How To Get Bigger Muscles: 7 Rules Of Muscle Growth

So you want to know how to gain weight and force your body into muscle growth?

You’re in the right place! This quick guide will show you how to create muscle growth, give you a quick primer on the adaptation process and I’ll leave you with the 7 rules of muscle growth.

Let’s get started!

What Causes Muscle Growth?

Muscle growth is a complex process, but the basics of it are really simple. In order to spur new muscle growth, you need to create an environment where your body needs muscle growth!

Imagine the skinnier, weaker people you know. Do you imagine that they work all day in a manual job? Can you imagine them lasting a day as a lumberjack?

Of course not.

Muscle growth is an adaptation. You grow muscle when you need to, if you don’t need to then you wont. This is the reason that strength and muscle mass are so closely related. If you put yourself in a position where you have to get stronger, your body has no choice but to add muscle. It can get stronger through some neurological adaptations but this will only take you so far. More muscle equals more strength and so the body responds by increasing the size of your muscles.

How Muscle Growth (Hypertrophy) Happens

When you put your muscles under a stress that they are not accustomed to, it damages your muscle fibres. This is, in the right amounts, a good thing.

Your muscles recover from this microtrauma in a similar way to how your bones repair after a break; they grow stronger. Your body recovers from this stress and strengthens the area resulting in muscle growth.

There’s lots of theory around how muscle growth happens on a cellular level, a lot of it is unclear though. Well established theories can be, and have been, partially or fully discredited. All we know for sure, and all you need to know, is that getting stronger over time increases muscle mass.

It is important to note that the muscle growth doesn’t happen in the gym, it happens when you rest. Your workouts are effectively the stimulus for muscle growth, but you still need to provide your body with the rest and nutrients it needs to for muscle growth to actually occur.

Protein Balance

Muscle growth, or muscle protein synthesis, causes your muscles to grow but you must also be aware of muscle breakdown. Exercise is actually catabolic, but it primes your body for growth. You must make sure that you provide enough protein to not only achieve protein balance, but stimulate a net gain in muscle tissue.

Protein Synthesis > Protein Breakdown = Muscle Growth

Protein Synthesis = Protein Breakdown = No Change

Protein Synthesis < Protein Breakdown = Muscle Loss

Adaptation Theory (With Tigers)

One of the best known models of adaptation is Hans Seyle’s model of General Adaptation Syndrome, and it’s very simple as most good models are.

It is made up of three phases: Alarm, Resistance and Exhaustion

A tiger on the prowl

Alarm

The alarm phase is what happens when we encounter a stress.

Imagine a tiger suddenly walked into the room right now, your body would react with an increase in cortisol and adrenaline, which mobilises your energy stores and primes your nervous system for fight or flight.

This doesn’t only kick in over life and death scenarios either.. imagine you’re waiting in your boss’s office when you turn around and accidentally knock a priceless ornament onto the floor, shattering it into several pieces.

Would your mouth get dry? Heart rate and blood pressure increase? Breathing become more shallow?

This is a stressor. It provokes a catabolic stress response.

Resistance

The resistance phase is the body trying to cope with the stressor, imagine the tiger looks at you but doesn’t attack, instead it walks out of your house to find someone else to scare the living daylights out of.

Your breathing would start to normalise, your blood pressure and heart rate would go down and while you’d definitely still be on edge, your body’s systems begin to normalise. After a time, you’d wind down enough to be able to go to bed (after double-checking you’d locked all the doors) and in the morning you’d be more or less back to normal.

This is the right place to get off the ride. You recover and gain experience.

Exhaustion

But what if the tiger liked your house and decided it was his now? You’d try and leave the room but every time you made a move it was met with a growl and an angry look. What would happen then?

Unable to calm yourself, you’d turn into a bit of a wreck after a week or so. You’d definitely calm down somewhat and try to rationalise the situation, but you’d find your health deteriorating the same as many people do when exposed to long-term stress.

Supercompensation

When training for strength and muscle growth, you’ll go through lots of little adaptation cycles. The goal is that after recovering from each session, you will have an increase in performance for the next. In sports science, this is known as supercompensation.

When you do a tough training session, you’ll be weaker for 1-3 days afterwards, or perhaps longer if you’re just starting out. After you’ve recovered you’ll then be able to perform at a higher level than you could before that session.

Below if what supercompensation looks like. To continue progressing you must train again after you have recovered and gotten stronger but before you start to decline back to your base level. If the stress from the training session was too great or recovery wasn’t possible then the fitness level would remain below baseline for much longer.

graph showing effect of supercompensation from a single training session

The point of this is that you must recover to get stronger. It’s better to recover and get stronger from a series of easier sessions than to do a series of hardcore sessions that burn you out and make you ill because you can’t recover from them.

