action. Being in a constant state of reaction relegates you to always having to be the victim of "circumstance." In fact, as stated in the article Bodybuilding: Its TRUE Nature!, most people live their life according to the "law of accident." Put another way, they expect "luck" or "providence" to give them what they desire. Examples of this include people who gamble on the lottery or the horse races.
Typically these people try to offset the psychological dissonance associated with uncertainty by uttering phrases of the "well, you never know" and "anything is possible" type. While they may use these phrases to convince themselves that the outcome they desire is possible [or even probable], what they fail to realize is that yes, anything IS possible, including the opposite of what they want! By reasoning that "anything is possible" they [50% of the time] subject themselves to the possibility of "never knowing" the realization of their desires. When you live according to the law of accident you live in a place where "fortune" and "bad luck" are separated by 1% [51% on one end or 49% on the other]. When you live according to the law of accident you live according to the statistical average.
Sadly, many bodybuilders and athletes live according to this law also. They often believe that if they "work harder" or "give it all they have got" improvements in their physiques will follow automatically. When, as a result of having no clear goals or objectives, results do not materialize, athletes often ask questions of the "do I have what it takes?" type. In both situations the common approach mystical in nature.
It is crucial to understand that "problems" exist only as THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR EXPECTATION OR DESIRE and REALITY. Said another way, "problems" are the result of a difference between how you WISH things were, and how those things ACTUALLY ARE. When your desires or expectations contrast with, or deviate from, reality, you believe that a problem exists. When reality does not live up to your expectation, the result is mental friction.
This truth should illustrate that things [persons, objects, situations] in your life have only the meaning you assign to them, and that your life is primarily a mental affair. After all, if you had no expectations or desires, you would accept reality as it is and no "problems" would exist. Existence would simply exist. Robots, for example, do not have "problems" because they expect nothing and simply operate within the physical reality that faces them from one minute to the next.
Because your life is guided primarily by the mental negotiations that occur in your mind, and because problems exists as the result of a difference between expectation and reality, you are in an excellent spot to not only recognize the true identity of a problem [errant thoughts], but also to see how solving the "problem" is possible, once it has been identified.
How is this accomplished? Simply by recognizing that problems are teachers, and are the symptoms of a conflict between physical reality and the thoughts of your mind. Problems are a signal - an indicator - that what you are doing is NOT WORKING, and in order to achieve the results you want, SOMETHING MUST CHANGE. Put another way, problems indicate that you can no longer do the same thing and expect to get what you want.
Human beings, by nature, are mental beings existing in a physical world. Our thoughts do not have form, but our bodies do. Thus at any given moment we reside in two worlds: the inner and outer worlds. Often, misunderstanding the nature, function and consequence of each mode of existence [mental and physical] can cause problems.
The physical world operates according to the laws of the physical universe. One of the most important and easily seen laws is "for every action there is a reaction." For everything we do in the physical world there is a reaction or consequence. When we take calcium [Ca] and introduce it into water [H20] we may observe a violent reaction. The physical world is one that operates on reaction and result.
The mental world works in a similar way, but with key differences. In your mind THOUGHTS and IDEAS are the mental existent's that come together to react and form a resulting product [emotion].
In the physical world physical existent's react, a result is produced, and when enough combustible material has been used, no further reaction is possible. But in the mind, a mental reaction occurs, which produces an emotion, which then produces the motivation necessary to manifest a physical action in the observable world.
So how is this understanding of any use in the recognition of a problem? It demonstrates clearly that to change a physical result you must first recognize the difference between what you mentally desire and what you physically observe, and change the mental antecedent. Consider the following scenario.
A man is standing on a mountain, and there is an eruption. Ash, soot and molten rock are flying forth from the mountain. The man has two choices: run away and survive, or try to use his mind to stop the flowing molten rock. What should this man do? He can not do both.
