Resistance Training for a Bigger, Stronger Body

A creative mind is a horrible thing to waste, so long as good judgment supersedes inventive initiatives. Certain lifestyle choices can enhance intellectual creativity in people – by altering environmental perceptions and allowing for more open-minded attitudes. When reaching for the mountainous peak of innovative design, it’s important to know when you just fell off the summit. This concept is important in bodybuilding. Creative mindsets are most certainly seen in bodybuilders, individuals with a relentless desire to build their muscles to skin-splitting dimensions. Occasionally trainees end up performing some pretty obscure movements in an attempt to shape their bodies into superhero proportions. In all their extreme efforts, underlying principles tend to get lost in the wind – progressive overloads, intensity versus volume, specific adaptations to imposed demands and the law of diminishing returns.

Willie Workout was in the gym yesterday. To train legs, he balanced himself on top of a Swiss ball. He stood in a position that seemed to command the hands of God for support. Nonetheless, he repeatedly attempted full-range squats on the inflatable sphere – while using elastic bands wrapped around an adjacent power rack for resistance. Everyone’s curiosity peaked, staring in awe as if a bull-riding rodeo was unfolding in the gym. Unfortunately for Willie, the only growth stimulated were bruises, from falling on the rack and getting slapped by flying rubber.

Like always, he breezed past the owner’s brand new t-bar row. Willie prefers to pivot a barbell in the corner of the gymnasium walls. After loading one side with two 45-pound plates, he straddled the bar and started pulling. Meanwhile, the bar’s opposing end wiggled against the wood work – each repetition threatened Willie’s manhood. Some sounds are hard to replicate. Willie getting his nuts suddenly slammed by an iron bar is one of them.

Next, Willie stood facing a wall-mounted mirror with a Kettlebell in his hands. Like a demolition wrecking crew, he repeatedly swung the iron ball. He finally stopped once the associated tenderness in his neck seared in like a hot cattle brand.

His final routine on the Smith machine is not easy to explain. In Willie’s case, pain is intelligence leaving his body.

“What about basic compound lifts, like barbell bench presses?” I asked.

“I don’t bench, it hurts my shoulders,” he replied.

If muscles grew from creativity alone, Willie would be an enormous bodybuilding success.

“Resistance” is any mechanical force that tends to retard or oppose motion. Bodybuilders attempt to increase the body’s strength, power and muscular endurance through various resistance training exercises. Take a moment, sit back, and reflect over your last year of training. Are you actually advancing in strength and size… or are you caught up in a hopeless progression plateau? If performance gains have been at a stand still for more than two or three months, the program design is not working. Sorry for that news break! It is surprising how many people continue for over a year without seeing significant change for the better.

People across the world continuously re-enter fitness facilities with the “toned up” mantra echoing between their ears – gotta get toned! The problem here: toned up is a useless goal. The simple act of resistance training itself does not lead to any pronounced benefit, strength or general health. To invoke change, each subsequent training stimulus must continuously push the fitness threshold,otherwise the current condition will be seen as “good enough” for the current demands. This applies to aerobic efforts too; you must train to run progressively faster in order to decrease an interval run time.

Exceeding previous accomplishments during training improves one’s fitness level, while creating favorable changes in body composition and general health. Usually, failure to build bigger muscles is not a lack of genetic potential, but rather a lack of training knowledge… and failure to properly plan. A timeless U.S. Marine Corps saying has been passed on by many sergeants to teach a key life lesson: “prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance,” also known as “the 7 Ps.”

If you do not plan for progressive gains in a training cycle, then you will undoubtedly fail to maximize results. Worse yet, you could take a step or two backwards! You’re probably thinking: everyone engaged in some sort of training routine plans for progress. Right? Unfortunately many – and I do mean ‘many’ – do not. The volume of trainees who fall subject to monotonous routines that produce little or no results is disastrous. This unfortunate occurrence is something dietary supplement companies thrive on; leading the gullible to believe supplement X is required for any substantial muscle gains.

Of utmost importance: beginners should never use advanced resistance-training programs. This creates elevated risk for a serious case of overtraining syndrome, as well as one or many possible exercise-related injuries. At the advanced level, working one muscle group per session, per week, is common practice, since comparatively heavier loads place greater burdens on systemic recovery processes. Farther down the latter, beginners are generally better suited for higher-frequency training splits. Training more often allows a faster progression rate toward an intermediate level of conditioning.