The Rules Of Muscle Growth

The rules of muscle growth are simple.

Muscle Growth Rule #1: Train Every Muscle Group

The muscles that you train are the muscles that grow. If you don’t train legs then you won’t see muscle growth in your legs. If you won’t train your upper body, you’re still not going to see much muscle growth there, even if you train legs quite a lot. For this reason it is important that you train each muscle group at least once each week for balanced muscle growth.

Muscle Growth Rule #2: Get Stronger

I see tons of people not achieving their strength goals because they’re thinking too much about their training. Yes there are loads of ways to enhance your training, lots of methods to get a bigger pump and there are more training routines around than you could read in a decade.

It doesn’t matter what you do if you’re not getting stronger.

Stronger is easy to measure. you’re either doing more weight for a certain number of reps or you’re getting more reps with a certain weight, or both. The simpler you keep it the faster you’ll progress. Pick a rep range and get stronger in that rep range, when you hit the top of the range, up the weight. Rinse and repeat. Change up the range every 2-3 months.

Muscle Growth Rule #3: Compounds First

In training there are big movements and there are little movements. Big movements, or compound exercises, are tougher but they hit two or more muscle groups at once and they promote strength and muscle growth very well.

Some people don’t like them because they’re hard. Some love them because they’re efficient.

Little movements, or isolation exercises, still have a ton of potential but I see these as movements that build on the effects of compound movements. They’re very good for building muscle with minimal stress on the joints.

You can build a good routine with only compound movements, but it is tough to build a good routine with just isolation exercises. It does really depend on your goal though. If you want maximal strength as well as muscle growth, I’d strongly recommend basing your routine on compound exercises and using isolation work to build on that strong foundation.

Muscle Growth Rule #4: Eat Enough Calories

Now it is true that you can gain muscle when losing weight, I do it, my clients do it, people in peer-reviewed studies do it. It definitely can be done.

That said, it isn’t optimal in most cases.

Eating more calories than you need puts you in a better position to gain strength, your natural testosterone levels rise, and your nervous system is in a good state for you to lift more weight. You’ll also have more fuel to put into the process of repairing and building muscle.

If you want to lose weight and you still have a fair bit to lose, keep doing what you’re doing. Accept smaller increases in strength and muscle growth until you hit your target weight before you increase your calories to fuel greater muscle growth. Focus on one thing at a time and you’ll get to your destination faster.

Muscle Growth Rule #4: Eat Enough Protein

The correct amount of protein to eat for optimal muscle growth is pretty hotly debated. I find myself somewhere between the meatheads and the government guidelines, but I’m much closer to the meathead recommendations.

To maximise muscle growth, aim for 1.5 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of lean bodyweight. If you’re fairly lean then just use your bodyweight, if you’re currently quite overweight or obese then this would likely have you eating more protein than you need.

The best day-to-day sources of protein include milk-based protein supplements, white meat, fish, eggs, and other dairy products such as cottage cheese, quark and skimmed milk.

Red meat can be used as well and has a ton of benefits but it should be enjoyed in moderation, current research links red meat consumption with incidence of some cancers. I wouldn’t be too surprised if this turned around in the next five years, but better safe than sorry.

It’s not too hard for a vegetarian to get sufficient amounts of protein for significant muscle growth but vegans may find it difficult. Vegans can get their protein through nuts, beans, tofu, seitan and quorn, they’re not as bioavailable as animal proteins but they’ll do the job.

Muscle Growth Rule #5: Be Consistent

Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’re doing well if you notice a decent difference in your first month. Muscle growth takes time. Although I’ll commonly see some pretty big changes in just weeks with clients, they’re merely a glimpse of a person’s potential.

Play the long game and you’ll go much, much further. Great drug-free physiques are built over years, sometimes decades. Aim to enjoy your training and fit it into your life in such a way that it is easy to keep up when life gets busy. As long as you’re consistent and you keep moving forward, you’ll get to your goals.

Muscle Growth Rule #6: Look After Your Body

To win at the long game you need to be able to finish the race. This means learning proper form, warming up well. knowing when to take a week off and using the appropriate equipment.

Every health and fitness change you make to your body is reversible but you only have one body. Treat it well, fuel it with the right foods, get as much sleep as you need or as much as you can, and remember that longevity is more important than speed.

Muscle Growth Rule #7: Supplement Effectively

Some supplements are rubbish, some are alright, and some you should just take because they’re awesome.

Whey/Milk Proteins are great if you need help hitting your protein requirements, they’re highly bioavailable and provide all the amino acids your body needs for muscle growth and health. Here’s the protein supplement I use. Yeah I’m biased, it’s our product.