The obvious answer of what this man should do is clear. In either case the mental element will determine his action in the physical world. On the one hand if he tries to use his mind and EXPECTS that the molten rock will stop, he will end up being disappointed, and dead. But, if he were to align his thoughts with reality and close the gap between EXPECTATION and REALITY, he would realize that running away was the better choice and he would run. Although extreme, the above is an example that illustrates the principle very clearly. As Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked "The ancestor to every action is a thought."
The realization of his goal [in this case survival] is achieved ONLY when his thoughts are aligned with the physical reality before his eyes. As his thoughts become increasingly removed from the reality of physical existence, so too does the possibility of the preservation of his life.
When "problems" arise in your life, and in your bodybuilding career more specifically, it is important to examine your own thoughts and expectations, and then ask what needs to be changed in your thinking, to alleviate your suffering. By changing the way that you perceive the world [your world view] you can align your expectations with the physical world, thus effectively neutralizing any "problems" in your life, and facilitating the accomplishment and realization of your goals.
But how does one determine reality? How does one determine truth as it exists for bodybuilding?
What Is Truth?
One of the most challenging tasks facing people from all walks of life is discovering the truth. Pontius Pilate, the fifth prefect of Judea, asked Jesus Christ "what is truth?" (John 18:38). When it came to matters of spirituality and existence, it was clear that Pilate was confused. While it is true that "facts come from heaven, opinions from Earth", the truth that we seek has nothing to do with spirituality or existentialism. The truth we seek is the truth that exists for bodybuilding.
Often times, as bodybuilders and fitness athletes, we read contemporary bodybuilding literature. Upon doing so we may find a myriad of advertisements, each touting the benefits of the latest "magic pill" or "wonder powder." To compound this problem, we also have every self-appointed guru and exercise "expert" touting his or her personal version of the "best" workout and dietary regimen. With all of the advertisements and claims before us, what is the method by which we are able to determine which claims are true and which are fraudulent? Commenting on the confusion faced by athletes today, the late Mike Mentzer (2001) remarked:
"Today many academicians lack even a nominal grasp of the rudiments of rationality. Confusion is the intellectual hallmark of our time. Bodybuilders are powerless against the ceaseless tide of false ideas, fraudulent claims and outright lies made by many in the bodybuilding / fitness media. As a result, many bodybuilders are wasting hundreds of hours a year, year in and year out, in the attempt to build a physique they could have built in one year!"
In the article Bodybuilding: Its TRUE Nature! bodybuilding was shown to be a scientific endeavor. In that publication, the scientific method was outlined and it was detailed how the principals of science may be applied to maximize the successful development of your physique.
Some contend that the application of the scientific method to bodybuilding endeavors is "common sense." Yet, if this is true, it is obvious that many do not operate by the rules of so-called "common sense." Consider, for a moment, the "wisdom" of common sense when it comes to something like so-called "long distance relationships." Read the following two statements:
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder
- Out of sight, out of mind
Obviously both of these statements cannot be correct at the same time, yet so-called "common sense" teaches that they are. This illustrates quite clearly the perilous situation that bodybuilders put themselves into when they believe that "common sense" knows best.
If many operate according to any known principles or phenomenon at all, it is most likely the "I knew it all along" [hindsight bias] phenomenon [as in the, "even though I am not making gains, I knew bodybuilding was scientific, all along]. After all, hindsight is perfect, and if bodybuilding truly were a "common sense" endeavor, should not everyone appear as the Greek gods?
In the publication The Myths Of Obesity Explained And Debunked! I outlined and proved that obesity was, in part, contributed to by cognitive conflict. This conflict involves the class between the antithetical philosophical systems of mysticism and Aristotelian philosophy. Resulting from this clash, obese persons often feel trapped in bodies they cannot escape, and helpless to manifest needed change in their lives.
As shocking as it may first appear, athletes and obese persons have much in common when it comes to emotional frustration resulting from failed attempts at physical modification. When not making gains in the gym many bodybuilders and fitness athletes look inward, for some super-natural explanation. "perhaps I am not TRYING hard enough" they reason, or even worse, "maybe I don't have what it takes." Resulting from this type of questioning, the athlete can often fall into an emotional black hole, where confusion, anxiety, frustration and self-defeat rule. Many times athletes simply give up training all together, and become disillusioned, and eventually jaded, about all bodybuilding related matters.
