It’s your first time in the gym; you’re surrounded with various exercise machines and sweaty, panting people; you want to start a full-body workout program and show off your muscles eventually.
However, the human body is not a cut-n-dry math problem; this requires more means, knowledge and support. Simply, eating more and exercising mindlessly may do you more harm than good, because you risk serious injuries.
You should know how to build muscle. However, this is not a one stop road, there are two ultimate goals – getting big and getting strong.
What makes training for these two goals different is the details, even though each of them involves eating the right foods at the right time, lifting heavy things, and proper resting.
This is a guide designed to introduce you to bodybuilding, and help you with maximizing the results you desire.
Getting Strong with Weights
Moving maximum weight shouldn’t be in your focus if you want big muscles. Lift heavy weights to failure, rest, and repeat.
Successful strength trainings aim to overload the tax the muscles, but also to overload the brain-muscle connection (the neuromuscular system), so they require heavy weight, fewer reps, and longer resting periods.
Strength training puts rep ranges of just 3-6 with a weight you can’t move for even 1 more rep. Thus, the rest periods are longer (3-5 minutes between sets) so the body could recover from that much work.
In a strength program, you’re doing 20-25 reps overall for a squat, while in a size workout you’re looking at 50 reps.
Load with light weight and practice the movement patterns first, because good form is essential for moving that much weight.
Start off your workout by performing more reps, and then do fewer as you get more fatigued during the workout.
Muscles need 24-48 hours to recover before the next workout and to get larger, so you should have enough rest. Strength trainings are not about isolation, but coordination, so alternate upper and lower body workout, or combine them.
An example program for strength training includes:
- Warm up: wide-grip pull-ups to failure, 10-15x back extensions, 3 sets with a 1-minute rest between.
- Workout: 5x deadlifts, 5x single-arm dumbbell bent over rows, 5x seated cable rows, 5x weighted pull-ups, 5x T-bar rows, 5x hammer strength rows (4-6 reps with 2-3 minutes rest between sets).
Building Muscle with Weights
You don’t have to move into the gym to get decent size gains, but you have to at least dress for it. Proper weightlifting and gym clothes will make your workouts better since they allow your skin to breathe while releasing sweat, and adding to your flexibility.
However, most muscle gain strength programs are designed for 5 days a week, with a minimum of 3 workouts per week.
The shorter your training sessions are, that is the less frequently you train, the more intense your workouts will need to be to make solid progress.
In a hypertrophy program, quantity of reps and sets is the key.
By increasing the metabolic stress to the muscle cells, you encourage your body to increase its muscle size.
After performing a set of 12 reps, the byproducts in the muscle cells accumulate in order to produce the energy required for weight lifting, thus leaving you with extra metabolic stress.
What does this mean?
It means that you should lift, lift, and lift. Don’t work your muscles to total failure, but work them hard with 3-5 rep sets in the 8-15 range.
You can get enough work in 3-4 workout days, by splitting it into two lower body and two upper body days.
The weight moved is less important as long as you’re killing your target muscle and working the musculature. If the previous exercise has left you fatigued, just drop the weight.
An example program for training for size gains includes: bench press, decline press, incline press, and cable machine pec flyes – 4×12 reps of each exercise with no more than 2 minutes of rest between sets.
Eat to Get Strong
A large surplus of calories isn’t needed to build strength (no more than 300 extra calories per day).
When you start a strength workout, there often may be some leaning out to do, and that actually means a slight caloric deficit.
Eat to Build Muscle
If you want to achieve size gains, then you need to eat more and increase your daily calorie intake. If you’re about getting a pound gain per week, you don’t need more than 300-500 calories per day.
However, if you’re overweight, you should lean out first, and that means a caloric deficit.
If the caloric deficit is too high, your body won’t be able to recover from the workout, rebuild the muscles, and support muscle growth due to the lack in nutrients.
On the other hand, calorie intake requires a boost if you have trouble putting on mass (but only to a point where you gain muscle and not fat).
Besides protein, a growing body needs carbohydrates as well. Carbs are the primary fuel that enables your body to workout intensely.
The recommended calorie ratio for size gain weight lifting is: 20-35% calories from fat, 50-65% from carbs, and 1.4-1.7 protein per kg of bodyweight.
As for pre- and post-workout meals, it’s not that important if you’re not a professional athlete or a bodybuilder.
You are primed fine if you had your last meal within 1-2 hours before a workout. An intense workout requires a “full tank”.
As a beginner, you’ll make decent size gains with three meals a day and snacks in between, without having to rush home to fix yourself a protein shake.
Cardio for Fat Burning and Muscle Building
Most people believe that doing cardio exercises is counterproductive if your aim is to put on muscle. That’s wrong since cardio can be beneficial in many ways to those who want to build a lean physique.
A 15-30 minutes of high intensity interval training (HIIT) or up to three 45-minute workouts (swimming, biking, or running at a consistent pace) is enough for those who have some fat to get rid of.
On the other hand, if you’re skinny, you need enough cardio to get the blood pumping to your muscles and strengthen your heart (10-min steady-state bouts as closer to your lifting sessions).
Going into details and making rigorous bodybuilding programs isn’t required for building a lean physique, unless you’re a pro.
A skinny weightlifting beginner will definitely see gains with minimum 3-4 workout days and regular 3 meals per day.
The details of your workout program depend on whether you want to get stronger or gain size.