By Hugo Rivera CFT, SPN, BSCE
Muscle mass is the most valuable asset of a bodybuilder. While symmetry and definition are very important qualities as well, without muscle mass such qualities would have no meaning. In a bodybuilding show, for instance, assuming that all competitors have similar degrees of definition and symmetry, it is always the bigger bodybuilder the one that will take the show.
That bodybuilder is the same one that people will remember with awe and respect. It is like Arnold Schwarzenegger once said; muscle mass is like the clay in a sculpture that is to be sculpted and defined once there is a significant amount of clay in it. So now that we have discussed the value of having muscle mass, lets discuss how a natural bodybuilder would go about attaining significant amounts of it.
Unfortunately, many bodybuiders who are just getting started make the mistake of either choosing a bodybuilding routine that is too advanced for their level, or simply go to the gym without any training plan. Too much too soon leads to injury and just going from machine to machine without any set routine just leads to marginal bodybuilding results at best. The cure to this problem is to grab a sensible bodybuilding routine that fits your training level and execute it day in and day out.
Basically there is a formula associated with gaining mass. The formula is the following:
- S is the success that you will achieve in your program
- D is the determination that you have to achieve success
- T is the training that you use
- N is your nutritional program
- R stands for rest & recovery.
Each component in the formula above can only have two values. A value of 1 is given to a component if it is followed completely. A value of 0 is given to any component that is not followed or followed halfway.
Therefore, if every single component is followed, you get a maximum value of 3. In this case the bodybuilder will get the fastest results possible from their program. If the bodybuilder stops following one of the components inside of the parenthesis then you get a lesser value, which means that you will not get optimal results.
However note that if you don’t have any determination you get a value of 0 which means that your whole program will fail and you won’t get any results. The reason for this is because determination is by far the most important factor in determining the amount of success you will achieve in your bodybuilding program. Why? Because if you are not determined enough to make the sacrifices necessary to gain muscle, then any obstacle that you encounter in the way will be used as an excuse to stop following your program.
However, if you are determined to reach your goals, you will make whatever arrangements are necessary in order to ensure that your training, nutrition and restful sleep remain unaffected.
Now that we have talked about the Formula for Success and the reason why Determination is the key factor in making such formula work, lets briefly cover the Training component. Due to lack of space, Nutrition and Recovery will be covered in future articles.
In order for weight training to be effective the following rules need to be followed:
a) – Each session should be short; 60 minutes maximum. The maximum amount of time a weight training session should last is 60 minutes. After 60 minutes the levels of muscle building and fat burning hormones (like growth hormone and testosterone) begin to drop. Also, the glycogen in your system, which is the fuel that your muscles use to contract, has been depleted. What this means is that training for any more than 60 minutes will actually be a waste of your time since you will no longer have the hormones or the fuel necessary to produce muscle growth. Continue to train past 60 minutes and you will get impaired recovery which leads to overtraining, a condition where your body does not recover from its weight training sessions and leads to loss of strength and muscle mass.
b) – The rest between sets should be kept to a minimum; 60-90 seconds or shorter. Keeping your rest time in between sets and exercises to a minimum not only allows you to perform a prodigious amount of work within the 60 minute training window but it also helps improve your cardiovascular system and most importantly maximizes the output of growth hormone, the powerful fat burning, muscle building hormone that we mentioned earlier. Also, some studies suggest that this range may promote a muscle voluminizing effect in which water goes inside the muscle cells (not outside) and makes the muscles look more firm and bigger. Do not confuse this with water retention outside of the muscle cells, which is what makes us look puffy and fat.
c) – The sets of each exercise should be for the most part between 6-15 repetitions each. There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, it has been shown that it is within this range that growth hormone output is maximized. As we already know, this is a good thing since this hormone does exactly what we are looking for (it increases muscle and decreases body fat). Also, performing so many repetitions provides you with a great pump (blood rushing into the muscle) which is a good thing since along with the blood are nutrients that nourish the muscle cells and help them recover and rebuild bigger much faster. Finally, performing this amount of repetitions reduces the possibility of injury dramatically since you will need to use a weight that you can control in order to perform the prescribed amount of reps.
d) – Training must be progressive. Progression means performing one more repetition than the last time the exercise was performed or a little bit more weight if you are able to do more than the recommended amount of repetitions for a particular exercise. It is important to understand that we will not be able to increase weight or increase the number of repetitions in every single session. However, it is important to know that the overall goal of the bodybuilder is to ensure progression over a period of time because this will ensure the continuous addition of muscle mass.
e) – Training must be composed of free weight basic exercises. Only free weights provide the fast results that you are looking for. The body is designed to be in a three dimensional universe. Therefore, whenever you use a machine and you limit your body to a two dimensional universe you limit the amount of muscle fibers that are going to do work and therefore you get less results. I am not saying that all machines are bad. Some machines definitely have a place in our weight-training program. However, our program should be mostly based on barbell exercises, dumbbell exercises and exercises where the body moves through space such as the dip, the pull-up, the squat and the deadlift.
f) – Training must be cycled. For the bodybuilder this principle is of paramount importance. In fact, the lack of cycling in a bodybuilder’s program is the reason, in my opinion, why so many natural bodybuilders fail to make any gains after the first 6 months of their training career. The key to ensure continuous gains in muscle mass is to alternate periods of different training protocols in a logical manner that assures maximum gains. While I could write a whole article on this subject alone, for the time being know that alternating every 3 to 4 weeks between phases of higher volume type of work using a 10-15 repetition range with weeks of lower volume but higher intensity (6-10 repetitions) will do amazing things in terms of muscle mass and strength! Try it out and you will not be disappointed.
As you can see from the items above, gaining mass is not rocket science. It is basically just a matter of having the right program combined with the determination necessary to achieve results. Only applied knowledge is power, so now that I have given you the knowledge on how to optimize your training for maximum results, go ahead and implement it for maximum gains! Until next time, take care and train hard!
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