So, what is the one method that can prevent this situation from happening, and allow the athlete to make continuous gains, year in, year out? What is the METHOD by which the athlete may know "what is truth?" THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD!
Using the scientific method will allow you to obtain an OBJECTIVE picture about your lifestyle. Using it you will be able to assess your physical and mental resources, and determine what you have been doing up until now that has NOT WORKED for you. The scientific method will impersonalize the bodybuilding process and will allow you to escape from the feelings of self-defeat and failure that come from not realizing your goals. The scientific method will allow to escape from the black hole in which you are currently trapped, and from which you are trying to escape, using any and all available perceivable means.
For more information on how to apply the scientific method to your bodybuilding endeavors, refer to the article Bodybuilding: Its TRUE Nature!
The Endocrine System
The endocrine system may be viewed as the master system of the body. From the bodybuilder who injects or swallows steroidal compounds, to the athlete on a fat-loss program utilizing the glycemic index, truly, all bodybuilding endeavors are hormonal endeavors.
Hormones are chemicals that are manufactured at one tissue location in the body, and then secreted into the blood stream, so that they may act on other tissue locations in the body. For your illustration, a chart* is included outlining the various tissues in the body that comprise the endocrine system, as well as their respective hormonal products.
Moves calcium from blood into bones by stimulating osteoblasts
|Anti-inflammatory stress hormone
Controls salt balance
|Lowers blood sugar
Raises blood sugar
Used for pregnancy
||Moves calcium from bone into blood by stimulating osteoclasts
Increase in protein synthesis
Increases joint elasticity
Contributes to feelings of well-being in males
* This list is for reference purposes only and is not mean as an exhaustive explanation
It has been commonly observed that only when bodybuilders reach the intermediate to advanced levels of training do they sufficiently respect, and appreciate, the functioning of the endocrine system and how it may be manipulated to achieve their stated goals. This is very unfortunate because the endocrine system does not begin to influence your body only after you have developed sufficient realization and respect for its importance and functioning. It determines, from birth to death, whether or not you will gain, or lose, muscle.
Discovering the technique of successful hormonal manipulation will virtually guarantee continuous growth, assuming that all other elements of a bodybuilders career are training-phase appropriate. The chief question facing all goal-oriented athletes, then, must be: by what method[s] does one manipulate and harness the power of the endocrine system? Two methods exist, and both will be discussed in detail in this paper.
Over the years of my bodybuilding career I have frequently been approached by aspiring bodybuilders, seeking advice on their bodybuilding endeavors. The most common question asked is something along the lines of "what should I do to get big?." When asked this, the first piece of information I desire to obtain is information about the their nutritional regimen. When asked "how much do you eat?" they usually reply "like a horse."
When I explain that horses are herbivores and that vegetarianism does not create the most anabolic environment for building muscle, the person, with a sheepish look, goes on to tell me that they have "no idea" of the quantity of protein, fats or carbohydrates in their diet, or how many calories they consume on a daily basis.
If you are in this position it is necessary to take the following simple, but crucial steps:
- Establish your Basal Metabolic Rate
- Record for one week your calorie, protein, fat and carbohydrate consumption
- Record for one week you meal frequencies
Without doing all of the above, your success as an athlete, regardless of your goal, will be minimized and severely limited.
Establishing your basal metabolic rate will allow you to determine with precision the number of daily calories you need to consume to add lean muscle mass, reduce bodyfat levels, or maintain current body mass values. By establishing your total macronutrient intake for a period of one week [the values will be the sum total of each day that you record] you will have in your possession concrete data that you can analyze and that you can use to modify your current habits and behaviors. Finally, by recording and monitoring with precision how frequently you consume meals, you can influence the speed of your metabolism. By obtaining concrete data, you can develop and devise a plan of action to compensate for any gross errors that, up until now, you have not been able to "see" in your bodybuilding lifestyle.