Creatine is the top muscle growth supplement out there. Why? Because science says so. It’s possibly the most researched supplement available, it’s proven to be effective for assisting muscle growth, and some research suggests it may have benefits for your brain too. Yep we sell creatine too.

Others I’d suggest are vitamin D and/or cod liver oil.

What About Time Under Tension?

Did you get stronger yet bro?

Until next time,

Theo

 

Managing DOMS: How to Deal with Muscle Soreness

If you’re getting back into training after a break or you have had an intense training session then you can expect your old friend DOMS to make an appearance.

What Does DOMS Stand For?

DOMS stands for delayed-onset muscle soreness and it can range from a slight ache to being unable to move upon waking, most times it will fall somewhere between the two.

What Causes DOMS?

There are several theories about what causes DOMS, from lactic acid to microtears in the muscles. It’s probably a combination of microtears in the muscle combined with the inflammatory response. Either way, no one is 100% sure, we just know it can hurt.

What To Do If You Have DOMS

First of all, relax.

You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. DOMS is normal and it doesn’t mean you’ve seriously injured yourself. A bad case can be pretty painful but it does pass.

Drink plenty of water, get plenty of protein and you’ll be fine.

DOMS tends to peak around 24 hours after your session and will usually have disappeared 72 hours afterwards. That said there are a few things that make things easier when DOMS is in full swing.

Keep moving

It can be tempting to crawl into bed, or sit around and do nothing, this isn’t ideal.

The best thing to do is simply to keep moving. If you’re moving around then your blood keeps flowing to the area and it doesn’t tighten up as it would if you were sitting still.

If you keep moving as much as possible then the only tough time of day will be when you get up in the morning!

Stretch

The actual reduction in DOMS you’ll get from stretching is little to none, but it will make moving around easier. Stretch the affected area thoroughly and keep moving to avoid getting stuck in your chair.

Coffee

Yeah, I’m happy with this one. Caffeine appears to reduce DOMS.

Anti-Inflammatories

You can pop some ibuprofen if you feel so inclined. There is the possibility that reducing inflammation could reduce the training response.

There’s not really much else you can do.

Massage doesn’t help.

Hot baths don’t help.

Cold baths may help but not much

(anecdotally I’d say that cold baths do help, but some research suggests that they might reduce the training effect)

A Note On Stairs

You’d think climbing the stairs would be the hardest part of DOMS after a leg day.

It’s not.

If you have an inquisitive nature, you might notice that the muscle only really hurts when it is lengthening, not when it’s contracting. This is known as an eccentric contraction, it’s what causes most of the soreness and it’s the type of movement that will be most painful while you’re recovering.

It’s for this reason that it is actually harder to go DOWN the stairs, lower yourself to pan, and sit down, rather than getting up or climbing stairs.

When DOMS Becomes Tendinitis

Sometimes when you train too hard, you get inflammation of your tendons too, rather than just your muscles. It’s rarer than DOMS but still fairly common. Most people with a few years of lifting experience will have experienced a mild case at least once.

Tendinitis, like DOMS, isn’t necessarily a reason to worry. I had a pretty bad case a few years back and although it was painful and my range of motion was diminished for a few days, it did no lasting damage whatsoever.

Some anti-inflammatories and a dose of man the fuck up are normally sufficient, but it is a sign that you’re pushing too hard. Your muscles might ache simply because you took a weak off but when your tendons complain there’s usually a pretty good reason, so don’t push it.

To sum up:

  • Keep moving
  • Keep caffeinated
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat well
  • Stretch to maintain mobility
  • Take painkillers if you must

Until next time,

Theo

 

Sleeping Your Way To A Better Body

Lots of things we do to improve our bodies require effort.

Whether it’s controlling our food intake or pushing ourselves at the gym. It takes mental and physical effort to get better.

There is one thing you can do that doesn’t require masses of willpower, doesn’t make your muscles burn and it improves your physical and mental functioning as well as making it easier to gain more muscle and lose more fat.

What is it?

You have to get really good at sleeping.

Sleeping Your Way To A Better Body

This post shows you how to get the most out of the most restorative function we have.

I don’t know about you but I love sleep. If I had the time to sleep more i would. If I could sleep 10 hours every night I think I would!

Waking up from a good night’s sleep is just the best way to start the day.

You feel refreshed, your head is clear and your muscle tone is better. You’re already winning.

You make a coffee, because hell, who doesn’t love coffee? But you realise that if you didn’t have one, you’d still function.

You get to work. Tasks you have to do feel easier, you’re more resistant to stress, and not only that, you don’t get as hungry either.

You finish work and head to the gym and the workout that you found hard last week when you were low on sleep suddenly feels easy,.. weirdly easy.

