In the first of this two-part micro series, I looked at diet and its contribution to muscle mass growth. Of course, diet isn’t the only area where muscle gains may be compromised, as there are also issues related to training. There is a great debate with regards to cardio training and mass gains. There is a very large divide in opinion on this subject, and I will be covering cardio and mass gaining as a separate post shortly.
Some will do cardio daily while building muscle, some say to never do it when muscle mass growth is the goal, and some insist that high intensity interval training is the cure-all for everything. I’m of the opinion that unless you are very lean naturally and have a tough time putting on weight, some cardio can help in the pursuit of new muscle tissue. It can help by increasing appetite, it helps with endurance, which is beneficial during heavy sets of squats for instance, it helps improve recovery, and may help to lessen fat gain. It also keeps the fat burning metabolic pathways functioning so that when dieting is resumed, fat loss seems to occur at a faster rate.
Too much will definitely not help in building big muscles. Excessive cardio definitely negatively impacts on strength and muscle mass gains. This is only the case when it’s done excessively, or at too high of an intensity-such as intervals. 20 minutes of low or medium intensity cardio done following weight training is enough.
Now that I’ve looked at the problems with cardio, and diet in the first article,there is still the big issue of what happens during training. The average recreational weight trainer is far too uneducated and under committed to make any real progress. The problem begins with the fact that most who train to grow their muscles receive their information from the popular bodybuilding magazines, or their websites. This is only a problem because their information comes from elite level bodybuilders. Unless you are an elite level bodybuilder, and using the same ‘supplements’ they are using, then the likelihood of you duplicating their results is about zero.
The traditional professional bodybuilders approach to training one muscle group once per week, for a very high number of sets and exercises, just doesn’t work for the average person. If you have great genetics, and a high hormonal response to weight training, then maybe this will work for you.
There are a few people who can train six days a week, and still make progress and gain muscle, but these are the same genetically gifted people I mentioned above. The reality for the average person is that four or five muscle-building sessions per week is going to be pushing their recovery ability to the maximum. For those of you that read my design a training program series, you know that when it comes to muscle or strength building, recovery is everything.
There is a fairly sizable amount of research suggests that 40-60 contractions per body part, per workout, seems to give the optimal response in order to stimulate muscle growth. Then there is the issue of time under tension as well, because the actual amount of time your muscles spend lifting those weights matters greatly. There is also the research proven theory that testosterone rates begin to decline after an hour of training, and therefore all lifting should cease in order to quit while we’re ahead, so to speak.
If we put the above three pieces of information together, we can logically use these rules to govern our training sessions. Sets should be in the eight to twelve range per body part, the larger ones getting the higher number. When it comes to the number of reps to stimulate maximum muscle mass, I already wrote about that, so I won’t cover it here. The time you spend doing each rep matters also. I’m not a big believer in counting, but a slow and controlled descent followed by an explosive contraction will keep your muscles under tension for a good amount of time, so that an appropriate amount of stress has been transferred to the muscle fibers, stimulating growth.
The most simple of all rule still applies to building muscle, and that is that muscle grows as a function of progressive tension overload. You need to add weight to the bar over time in order to grow. This doesn’t mean that you have to add weight at every workout, but if you’re not gradually adding weight, you won’t be adding muscle either.
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