On the subject of macronutrients, it is crucial to understand that macronutrients act as messengers in the body. Put another way, food stimulates hormones that tell your body to perform specific functions and to not perform others. The macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates. Below is a brief description of each macronutrient and its respective function within the body.
||Types / Sources
Boosting Immune System Functioning
4.5 calories p/gm
Mono used in hormone production
9 calories p/gm
4.5 calories p/gm
4.5 calories p/gm
* For more information refer to the publication Adding Mass in the Offseason!
Many foods have macronutrients that trigger specific hormonal and neurological changes and reactions in the body. For example, fatty foods help regulate brain signals across the myelin sheath and contribute to feelings of well-being. Good fats are used by the body to manufacture hormones like Testosterone.
Carbohydrate-rich foods can provide an immediate and sustained increase in energy levels of the brain and body. Thus by eating carbohydrate rich foods the "blues" can be temporarily thwarted. However, carbohydrates can also perform other functions. The most important of which is a carbohydrate's ability to stimulate insulin.
After intense exercise the body requires raw material to begin the physical repair process. To find this material it looks to the blood stream. Immediately following intense exercise the first macronutrient the body will look for in the blood is glucose, or sugar. Muscle sugar is composed of glucose and is thus given the name glycogen. If glucose is not present in the blood stream, the repair process will be stunted.
By consuming a simple carbohydrate drink after intense exercise [ie. Gatorade] one not only introduces glucose into the blood stream, but also signals the pancreas to release insulin. For the bodybuilder looking to add mass or preserve existing mass, the presence of insulin after intense exercise is desired. After intense exercise cortisol is released by the adrenal glands, and cortisol is an anti-inflammatory hormone. In fact, many athletes receive cortisone injections to reduce inflammation resulting from tendonitis. Cortisol reduces inflammation by acting as a muscle-waster. By signaling the body to secrete insulin via a simple carbohydrate drink, muscle-wasting cortisol is minimized.
In the same situation [post-workout], many people also consume protein. But, when do they consume it, and what type do they consume? The reason that these questions are important is because you only grow if protein can reach your muscles to repair them. If you consume protein of the wrong type, or even protein of the right type but do so according to the wrong method, you will be the victim of dietary failure, and you will not make the gains you desire.
I once worked with a client who, before my consultation, would consume soy protein after subjecting his body to the program I designed and detailed in The Ultimate Mass Building Workout. When I spoke with him, I advised him that it was important to provide his body with fast-acting macronutrients that would get into his blood in the most rapid way possible. I explained that first it was important to consume a fast acting carbohydrate drink, and then, approximately one-half hour later when insulin levels were at their peak, to consume a fast acting protein source like whey protein. Why did I advise him to do this?
Insulin, as mentioned, is a very important hormone in the body. In fact it is the single most anabolic [muscle building] hormone. How does it do this? Simply, by consuming a simple carbohydrate source immediately after subjecting your body to intense stress, insulin is secreted by the pancreas. After approximately 30 minutes insulin levels peak. At this time is best to consume a fast acting protein like whey protein. Insulin, aside from fending off cortisol also forces protein into the muscles. By doing this, more protein reaches the muscle group that needs repair, and thus more growth occurs. Insulin is known as a "storage hormone."
If your goal is not to build muscle at this time but to lose bodyfat, protein is excellent to assist toward the realization of this goal. Detailing the exact method by which protein assists in the reduction of bodyfat is beyond the scope of this paper, but suffice it to say that if your goal is to lose bodyfat, protein will be of great assistance. For more information on how to construct a bodyfat loss program refer to the article A Step-By-Step Plan For Bodyfat Reduction!
If you desire to make any gains at all over the course of your bodybuilding career, the management of macronutrients is a crucial element that you must learn to master. As shown, each macronutrient performs specific functions in the body. For more information on how to construct a goal-oriented diet plan, refer to the article Grocery Shopping For The Bodybuilder!
Regardless of how well you understand the scientifically determined universal principles of bodybuilding, and regardless of how well you have constructed your nutritional plan to match your training phase, if you fail to recover, you fail to grow. There are many elements of recovery, each of which is important to understand and master.