After your workout, you’ll recover better and get better results because of it. If you’re losing weight, you’ll lose more fat and less muscle.

Doesn’t that sound like a great day? Just from sleeping a little better?

Benefits of Sleeping More

If you’re chronically sleep deprived, you probably have faint memories of how life was when you’d wake up refreshed. You know you feel better with more sleep. Here are some of the benefits you might have forgotten about.

Reduced Hunger

Being sleep deprived makes you more hungry, have trouble saying no to the wrong foods? It could be ghrelin, your hunger hormone. When you are sleep-deprived, ghrelin (our hunger hormone) shoots up and leptin (our satiety/fullness hormone) drops significantly. This imbalance can be quickly resolved by restoring proper sleep.

Makes you think doesn’t it.. Could a big part of the obesity epidemic be down to the fact that we’re all sleep-deprived? It’s plausible.

Thinking Is Easier

When we’re sleep deprived, we’re not dumber, we just have to work a lot harder to be smart. You know how it is when you’re tired and you find yourself getting sidetracked from what you’re doing, like your focus decided to take a holiday.. That’s sleep deprivation.

Some research is now linking IQ with sleep habits though, so who knows?

Better Body Composition

Losing weight often means losing muscle, at least the way that most people do it. That said, sleep is a massive factor in this, along with protein intake and exercise. Those who sleep less lose less fat and more muscle (end result = not that good). Those who sleep more keep more muscle, lose more fat and look more awesome.

Pretty good reasons right? But did you know that you actually do even better in some areas when you oversleep?

Benefits Of Even More Sleep

Studies on athletes who increased their sleeping to 9 or more hours per night showed significant improvements in performance. Lots of commonly used supplements can’t achieve that! While this is definitely overkill for someone who is mostly sedentary, if you’re planning to kill it in the gym and want to maximise your recovery, it’s a powerful tool.

Making Time For Sleep

I know, it’s easier said than done. If you work a lot, have young children, or have odd shifts at work, getting a good night can be a challenge.

If you can make time for an awesome night’s sleep, you should.

If you can’t, you need to maximise the quality of your sleep. It still makes a difference!

Ideally you’ll sleep at a similar time each night and rise at the same time each morning. This is important because most of us can’t sleep on command. You have to be tired to sleep properly.

Creating The Need For Sleep

I had difficulties with sleep through my entire adolescence. I think a good deal of this was the fact that my life wasn’t really that physically demanding. I was bored at school, I wasn’t doing tons of exercise and teenagers have tons of energy! For years I got by on waaay below average levels of sleep.

Nowadays I wake pretty early and get in some form of training most days. By the time I’ve back from work at night, I fall asleep in no time.

It’s my experience, and a lot of studies indicate, that you sleep a lot more easily if you make the most of the day.

Exercise

Exercising in the day makes you fall asleep faster and it improves the quality of your sleep. You shouldn’t exercise too close to bedtime but making some time for exercise daily, even if it’s pretty light (going for a walk, jogging etc) will help you sleep better.

Sunlight

We have something called a circadian rhythm, which is our own 24 clock. It gets us up and makes us sleep at certain times. Sunlight affects our circadian rhythm, it makes us wake up in the same way that lack of light makes us sleepy. Getting some sunlight during the day makes us more awake during our waking hours allowing us to fall deeper asleep during the night.

Mental Stimulation

Mental stimulation is like physical exercise, it’s good for our health but shouldn’t be done before bed. It’s better to get work-related activities done during the day and save the monotonous activities until the evening.

Sleep Rituals

There’s been a ton written about sleep rituals. I’m a pretty pragmatic guy, you I won’t be suggesting ear candles or essential oil baths. Just the stuff that is likely to work, and that people will actually do.

Smartphone Off

Ideally you’ll take care of business during the day and have your evenings to yourself. I don’t always have this luxury myself, but it is definitely the best way to do things.

Smartphones, as well as computers and tablets, emit something known as blue light. If you’ve ever looked at a computer in a dark room and noticed a blue hue to the room, this is why.

Blue light suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone which makes you sleep. If you use a smartphone late at night then you’re more likely to have trouble falling asleep and have poorer quality sleep.

If you absolutely must use your phone, search for a blue light blocking app. These change your screen to an orange hue which blocks blue light. If you use your phone a lot around bedtime, you’ll find yourself getting tired when the blue light is blocked.

Mind Clear

Get your thoughts off of your mind. This is a really useful tip if you play over things in your head when you should be sleeping. You can keep a pen and pad next to your bed jot down anything as it comes up. I personally keep a diary and write in it before I wind down, even if I haven’t got that much to say. This is helpful for rationalising and solving problems as well as promoting good sleep.

