Gaining more muscle and strength isn’t ever about doing one thing differently. When you start adding a little structure to your workouts – that is, tracking your progress and following a plan – you also start to see real progress. I’ve seen measurable results in my own muscle gains and training the last few months and I wanted to share with you what I’m doing differently.
Sticking to a Program
Probably the biggest mistake we all make is switching workouts or exercises too often. Most people just don’t have the knowledge to build their own effective, high-quality training program. Obviously I’m a personal trainer and have the know-how, but it wasn’t until recently that I finally took the time to use this knowledge for my own workouts. I’m better about changing my program regularly now too, instead of using the same one for six months or a year.
A good program lasts four to six weeks – that means the same exercises. You can rotate several workouts and that is desirable to avoid adaptation. But you also need to change other variables in a structured manner, such as reps, sets, and resistance. Keep a training log so you can keep track of what you’re doing.
When I decided to take creatine two months ago, a supplement that can increase performance and thus muscle gains, I decided to track my progress (I should have been doing this all along and so should you).
It was at about three weeks after starting creatine that I noticed an extra push during my workouts. (I didn’t load as some do – I’ve been taking about 4 grams per day from the start.). My energy level was higher after resting between sets and I found that I could push harder. Good stuff! Incidentally, haven’t had any side effects (such as bloating) from creatine.
By tracking my circumference measurements, I can see that I’ve gained a quarter of an inch in my biceps, shoulders, hips (butt), and chest (possibly back muscles). My shirts are tighter in the sleeves and I notice a visible difference in my backside.
I recommend creatine, but please don’t use it if you aren’t following a structured training program. Having that extra energy means you can potentially push too hard and end up overtraining or injuring yourself.
I used to have a flat butt and that is a fact! Now I love my backside and know I’m not wasting my time in the weight room. I’ve also gained definition and mass in my thighs and adductors.
These gains have resulted from ditching random exercises and training in a structured manner. I do the same big, compound movements (and slight variations) on a rotation that includes both low and moderate repetition ranges. I do four to five sets instead of always doing three, and I vary my rest periods. And of course, I lift heavy.
Compound exercises are those that use multiple joints, such as squats, deadlifts, barbell hip thrusts, kettle bell swings, leg presses, bench presses, dips, and pull ups. I still do a few isolation movements but only after the big ones.
For a long time I avoided deadlifts and squats because I strained my low back one day (at home, not at the gym). But I could have resumed a long time ago; deadlifts and squats won’t hurt your back if you use proper form. I just got into a rut of doing random workouts instead of sticking with a program, and I bet you might be doing the same. Just realize that building muscle takes time; you’ll start seeing visible results after about 8 to 12 weeks.
Up until this winter I did chin ups using a skinny bar with palms facing in – the easiest kind. But I decided to switch to a neutral, fat grip because (1) a neutral grip is easier on the shoulders, and (2) a fat grip activates more muscle fibers. Unfortunately, when I made the switch I was instantly set back from six or seven to two or three pull ups.
So I started using a pull-up band two months ago and my neutral-grip pull ups have increased as a result. (You simply loop the band around the bar, step in, and let the band “assist” you.) Progress is slow, but the key is to continue pushing. When you can do a 12 pull ups with a half-inch band, you should be doing unassisted at lower reps. (At my peak, I got up to 9 unassisted pull ups.)
Sure, I could have used the assisted pull-up machine instead of the band. But I never pushed myself as hard on the machine and never made any progress, either. I tried eccentric pull ups for several weeks without much progress, but different things work for different folks.
Improvements to Come
There is always room for improvement and that’s one of the most fun aspects of weightlifting. I want to integrate more full-body exercises into my program, such as overhead squats and dumbbell snatches. I avoid these currently because it always conflicts with my body part split. I also want to focus on getting enough high-quality calories and work on my balance.
What are you going to work on next?
This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.