It is true that a sound nutritional plan is one of the three pillars of recovery. The other two are sleep and supplementation. I will discuss each.
Did you know that, on average, a human being will spend 33% of his or her life in one of four stages of sleep? Did you also realize that since the industrial revolution in Britain and Europe in the 1750's people have increasingly become sleep deprived?
Scores of studies done on sleep research have indicated that health problems and issues of public safety arise when people do not obtain enough rest to function well. The important thing to keep in mind is that these sleep studies were done on the statistically AVERAGE person, and population groups were obtained using the random assignment method. Put another way, these studies were done on the average Joe and Jane, not the "average" hard training bodybuilder looking to add muscle mass.
The recommended amount of sleep that "average" members of the population need to function at peak levels is approximately seven hours nightly. If this is true, then the recommendation for bodybuilders should be anywhere from eight to ten nightly.
Many people bemoan that getting that much sleep is impossible, given their schedules. Yet, often the same people can spend two or more hours nightly watching television, or talking on the telephone.
In his book The NEW Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, Arnold Schwarzenegger (1998) remarks:
If you don't find the time, if you don't do the work, you don't get the results. Are sure there is no time to spare? For example, I've read reports that said the most wasted time during the day is the period between 10 P.M. and midnight. Is your favorite late-night television program more important to you than building a great body? Why not go to bed and get up an hour early? (p.81)
In the summer of 2001, as a second year college student, I had to accept a job working in a national department store on midnight shift. At the time I was also living in an apartment, and had a very noisy neighbor living above me. Getting enough sleep to be able to function at work was difficult. To compound these problems, my job was very physically demanding, and I was economically broke so I could only afford the cheapest and most inferior of protein powders. I also did not have access to a car. My situation was not ideal by any means.
I would typically get to work at 2300 and finish by 0700 the following morning. However, even after all of these difficulties, I would wait for public transportation, would go to the gym, workout, and then come home to sleep.
While Arnolds quote and my example may be addressing working out, the point being illustrated by both is clear, important and relevant for the issue of sleeping: You must MAKE TIME for the important things in your life. If time is money in the industrial world, then sleep is muscle in the bodybuilding world.
The human body operates according to what are known as circadian rhythms. These rhythms are controlled by the autonomic nervous system and regulate body temperature and the beating of the heart, and the endocrine system. They operate the survival functions of our bodies without requiring our active attention.
The endocrine system, as previously mentioned, is the part of your body that is responsible for the manufacture and distribution of hormones. One of the most important of these hormones is somatropin, otherwise known as Human Growth Hormone. Human Growth Hormone is responsible for fusing the long bones in the body, as well as influencing body composition.
Understanding the scientific nature of the functioning of your body will allow you to realize the importance of sleep upon the endocrine system. It is during sleep that the body repairs itself, and grows, thanks to an increase in insulin and growth hormone levels. By sleeping you are allowing your body to secrete these anabolic hormones. By depriving yourself of sleep you are making yourself prone to stress, and cortisol release. And remember, the more cortisol you have floating around in your bloodstream, the less muscle you are going to end up with on your physique.
I am aware that despite all that I have written, there will be those who will say that they can not give up a night of darts or television. That's no problem at all, because they are also saying that they won't MAKE time to grow. Fortunately for you and I, however, it is not my problem, nor does it have to be yours. As I remarked in the article Survival Strategies For The Traveling Bodybuilder! "As a bodybuilder it is important to get sleep whenever you can."
Supplements are, without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of a bodybuilder's arsenal. It is perfectly fine to have an amazing workout routine, but if your supplement routine fails, your results will be compromised. Often, supplements are the difference between good results, and great results.
In the article A Step-By-Step Guide For Constructing An Effective Workout! I wrote:
"If you are new to the bodybuilding lifestyle or if you have been a bodybuilder for some time you may already realize that your muscular gains depend on your ability to control three variables: Training, Supplementation and Diet."
I have written extensively on supplements in previous articles and also in my monthly column. For more information, refer to my monthly column and the article What Supplements Should You Take?