Cool, Dark Room

A cool, dark room is perfect for sleep!

The worst thing about summer has to be tossing and turning when it’s too warm to sleep! We sleep better at cool temperatures, our body temperature has to drop a bit for us to nod off.

The dark helps us sleep. Light suppresses melatonin which is needed for sleep. Eliminate as much light as you can. If you want it to be darker then get a sleep mask.

Avoid Stimulants and Food Before Bedtime

Try to leave a bit of time between eating and sleeping for better sleep quality. Limiting alcohol is best too. Although alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep, it often reduces sleep quality throughout the night.

Caffeine is obviously a poor choice before bed, nicotine can go either way. Sometimes withdrawal or psychological dependency can inhibit sleep more than the stimulating effects of nicotine, you might need to experiment here. Abstaining before bed is best if it doesn’t cause you to crave it too badly.

Do The Boring Stuff

A great way to unwind is to do something boring before bed. Washing up is a great example of this. Reading can be good, but frankly it depends on your nature. I always found it woke me up.

Doing mindless chores that keep your hands busy while letting your mind go quiet put you in a good state for a good, restful sleep.

Napping

Napping is a skill that I never got really good at. Some people seem to be natural nappers while others can’t imagine sleeping during the middle of the day.

Napping offers a quick way to energise your body and brain when you’re sleep deprived or need a little boost. Naps are effective for those who have had a full night’s sleep too! Most naps are 20-30 minutes and this seems to be a good amount of time to nap. Napping only runs through part of the sleep cycle however, so unless your nap is 90 minutes or longer, it won’t include all of the benefit you get from sleep, but it should refresh you and give you a boost.

The Power Nap

A power nap is a short nap that doesn’t involve any deep sleep. These are typically 20 minutes but can range from 10-30 minutes. Benefits include enhanced alertness, motor skills and mental functioning.

The naps are kept short to avoid entering deep sleep, this avoids or reduces the effects of sleep inertia, which is that groggy feeling you sometimes get when waking up in the morning.

The Caffeinated Power Nap

Some people have a cup of coffee of caffeine pill before they take a short nap. Caffeine typically takes around 30 minutes to have an effect on the body so it kicks in shortly after waking. This has been found to be quite effective.

Longer Naps

Naps of around 90 minutes are much more restorative but they also have far more potential to disrupt your sleep schedule. These can be used at times when your schedule does not allow enough time to sleep at night. They’re not very practical for most people.

Polyphasic Sleeping

Polyphasic Sleeping was recently popularised by Tim Ferriss, the idea is that you eliminate your normal nightly sleep and replace it with a number of naps at regular intervals. There are claims that this allows you to be rested with substantially less sleep (as little as 2 hours per day!).

While there are some people who may be able to function like, it just doesn’t work for most people. Some people with a rare gene mutation can get by on less sleep, and the rare success stories could possibly be attributed to this, but for most people lots of good quality sleep at night, which is most conducive to sleep, is a great way to look, feel and perform at your best.

Until next time,

Theo

 

Effective Training: How To Get Better Results In Half The Time

Do sometimes feel like you’d get awesome results if you just knew what to do? Some of the routines available involve dozens of exercises, massive amounts of volume and if you’re unlucky, you’ll have to learn a dozen more exercises next week to keep your muscles confused!

Not only that, hundreds (if not thousands) of articles online demonize certain exercises while giving unwarranted support to others, it all gets pretty bloody confusing!

If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this.

Progression is everything.

How many reps you do, how many sets you do, which exercises you do, how long you rest.. That stuff is irrelevant if you’re not improving. There is no secret programme that will get you results wiith progression.

I don’t do a great a deal in my training. I hit a couple of compound lifts then I add in a couple of accessory movements to further work the muscle groups I’m training that day. Then I throw in some cardio to keep my mind sharp and my heart healthy.

progression is everything

Reps, Sets and All That Junk

So this stuff matters, but it’s not something you have to give a massive amount of thought to. I get good results with people not because I have some sort of mystical perfect programme, but because I tailor training to each person’s goals and recovery ability. Find what works for you and make some decent progress.

How many reps?

How many reps you do will determine what sort of training effect you get.

Lower reps (1-5 reps) with heavier weights will build strength effectively.

Medium reps (6-12 reps) are effective at building muscle.

Higher reps (12+) tend to build muscular endurance with less effect on strength and muscle mass.

That said! It is a sliding scale and it is perfectly possible to build strength, muscle mass, and endurance with all three ranges.

Working sets

You have two types of sets, warm up sets and working sets. Warm up sets are desgined to get you warm and prepare you for the working sets. They’re just a warm up, they don’t really even need to be written down.

