The best way to make gains isn’t just about lifting heavy and eating a ton of protein, although obviously it helps.  I’m often asked by guys that think they have everything covered, why they don’t seem to be muscle on.  They are constantly tired and feel they have hit a bit of a plateau and can’t train any harder. In almost all cases this is down to overtraining.  Overtraining can force the body to break down muscle tissue and limit the results regardless of what weight you push or how well you eat.  To see a real benefit to your training, you want to make sure you have control of two fundamental factors:

  • Maximise the times when your body can put down protein as muscle mass

  • Minimise the times your body is likely to break down muscle tissue

No matter how hard you train and how well you think you are eating, your hard-earned gains may well be completely undermined by your body breaking down muscle tissue.  Taking control of this will play a huge part in developing muscle mass and increasing strength, but this is often overlooked and holds you back from getting real results. So let’s assume you have a good diet and adequate levels of protein coming into your body; we’ll look into some strategies that you can easily encorporate into your routines to minimise this muscle loss, ultimately enabling you to put more lean muscle on.

Intensity

It goes without saying, but you need to really cause trauma to the muscles for them to repair bigger and stronger.  This does not mean that huge volume or reps is necessarily better.  Try to keep working sets to around 40 seconds to maximise muscle gains (8-12 reps to failure).  If you’re not sure about how long your sets normally last then time them.  Much more than this and you’re heading towards endurance based exercise, where your body will decide heavy muscle tissue is not what it needs.  Sticking to this time frame promotes the release of mass building hormones and minimises any tissue breakdown.

Pre Workout

Take a good pre workout drink rich in branch chain amino acids (BCAAs).  Your body can use these to build muscle tissue or burn them up as fuel before it begins eating into your muscle tissue for energy.

Exercises

Large compound exercises have been proven to promote more muscle growth than smaller, isolation based movements.  This is due to the compounds they stimulate the body to release and its effect on the body building mass.  Research has also shown that these are best performed at the start of a workout.  Move from big exercises like jump-squats or dead lifts into more isolation-based, intense movements such as leg extensions or laying curls.

Tempo

A very important and underrated tool to use.  Concentrating on the descending part of the movements is key to building muscle.  When you finish that last, forced rep always finish the exercise by lowering it as slowly as you can, milking every inch of the movement.  This will create the right sort of trauma to the muscle tissue

Recovery Times

Too little recovery between sets will trigger a release of breakdown hormones and your body will start burning muscle tissue.  Studies suggest around a minute between sets is the generally agreed optimum.

Post Workout

The best way to prevent any muscle tissue breakdown is to take a post workout shake that causes an insulin spike.  This spike will keep other influencing factors at bay and the body putting muscle tissue down

Sleep

This is when your body will re-build itself.  Make sure it’s got the materials to build with by taking slow release casein protein-based bed time protein.

All of these factors play a part in the success of your training program.  Sometimes it’s not about the death or glory approach; just because something’s painful doesn’t necessarily mean its going to give you the desired results.  You could easily be overtraining and wearing your body down, rather than building it up.

References

  • Kraemer WJ, Marchitelli L, Gordon SE, et. al. Hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise protocols. Journal of Applied Physiology 1990;69:1442-1450.
  • Kraemer WJ, Gordon SE, Fleck SJ, et. al. Endogenous anabolic hormonal and growth factor responses to heavy resistance exercise in males and females. International Journal of Sports Med 1991;12:228-235
  • Gotshalk LA, Loebel, CC, Nindl BC, et. al. Hormonal responses to multiset versus single-set heavy resistance exercise protocols. Can Journal of Applied Physiology 1997;22:244-255
  • Hoffman, JR, Im J, Rundell KW, et.al. Effect of muscle oxygenation during resistance exercise on anabolic hormone response. Med Sci Sports Exercise 2003;35:1929-1934
  • Kraemer, WJ, Fry AC, Warren BJ, et. al. Acute hormonal responses in elite junior weightlifters. International Journal of Sports Medicine 1992;13:103-109.
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