Budding bodybuilders are able to handle much greater frequency due to undergoing far less training-induced stress. In other words, pushing 135 pounds for 10 repetitions puts less stress on the body than pushing 315 pounds for 10 repetitions. Muscle tissue increases in size from progressive resistance training, but internal filtering organs do not. The kidneys and liver don’t hypertrophy; they’re the same no matter how muscular a bodybuilder gets. The central nervous system does not change either – same brain and spinal cord – but an athlete’s ability to cope with intense training can improve. Old Eastern Bloc training circles provide heavy emphasis on an athlete’s CNS. This mental and physiological capacity affects motivation factors, rates of fatigue and recovery times following intense training.

Progressive planning must consider three main training variables at each workout: load, repetitions and time to completion. Every workout during a mass- or strength-building phase should show an improvement in one of those three areas. Relish or agonize over the days written undertakings in your training journal, but always look forward to recording a better score next time. The U.S. Navy Seals have a saying: “The only easy day was yesterday.”

The load is the total amount of weight used for a given movement. Simply adding two more pounds to a bar per session would be an improvement. It may not be a lot, but it adds up in the long run. Some progression plateaus develop by attempting to add too much, too soon. It may be most productive to add two pounds per week to the load, which is a far better plan than not improving at all. Other times, rest may be the best option… either a break from training or a shift toward an active recovery plan.

The other two factors, repetitions and total time to completion, are seldom given there due respect. Instead of increasing the load, attempt to increase the total repetitions performed per workout. Over subsequent workouts, eight reps easily handled under a particular load could change to 12. Otherwise, plan to finish a workout within shorter periods of time by decreasing rest intervals. For instance, a trainee pushes 315 pounds for five repetitions and five sets, using three-minute rest intervals. Then a follow-up workout yields to the same load, reps and sets but trains through two-minute rest intervals – that’s progress!

The body goes through numerous changes amid consistent strength training. Early on, resistance training is a motor learning process, dependent on practicing proper exercise form and activation of individual muscle groups. This preliminary adaptation to exercise usually strengthens in the first two to three months of consistent resistance training. Beginners training like beginners will graduate faster than those who overreach. After this introductory phase is worked through, free-weight movements become more fluid, as the ability to accurately recruit different muscle systems becomes second nature. Advanced trainees can recall the days when free-weight movements were wobbly and somewhat uncontrollable. This nuisance is an example of weak motor control, as well as underdeveloped connective tissue. Further gains are highly dependent on developing an inner motivation to make resistance training a part of life.

As training continues, connective tissue strengthens and a greater tolerance to the associated burn is realized. Focusing on applying constant tension during each set will create a lot of micro trauma as a growth stimulus, as well as further strengthened neural pathways, fostering more permanent strength development. Many trainees assume they are creating continuous tension on the muscle, when in reality, they keep locking out. Frequently, they inadvertently shift the load completely off the muscular systems and onto the bone structure. These pauses are quite common in leg training. The lower body houses the largest muscle groups and subsequently the most demanding training. Sometimes rest-pause sets or brief in-set breaks serve a purpose – such as breaking through psychological barriers – but don’t allow pauses that are due to inadequate training motivation. Stay focused on training and keep the muscle pumping!

Into the advanced stages, muscle size is largely proportionate to strength levels. Promoting additional gains in muscle beyond intermediate proportions requires increased in limit strength levels, which is in direct relationship with an increased muscle-cross sectional area. As muscles become exceedingly stronger, more attention must be moved toward appropriate recovery measures, as well as specificity and variety in overall program design. It’s important to understand your current development stage. Working above or below one’s current fitness levels will lead to training plateaus.

Turn the pages of a bodybuilding magazine and plenty of high-volume training routines pop up in between the advertising fluff. Fitness magazines frequently suggest that a certain professional athlete endorses a specific routine as their key to recent performance gains (with supplement X, of coarse). Ninety-nine times out of 100, its a bunch of bull and the athlete was paid to sponsor the system, or the product listed in the sidebar. Even if a training theory or dietary supplement helped a particular person reach a goal, each person must tailor training advice to compliment their stage of growth and genetic endowment.

Johnny BravoThe body grows best in unison. Men are notorious for neglecting lower-body musculature while women repeatedly reject upper-body; subsequently, both cut themselves short. Often overlooked, full-body workouts have their place in bodybuilding, such as: increased training frequency, immense energy expenditure, greater glycogen depletion, superior anabolic hormone secretion and more symmetrical growth. Each individual’s genetic predispositions transcribe a certain tolerance for unbalanced proportions – once reached, the trained muscles stop growing. If the human body didn’t require a relative balance, we would see a lot of Popeye- or Johnny Bravo-type physiques stumbling around in the local gyms.