Working sets are the sets that help you get better, these are the tough ones where you aim to increase your weight over time. Whenever I talk about how many sets to do, I’m referring to working sets. Warm up sets don’t count towards this.

How many sets?

The only considerations for how many sets are:

How much work can you put in?

How much work do you want to put in?

If you can’t consistently put in as much as required by a programme, then you can’t get results on that programme. Do a different one.

There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to sets. You’ll get a big chunk of the total effect from just one set, the second set gives you a smaller return, the third set is smaller still, and so on.

That means that if you’re really, really busy. You could get by with just one set per exercise, most of us can put in a little more than that though.

It also means that if you have loads of free time then you could do ten sets per exercise as long as you slept well and ate well enough to recover from it. I’d advise working up to this unless you enjoy walking like you’ve soiled yourself.

You should make sure that what you pick is something you can keep up for at least four weeks, ten sets won’t be massively better than five, so don’t add in more work for work’s sake. Sore muscles don’t always equal bigger muscles.

How many exercises?

So far, the answers have been quite loose. The reason for this is that the programme that works best is the programme that works best for you. With exercises, you should focus on a smaller selection and get very good at them. One thing I can promise you is that there is no connection between how many exercises you know and how much you achieve.

Which exercises?

There are five main types of movements that make up a good programme

Squats – Build strong leg muscles and core stability

Presses – Build upper body strength and cover your chest, triceps and the front and sides of your shoulders.

Rows – Build upper back strength and grip, improving strength and muscle mass in your lats, biceps, traps, and the back and sides of your shoulders.

Hinges – Think deadlifts, good mornings and kettlebell swings. These develop posterior chain which covers the butt and back of the legs, as well as the lower back.

Carries – Carries aren’t commonly done in gyms but they offer plenty of benefits such as better grip strength,  and stronger shoulders and upper back muscles.

These would be called main lifts, or compound movements. These are big movements that use a number of muscle groups. The benefit to using these is that you get a lot done in a short time. These serve as a strong base for your programme, the foundation that supports any additional movements.

Accessory work can be used on top of compound movements, examples of this would be biceps curls, leg curls, triceps extensions and other movements.

Being Effective

Being busy does not make you effective. You could have a massive workout and get very little actual benefit from it if you don’t grasp the basics. At the same time, you can make some solid gains on a very minimalistic programme. It’s all about optimising your training for your lifestyle.

Here’s a great way to get a full body workout in a few hours per week.

  1. Change your long warm up to the best way to warm up.
  2. Decide which muscle groups to train each day: Legs / Back / Chest is a great option.
  3. Add in 1-2 compound exercises and aim for a minimum of 2 working sets per movement.
  4. Add in 1-4 isolation exercises for those same muscles. Give priority to any weak areas.
  5. Keep your rep ranges, exercises and sets the same.

Why does this work so well?

By focusing on certain movements or muscle groups, you can really focus on them.

By doing fewer exercises, you can really focus on them.

By adding in additional work for those muscles, you can really focus on them and improve weak areas.

By keeping rep ranges, exercises and sets the same, you can really focus on increasing the weight.

The repetition there is intentional..

You need to be able to approach your training with a strong focus on the outcome that you want to achieve. If you want to improve strength in a certain movement (which leads to muscle mass) then you need to focus on that. Forget changing exercises every week, forget periodisation (for now), and stop looking for the perfect programme.

Focus on the goal and keep chipping away at it until you get there.

Until next time,

Theo

 

Should You Use A Lifting Belt?

You may have heard a lot of conflicting opinions on using a lifting belt.

Is it a gym essential or simply a crutch which weakens your core?

What Is A Lifting Belt?

A lifting belt is a belt worn around the abdomen often just above the hips that braces the core. They’re normally made out of leather and there are a few different types available.

How Does A Lifting Belt Work?

Belts help you to lift more weight by increasing intra-abdominal pressure. Belts have to be worn fairly tight to achieve this. Intra-abdominal pressure increases muscle recruitment (meaning more strength) and reduces the load felt by your spine. Lifting belts also restrict your movement, making it easier to keep good form, or least more difficult to have really bad form.

For squats you should wear your belt as tight as you can tolerate, and you’re usually best wearing it one notch looser for deadlifts.

Types Of Lifting Belts

There are three main types of lifting belts.

Velcro Back Supports

These are basically like socks for your back. They’ll keep the area warm, but they’re not really going to do anything else.

Bodybuilding-Style Belts

These provide some resistance to push against but not much, if you exercise for a bit of recreation but aren’t too bothered about getting super strong, these will do the job.

Powerlifting Belts

These are the belts that make the difference, the benefits of the other belts don’t even really compare with those of powerlifting belts. Why? Because powerlifting belts are thicker and tougher and therefore allow for more support.