The third most common reason why athletes fail to see gains in the gym [aside from recovery and nutritional failure] is a failure that results from a training program that has either stopped working, or never did work in the first place.
There are six types of failure that people experience when it comes to their workout regimen. These are:
- Reaching a plateau
- Lack of intensity
- Energy system failure vs. Muscle failure
- Poor Form and the mind-muscle connection
- Doing certain exercises and avoiding others
I shall discuss each.
How long has it been since you last saw NOTICABLE gains in the gym? Have you been working out every single day, expecting to gain, but have only been feeling tired and resentful at the thoughts of having to lift one more weight? Do you train for two hours a day, doing hundreds of sets per body part, yet see nothing for your hard work? Do you reason that "to look like Arnold, you have to train like Arnold?" IF you answered yes to any one of these questions, it is highly likely that you are over trained.
Overtraining is a condition that applies to the body and to the mind. In fact, it can stop a bodybuilders progress altogether. Signs of overtraining include constant fatigue, lack of motivation to get to the gym, insomnia, loss of appetite, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, and depression. If, due to working out, a muscle becomes inflamed [which it does, and this is proven by the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands], then over training may be correctly termed "whole body inflammation."
You see, your body can release only so much cortisol, and can go without sleep and recovery time, for only so long. After this time, your adrenal glands are saturated, and your testosterone levels go to negligible levels. Translation? Do not expect any growth! To offset this, it is necessary to have a sound dietary regimen, and incorporate rest into your weight training regimen. Muscles do not grow in the gym, they grow while you sleep and while you relax.
Reaching a plateau in a workout regimen is common, especially when you become an advanced bodybuilder. The "law of diminishing returns" best explains the concept presented here. Often times when new bodybuilders begin their careers, they will see extraordinary results in a period of three months or less. These results, however, are atypical and result from the shock to ones system. It is only logical that going from a stress level of zero to one-thousand is going to FORCE your body to rapidly adapt [grow stronger and bigger].
When workout regimens stop "working out" many bodybuilders become frustrated and are convinced that "hard work" and "giving it all they have got" will fix the problem. Working harder often results in overtraining, which will ensure that results remain elusive. At this stage the best thing to do is to shock the system again by choosing exercises that are difficult and that are new.
One thing that is crucial to understand is that the body is always looking to maintain homeostasis and equilibrium. Your body does not like change, and does its best to stay the same. So, when it adapts to whatever stimulus that you are forcing upon it, it will adapt in the most minimal way possible to ensure survival. This, naturally, means that to keep up the adaptation process [growing] you must always be consciously and analytically confusing your body toward those ends. This means that you must be subjecting your body to a variety of exercises in such a way that it must keep, continually, adapting.
Lack Of Intensity
Intensity is a concept that not many understand fully. In fact, it has been my experience that only when one reaches the stage of being an advanced bodybuilder is sufficient thought put into trying to understand the concept. Most commonly, bodybuilders will think that to be more intense they must "work harder." The difficulty with expressions and concepts like "work harder", "give it more effort" and "give it all you've got" is that they cannot be defined into concrete terms. Put another way, they are totally subjective expressions and cannot be quantified into real-world, workable, terms. Expressions of the subjective type offer absolutely nothing material with which to work and therefore are of little use when attempting to make or measure progress in a weight-training regimen.
In the article Intensity: Do You Have It? I wrote extensively on intensity. I not only detailed the mathematics underlying the concept, but also detailed why intensity is important to understand and use while on a resistance training program. For more information on this vital topic, please refer to that article. By doing so and incorporating the principles outlined in that publication, you will be on the road to making the best gains of your life.
Energy System Failure VS Muscular Failure
The fourth, and less well-known, "training failure" that results in lack of visible gains, is failing to distinguish between energy system failure and muscular failure. The difference between these two types of failure is profound, and can greatly impact the gains you make or do not make, in the gym.
At the University of Ottawa Dr. Al Reed developed a system of training known as Alactic Strength Training [AST]. Dr. Reed developed this style of training originally for powerlifters and strength athletes, but has since examined how it may be best applied to bodybuilders.