Setting obtainable goals helps keep trainees focused. Without good training goals, it’s easy to fall into a hopeless vertigo of zero results. Professional athletes always have an adequate stimulus to keep them focused on improvements: competition. Noncompetitive, or recreational, athletes can arrange mock competitions. They can be things as simple as looking good for a scheduled summer vacation. A predefined date with a digital camera can supply motivation; progress photos are valuable for realizing if training periods are paying dividends.

The word ‘obtainable’ should be held at high regard. If you are beginning a new training cycle with 17-inch upper arms, netting 20-inch guns by the end of a 12-week cycle is not obtainable… well, not for the genetically-average or drug-free bodybuilder. It only sets the mental stage for disappointment. Realistic goals help trainees stay motivated about future progress. To contradict somewhat, large and obscure short-term goals can be beneficial in the right context; read: very short term, as in goals for a single set. For instance, aiming for 10 repetitions after getting under a five-rep maximum load. This helps keep motivation elevated by thinking past previous fitness thresholds, regardless of the fact that it’s far less than obtainable. This short-term thought process also helps replace the negative voices screaming out “Damn, this is a lot of weight!” with “I got this – easy weight!”

Bodybuilding publications frequently make odd statements suggesting diet is more important than training, or training is more important than diet. Some attention-seeking periodicals even go so far as to pull out percentages; for instance: “diet is 90 percent of success!” – or some other obscure number stating one is more important than the other. In reality, both are equally important. The best nutritional advice means nothing without a progressive overload to stimulate muscle growth. On the flip side, the best training theory will produce nothing the diets fails to provide the right nutrients, the building blocks for additional lean body mass.

For many adults, pulling into the gas station with a brand new car is as full-filling as show-and-tell for school kids. They’re rightfully proud of their new toy and enjoy presenting it. After a few days of joy riding, it’s time to fill it up with gas. However, instead of some high-octane performance fuel, the driver grabs a bottle of stale soda from the back seat and pours it into the gas tank – it’s a cheaper and much faster way to fill the tank. Ultimately, the honeymoon spent showcasing the new wheels come to an end: the engine stutters, knocks… dies. They had a great car but blew it, by not filling it up with the right fuel.

PopeyeMany people let themselves be persuaded by colorful ads with impressive physiques. Muscular bodybuilders are often bombarded with queries about their dietary supplement protocols. Most of these curious individuals don’t respect the fact that each individual has unique requirements, which vary based on current goals. If an adequate diet is neglected during any training cycle, no pills, powders or magic beans are going to make up the deficit. Always focus on fueling the fundamentals with good whole food selections, then fill in nutritional gaps with dietary supplements based on current objectives.

Properly integrated nutrition and training solutions are paramount to continued success in bodybuilding. With that understanding, following through often requires restraint from life’s numerous diversions… make no mistake about it. Understanding distractions or destructive influences is subjective, but in all cases, avoiding as many speed bumps on the road as possible is a much easier way to travel. Friends qualify as destructive influences if they continue to insist on skipping scheduled training sessions for several sets of 12-ounce curls at the local pub. Having a social life, to include time at social clubs, is absolutely necessary to a rounded off life – getting so sloshed that you wake up under the porch every weekend is not. What you let get in your way will do just that. That cute, fit neighbor doesn’t qualify as a distraction, since you certainly cannot plan future workouts with a blindfold! Success in building a stronger, bigger body relies on learning how to effectively channel some things out, in order to succeed.

Bodybuilding is a journey into increased activity and overall health. The rate of obesity is climbing, leading to increases in metabolic disorders, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems and some cancers. This is largely due to decreases in daily energy expenditure and increases in junk food, more palatable foods that are heavily processed, high in fat and loaded with sugar. Successful bodybuilding improves body composition by increasing energy output while promoting healthy food choices. It also requires adequate rest at night and avoidance of otherwise destructive behaviors. Many possessions come and go; your physical self is a one-shot opportunity. The human body wasn’t deigned to be inactive and overweight. Building an athletic body constructs greater overall health, self image, confidence and a generally more pleasant life.

Take time to read through various training theories. See what helps, then see how it can be applied most effectively in a routine. If your current training split includes a few sets of this, followed by a few more of that, then finished off with some of those – then you certainly are in need of some new theories. Great advice from credible coaches is available online and at the local bookstore, to spice up your training routine and instigate new-found growth spurts.

Eight commandments for building a bigger, stronger body

  • Work thy body progressively
  • Record what thou hast accomplished during thy journey
  • Train thy mote, at ye level
  • Commit thine muscles to continuous tension
  • Thou shalt train thyself from head to toe
  • Never pack thine stomach with useless vittles
  • Thou shalt not search for a magic pill
  • Treat thine body as thy valuables