Just to be clear before we go on, from now on I’m referring to the thicker 10-13mm belts used by powerlifters, strongman competitors, and heavy lifters across the globe.

Why Use A Lifting Belt?

There are a ton of reasons to use a lifting belt. There’s not as much science on lifting belts as you might think but it’s be demonstrated that they increase stability and enhance activation of muscles.

Anecdotally, my experience, and the experience of thousands other lifters is that it protects your back too.

I’ll occasionally grind out a final rep on the deadlift with a belt and my form will go to shit (not youtube shit, but my back will round) and I’ll be absolutely fine. Times when I’ve done this without a belt, I’ll have a gritty feeling in my back afterwards, not injured, but I’ll have definitely stressed some of the structures of my lower back that I hadn’t intended to.

Ultimately, the best protection against injury is training properly, but a belt is definitely a valuable addition.

Does A Lifting Belt Make Your Core Weak?

It’s a commonly held misconception that training with a belt makes your lower back and abdominal muscles weaker, after all, a belt is basically a crutch for your weakest area in the lift right?

Well.. no.

People assume the lower back is often the weakest point in the deadlift, which is the lift a belt is most commonly used for, but often it’s not.

We often round our backs not because our core isn’t strong enough, but because our hip extensors (glutes, hamstrings) aren’t strong enough. Rounding the back brings our hips closer to the bar and improves our leverage. The core is mostly static in the deadlift and while it is sometimes the weakest point, you’d be wrong in many cases to assume that.

Squats are another exercise where belts are used, it’s more common for the core to hold you back in these but whether it does or doesn’t, the belt still reduces compressive forces on the spine reducing your chance of injury.

Why You Should Use A Belt Even If It Did Make Your Core Weaker

I’m a big fan of efficiency, but also of focusing on one thing at a time.

If you want a stronger core, train your core. if you want to lift heavier more safely, use a belt.

You can do both.

My experience is that using a belt with heavier weights than you could safely handle otherwise actually strengthens your core very effectively anyway.

When Should I Use A Lifting Belt?

I’d suggest that you get proficient in the main compound lifts before you go out and buy a belt. After that point, it’s good to use a belt when lifting over 80% of your one rep max (1RM).

What is your 1RM?

Your 1RM is the most you can lift for a single repetition in an exercise. So if you can squat 100kg for 1 rep, you should start using a belt around 80kg.

If you squat 80kg, you can belt up around 65kg.

This isn’t a rule as such, but I’m found it to be a good general guideline after a few years working with competitive powerlifters.

So if you want to get super strong and keep your back healthy, go buy a belt.

Until next time,

Theo

How To Lose Weight and Build Muscle With YOUR Lifestyle

Perhaps one of the biggest problems with typical weight loss and muscle-building programmes are that they are one-size-fits-all despite the fact that people’s lifestyles vary a lot. The key to long-term success is to take your lifestyle and improve it by making small changes that you actually like rather than trying to drop a certain programme into your lifestyle and putting all of your effort into making it when really, it’s just not right for you.

Of course the problem often isn’t knowing what to do, the problem is implementation. Knowing how to fit the changes into our lifestyles and actually doing what it takes to get the results that we’re after.

This is an important topic, simply because we often have a few things in life that we don’t have full control over. We may have a heavy work load in our jobs, we may have less time or less money than other people. We might want to be fit and healthy really badly but consistently fail to stick to anything we’ve tried because it is a mismatch for our lifestyle.

Let’s look at the two most common goals people have, weight loss and gaining muscle.

Weight Loss

Most people have a good idea of how to lose weight, in fact we as a population know more about how to lose weight now than at any other time in history, yet we are fatter than we have ever been.

To lose a pound each week, you need a total deficit of around 3500 calories each week. The simplest way to do this is, on paper, to eat 500 fewer calories each day however you may have social events on a Friday night or have some days where you simply prefer to eat less and others where you feel you need to eat more. To lose a pound each week, the only thing that matters is that the weekly total deficit is 3500 calories, how many calories you eat each day is up to you and I encourage you to explore and find what works best for your lifestyle.

For those who work in metric, as I do, you can expect half a kilogram of fat loss (just over a pound) with a daily deficit of 550 calories or a total weekly deficit of 3850 calories.

It’s all very easy on paper, eat 500 (or 550) fewer calories each day, recalculate your TDEE every month or so, keep your protein intake on the high side and enjoy your lean, attractive body in however many months it takes for you to hit your desired look.