Dr. Reed's system focuses on the primary energy system of the body that is called anaerobic alactic. Anaerobic is a word that means "without oxygen." This system relies on adenosine tri-phosphate [ATP] to function, and is best enhanced with a supplement like creatine monohydrate. Creatine is great in that it allows you to do more repetitions and thus increase the time over which the work may be done.
The crucial element of this type of training is the time over which the work is done. You see, after about 15 seconds of all out work, the body must switch to another energy system known as the anaerobic lactic. This is where lactic acid enters the picture, and where you get the "burn" resulting from the production of this waste product. In short, you push yourself beyond the anaerobic threshold. Because of this your strength decreases for any sets that may follow. In short what you are doing is burning out your energy system and NOT the muscle fiber!
The key, then, is to work the muscle to the point JUST BEFORE you start to feel a burn, just BEFORE your body taps into the energy system for backup energy. Keep your working sets, then, to about 15 seconds, and then STOP! Do as many sets as are necessary to hit the MUSCLE and finish off the muscle fibers. You want to finish off the muscle fibers, instead of finishing off your ability to contract the muscle because of an energy system failure.
Several years ago when I first learned about this system I was shocked to discover the key distinction that was illustrated by it. But, the more I began to research the concepts and ideas presented and learnt to apply the principles of it to my own training, the better gains I saw in the gym.
Knowing the difference between an energy system failure and muscular fiber failure is crucial if you desire to make any gains in the gym. Perhaps you previously figured that it was your weight training regimen that was off, but perhaps it is not the exercises you are doing that are off, but the method by which you are performing them.
Poor Form And The Mind-Muscle Connection
The mind-muscle connection is the bodybuilders truest confirmation of a connection between the invisible thoughts of the mind and the physical body. As mentioned earlier, human beings are mental beings with physical bodies. The mind-muscle connection is the ultimate bridge between our minds and our bodies. For this reason it is crucial for making gains that every bodybuilder develop a keen awareness of how their body acts normally, and how it reacts to stress.
One of the most powerful ways to develop this connection is to sit in a quiet room and decide to flex a muscle without moving your body. Can you do it? If you decided to sit with the soles of your feet flat on the ground, can you flex and feel your calf muscles without removing your feet or heels from the floor? If you decided to flex your latisimus dorsi, can you do so without moving your buttocks from the chair? What about any other part of your body? If your answer to any of those questions was "no" then it is important to develop this mind-muscle connection. Having this connection will allow you to make fantastic gains in the gym.
There are three methods by which you may develop this connection. They are:
- Proper execution of exercises
In the article Survival Strategies for the Traveling Bodybuilder! I wrote the following about flexing:
The benefit of flexing... are threefold:
1. Improves mind-muscle connection
This allows you to get a better feel for each muscle group.
2. Pumps blood into muscle group
Allows for more mineral and vitamin rich blood to reach muscles that in turn aids in growth and repair.
3. Contracts muscles and is exercise
When lifting weights the muscle contracts and shortens upon itself, under stress. With flexing one is duplicating the procedure minus the weight. What I like to do is contract as hard as possible, hold it for ten seconds, and then stay tense on the "un-flexing" part of the flex. Put another way: when the flex is over keep your muscle tense and UNDER CONTROL slowly elongate the muscle. This is similar to lowering a weight under control, or the "negative" aspect of the weighted movement.
Flexing is crucial to establishing the mind-muscle connection. I recommend that if you are needing to establish the mind-muscle connection to flex your muscles daily. Flexing will allow you to feel what it is like for your muscles to be under tension and contracted to the maximum.
Visualization is also another key for developing the mind muscle connection. Visualization is a method of preparing your mind and body for the work about to be placed upon it, before it actually happens. You see, despite the powers of your mind, the things you see with your eyes in the outer world, and the things that you create with your imagination, can not be told apart.
