Sure, food is the raw materials for your body to work with, and sleeping actually makes you recover, but these two aspects are useless if you don't stimulate the body to gain muscle in the form of lifting weights. Weight lifting creates micro damage in muscle fiber, and eventually when fed and rested, your body adapts and those fibers grow back thicker and stronger.
Reps, Sets, Failure and Splits:
A rep, or reputation is simply lifting a weight and then lowering it back down. Since the goal of the bodybuilder is to use the heaviest possible weight to handle for 6-12 reps while keeping good form. This guideline makes sure that every last muscle fiber has to contract to continue lifting eventually, until muscular failure when your oxygen supply can't keep up with the intense exercise. The ideal number of sets to do in my opinion is 3-4; I personally do 4 to stimulate maximum fiber. The first 1/2 of a rep is just as important as the last 1/2, so make sure you lower the weight just as slow as you lift it, and remember to constantly be keeping tension and contracting the muscle.
A set is just that, a set of repetitions performed in a row. The ideal rep range is to pick a weight that allows you to go to muscular failure in 10-12 reps your first set. You will notice that each more sets you do, the less weight you can handle, usually 2 reps less, so your rep scheme would look something like this:
- 1st set - 12 reps
- 2nd set - 10 reps
- 3rd set - 8 reps
- 4th set - 6 reps
I am a firm believer in going to complete muscular failure every set and holding it there as long as you can. Going to failure is absolutely necessary for maximum stimulation in my opinion. The last set is where the bulk of damage comes from so it is important to apply maximum intensity and completely destroy your muscles.
A split is simply how many days it takes you to train your entire body, and what body parts you train each of those days. Some people recover better than others, but the perfect split for me, personally is training Monday Friday and taking the weekend off for rest. I train my back muscles on Monday, legs on Tuesday, chest on Wednesday, arms on Thursday, shoulders and traps on Friday, and throwing in abdominal twice a week. Again, this is efficient and works for me, and may not be to your preference. You must find out what works for you.
The Pump, Workout Time and Progressive Resistance
One of the greatest sensations in bodybuilding, and a resourceful tool is something known as the "pump". When you lift weights, blood is flows through your muscles, but there is no equal force flowing it out, so as a result you puff up with blood and your muscles appear much larger and fuller. This effect is usually felt after 4-5 sets. The pump is also used as a great tool. Just as I mentioned above, how your muscle get pumped with blood, this ensures that the nutrients you eat will remain in the particular muscle you trained because there is no equal force pumping blood out of the muscle. The pump is a great feeling and makes you appear much larger than normal and boosts your confidence greatly.
Workouts should last no more than an hour, your body will most likely enter catabolism and start to break down muscle tissue to be used for energy, depending on your pre-workout meal. You should find that if you don't socialize when you go to the gym that 45 minute training sessions are sufficient work, depending on your split.
The human body is downright amazing and can adapt to many things, one of these things being the resistance of weight. Several days after a workout, your muscles will recover(provided that you have a good nutrition and recovery plan in place), grow back bigger and stronger. So do you use the same weight again? Hell no! Add 2 1/2 or 5lbs to the bar and with maximum effort you should be able to perform the same rep scheme as the previous workout, this is progressive resistance. I add 2 1/2lbs every workout session but that's what my body can handle. You need to find out what works for you. If you can add 5lbs and still keep the same rep scheme than good for you, you will be lifting very heavy poundage's in no time.
Intensity and the Weider Principles, Plateaus, Machines vs. Free weights:
Intensity is defined as the amount of effort you put into lifting a weight and bringing it past the point of failure effectively to stimulate as much muscle damage as possible. Some principles you can use to raise the level of intensity in your workouts are the following:
Strip Setting - This method involves going to muscular failure with one weight, and than picking up a weight 5 or 10lbs lighter.
Effective Range of Motion - Keeping the reps just out of full contraction and extension to make sure the stress doesn't shift from the muscle to the joint.
Decreasing Rest Between Sets - self-explanatory.
Super Setting - Performing one 2 exercises in a row with little or no rest.
Pre Exhaustion - Performing an isolation exercise to fatigue a specific muscle before performing a compound movement that involves that same muscle.
Forced Reps - Having a training partner assist you with lifting a weight after muscular failure.
The list goes on, you can even try to create your own if you like. These little workout intensity boosters make sure you stimulate all available muscle fiber.
I mentioned before that a muscle can adapt to progressive resistance, but what is the same training pattern and/or amount of weight is used over and over again? Eventually your muscles will stop responding to your training. This is commonly known as a "plateau". This is when you need to send a different message to the muscle. You must confuse the muscle and allow it to start growing again by doing something different. Maybe a different intensity principle, or just doing your entire split backwards, these are examples of variations that can help you break through a plateau and achieve new growth.
The old machine vs. freeweight debate - In my opinion, dumbbells and barbells, weights that aren't connected to a track or locked in a position should be used whenever possible. You will get your best gains from free weights because with machines you don't have to use muscles to stabilize the weight because is is set into a track of motion. However, you can't get full development of some body parts without a machine, so sometimes they are necessary.