Gaining Muscle

Gaining muscle is, believe it or not, harder than losing fat. When you first get started it is generally quite easy, you can expect quick gains in strength and muscle mass as your body adapts to the unfamiliar stress on it. Some of this is improved coordination and some of this is the fact that muscle comes quickly when you don’t have very much of it, these combine to produce what we often refer to as ‘beginner gains’.

Achieving a muscular body however takes years and if you want to look superhuman then it will take at least five years but in most cases closer to fifteen (I have high standards, most people will be pretty happy after five). This isn’t all doom and gloom however, for those who enjoy the process the diminishing returns aren’t really a bother, there are still a lot of benefits to be had from strength training and it’s effectiveness for venting stress is unbelievable.

On paper it’s all pretty easy. Get in the gym and lift progressively heavier weights and eat lots of calories and protein to fuel your training and growth. Do this for five years and you’ll feel pretty happy with yourself.

Achieving Your Goals with Your Lifestyle

Here’s the thing, on paper nearly EVERYTHING is easy. In practice? There’s a fair bit more to it. The changes you make have to work around you, your family, your work, your social life. If you negatively impact all of these areas to stick to a new programme I can assure that you your chances of long-term success are practically zero. Instead, focus on working around your lifestyle to create a plan actually improves not just your results but your life as a whole.

Living The Life: Training

If you want to have good fitness, and especially if you want to build a lot of strength and muscle, you will need to train with intensity and consistency. You’ll need a good gym (atmosphere makes a big difference!), some knowledge of exercise programming or someone to do it for you (you’ll pay money for knowledge or far more in time working it all out yourself) and a schedule that works for you.

If you can only consistently train three times per week and everyone tells you that you need to train five, forget them. If it’s not sustainable then you won’t keep at it and if you don’t keep at it then you won’t get anywhere.

Get a programme for three times per week, hit the gym at your preferred times and keep moving forward.

Living The Life: Nutrition

Here’s the thing that no one tells you about changing your body. It’s not willpower that stops most people. You need to have the right setup and the right preparation to succeed. If you get that right then it’s all pretty easy. We’re creatures of habit and while that sometimes works against us, we can lever it to great effect.

Shopping

Shopping is very important. It’s a reasonable assumption that the food you eat is the food that you bought. Buy the right foods in the right amounts for your goal and you’ll end up eating the right foods in the right amounts and achieving the goal you set yourself. If you find yourself getting distracted while shopping or getting lured in by offers then do your shop online, save it and simply order again next week. Sure, it might seem a bit clinical but it works so well.

Some people pay £500+ per month to have the right foods in the right amounts sent to them each week to make weight loss easier. Take advantage of what the supermarkets offer and set this up yourself to save time and completely bypass the need for willpower.

Cooking

This is the other half of the nutrition puzzle, if you can’t cook good meals then you’re probably not going to eat good meals. If you aim to learn one new recipe each week then after 12 weeks you’ll be able to cook well enough to make good nutrition easy and even impress your friends.

If you’re busy then learn meals that don’t take much time, these form the bulk of my diet and fast food doesn’t mean bad or tasteless food. I can’t think of many meals that can’t be cooked in less than half an hour.

Eating Out At Restaurants

Being flexible in your approach offers many benefits, such as allowing you to eat out at restaurants and enjoy your food without breaking your diet. Eating socially is so much more than food; the people and the atmosphere can deliver a lot of enjoyment which you shouldn’t have to miss out on because you’re choosing to improve yourself. If you’d like some suggestions to keep your meals out healthy and lower in calories, you can find some good tips in Healthy Options For Meals Out. Perhaps you want to have a good, hearty meal and not worry about it being healthy, there’s a place for that too!

Remaining Flexible

It doesn’t matter if you have less food on Monday and a little more on Tuesday as long as it balances out over the week. If you want to have a big meal out Friday with your spouse and you know that you’re likely to go over your target calorie intake then there’s nothing wrong with eating less in the days leading up to it. There’s certainly ways in which this can be applied as an unhealthy behaviour but in itself it is just a way of managing your calorie intake over time. As long as your diet comprised mostly of wholesome foods then there’s no harm in this approach and it allows you improve your health without losing out on life’s pleasures.

Living The Life: Mindset

Keep Getting Better

You have got to have the mindset of continual improvement or you’re not going to continually improve. I don’t keep training because of a deep dissatisfaction with my appearance or some form of body dysmorphic disorder, I’d just like to be a little better tomorrow than I am today. Does anyone think there’s anything wrong with that?

Be a Problem Solver

Things will go wrong! In every damn thing in life you can rely on at least something not going as planned. Expect it and have the mental fortitude to adjust and press on. If you can’t solve problems then you’re shit out of luck because they’re intricately weaved into the fabric of life, don’t get hung up on them, use them as learning experiences and keep moving forward.