Put another way, you can literally CREATE events in your life simply by THINKING them up and creating them. Studies have been done that have shown that people's body chemistry undergo real changes as the result of IMAGINED events. This realization can work wonders for your bodybuilding career. Visualization and self-affirming messages allow you to see your goal before it occurs, and in doing so the actual accomplishment of your goal in the physical is an "after-thought."
Using the proper form for the execution of exercises is essential to developing the mind-muscle connection. Take the example of the person who is doing standing barbell curls. Instead of following a strict pattern of execution, the person swings their upper body, essentially transforming the whole set into a cheat set. How much of a connection do you think they established between their mind and the bicep muscle? Chances are very good that they instead will end up with a lower back injury or strain.
By constantly flexing your muscles, visualizing the work you are about to do, and by using strict form on all exercises, you will take great steps toward the development of the mind-muscle connection.
Doing Certain Exercises And Avoiding Others
Do you do only the exercises that have become easy to perform? If you are like many bodybuilders you may have developed this habit without realizing it. Often times we may also do only the exercises at which we excel, like bench presses or bicep curls. In so doing we may avoid exercises like squats and deadlifts that tax our bodies in ways previously unknown.
Many young trainers avoid working legs and instead focus on the "showpiece" muscle groups like abdominals or biceps and triceps. This is a mistake on many fronts, and the results will be a sacrifice of symmetry and overall muscle building ability.
What many fail to realize is that, for the optimum stimulation of the bodies anabolic hormones, working the whole body with a variety of exercises is required. Those who work only upper body do so at their own peril and need to realize, as Milos Sarcev remarked, "legs are half of your physique."
The object of resistance training is to make it more difficult for a muscle to do a specific task, so that it will grow and adapt in response to the stimulus and stress placed upon it. By doing exercises that are easy, you are teaching the muscle to be lazy.
To avoid this training mistake, you must always be experimenting with new exercises. A general rule of thumb is: the more difficult an exercise, the more potential growth you can get from it, assuming that you perform and execute the exercise correctly.
Furthermore, another kind of training mistake is possible: doing only one type of exercise. By "type" I am referring to either cable movements or compound movements.
In contemporary bodybuilding literature there is a notion that bodybuilding must be in appearance, at all costs, nothing like powerlifting. This has lead to workouts advocating hundreds of sets and high repetitions. Many times cable exercises are touted as "mass builders" and compound movements are given little, if any, exposure or promotion. Psychologically, however, this phenomenon is easily explainable.
It is human nature to take the "easy road." Our bodies do not like stress, and they strive to maintain balance and calm at all times. Considering this truth, what is easier, a twenty-pound cable curl, or a four hundred pound deadlift? The answer is clear.
In the article A Step-By-Step Guide For Constructing An Effective Workout! I detailed the differences between compound [multi-muscle] exercises and isolation [single muscle] exercises. One of the conclusions of that article, as well as many studies done in University settings, show that due to the simultaneous stimulation of many muscle groups, compound exercises stimulate the production and secretion of anabolic hormone levels more than isolation exercises. The truth is clear: for drastic and shocking muscle and strength gains, do compound movements primarily.
It is important to evaluate your own training regimen, as well as your physique, and strive to develop those parts that you have been neglecting. Use new, difficult, exercises to stimulate unreal muscle growth. The results may surprise you.
Summary / Conclusion
The elicitation of anabolic hormones in the body, and the subsequent addition of quality lean mass to ones body is not an easy task. As demonstrated, all bodybuilding endeavors are hormonal in nature, and are controlled by the endocrine system.
To trigger the desired responses from the endocrine system, one must have in place a solid, goal oriented, nutrition plan. Training also must be correct and intense, and the athlete must get a sufficient amount of quality of sleep.
By understanding the principles of science one can analytically determine why gains are not appearing, and can thus initiate action to circumvent existing obstacles.
Mentzer, M. (2001). Maximizing our potential: How long should it take? Part 2. Musclemag International. Nov. 2001. (pp. 211-215). Hollywood, CA: Canusa Products Inc.
Schwarzenegger, A. (1998) The NEW Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. New York, NY: Fireside Inc.
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