What do you do when you hit a new personal fitness record? I usually have the urge to yell across the gym. GUYS. GUYS! DID YOU SEE THAT? HUH? Instead, I just wander around with a dorky grin. But inside my head I’m shouting.
Sometimes progress feels nonexistent because it creeps along so slowly. That’s gym life. It’s part of the process that you learn to embrace.
But when you are on a roll, run with it. It’s been that way for me lately. And it’s not dumb luck. My body is revealing more muscular definition. I know I’m building muscle because I’m consistently lifting heavier stuff from week to week. Woot woot.
There are a few reasons why. And best of all, these tactics can work for you too. If you’d like to work on your physique or improve your performance, read on.
Eat enough food to support building muscle. But not too much.
Back in the days of old school bodybuilding, lifters did things a little differently. They wore Zubaz, which is a tragedy. To put on muscle, they knew they had to eat more than while trying to lose fat. Plus plenty of protein.
Getting adequate calories and optimal nutrition does make a big impact on transforming your body. But those lifters ate way more than they needed to. As a result, they gained unnecessary fat. You can eat in a very slight surplus to help fuel those “gainz” while still looking lean. Win/win.
Lift in a variety of rep ranges.
Some people split workout types into “strength” or “hypertrophy”. That last word roughly means “growing muscle”.
You can build a ton of strength and power if you lift very heavy weight for a small number of reps – around 5 or less. And doing moderate to high rep ranges are key for growing your muscles.
But incorporating all kinds of rep ranges into lifting workouts will build strength and sculpt muscle effectively at the same time. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive kinds of sessions or training phases. Those two goals feed each other. Here’s why:
Women often worry about packing on more muscle. No, you won’t get bulky. Not that there’s anything wrong with bulk. If it’s not your thing, that’s cool too. But building muscle is what “toning” and “sculpting” really mean.
That added muscle won’t turn you into the Arnold. But it will allow you to lift heavier stuff over time and keep getting stronger.
And doing some work in a very low rep range will help you get better at recruiting your muscle fibers to do really intense work.
That means you can more effectively do those higher rep sets. And build dat ass. Or biceps or whatever.
There are plenty of ways to go about mixing stuff up. Using a combo platter in a single workout is one fun and effective way to get the benefits of those ranges.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
If you want to become stronger and more athletic, you have to learn a new skill. You’ll need practice. Many of us know what it feels like to feel tired or have become accustomed to the sweaty rush of a tough cardio class. If you’re new to lifting, the feel of a really heavy dumbbell row may seem not quite right.
It might feel like it’s so heavy you shouldn’t be lifting it. But if you can do it with good technique for the appropriate number of reps, keep that up. You’re awesome. Don’t let the rep number tell you to stop.
Stop when you feel like you might only have one more rep in you. And for lighter exercises done for higher reps, you’re usually fine taking your sets completely to failure. Meaning “I can’t do even one more”.
Effort feels different for a super heavy deadlift than it should for high rep accessory work.
I trained to improve my big lifts for powerlifting for the better part of last year. I could grind out a few really hard, heavy reps. But I’ve shifted my focus to a little bit of heavy strength work and more higher rep work to build muscle.
And so I had to learn a new kind of effort. Part of that is getting in tune with how the reps feel as you’re doing them. Ever hear of “the pump”?
When you do isolation movements like biceps curls you may notice a swollen, tight feeling if you really zero in on maintaining a constant tension as you lift. That’s da pump. Your blood rushes into your muscles and in the end, helps them repair and become bigger.
Want to try out these ideas? Take this lower body session for a spin:
1. Barbell hip thrust 4 x 5. (These should feel heavy.)
2a. Barbell front squat or 2 DB/KB front rack squat 4 x 8
2b. Stiff leg dumbbell deadlift 4 x 12 (slow down enough to feel those hammies stretch)
3a. Forward lunge 3 x 10/leg
3b. Cable rope pull through 3 x 15
3c. Plank with weight transfer :20 to :30
Work hard. Smash the heavy stuff. Feel some pumping, burning goodness on the light stuff. And then shout about your victories, either loud and proud or to yourself.
Want more? There will be plenty in my upcoming holiday muscle building program. One for brand spankin’ new beginners. One three day plan with full body workouts. And my favorite, a four day routine with lower and upper body splits. I’ll have the details soon in my newsletter. Not signed up yet? Check out the form below.