Muscle Building – Doing The Basic Right And Heavy Lifting
If you have been told that to build muscle you need to do light weights and many, many repetitions then you’ve been lied to. The only way to build muscle mass is to lift heavy weights.
Now, before you start checking out and losing interest, lifting heavy weights is fun. It’s empowering and you’re going to be amazed at how quickly you improve your strength. One of the reasons that many people avoid strength training is that they’re reluctant to set foot into the free weights area of a gym. All of those barbells and weight plates can look intimidating.
Think about it like this, do you pick up heavy things off of the ground? Do you lift heavy things over your head to put them on a shelf? Do you carry heavy things in your hands from time to time? Chances are you do. If you have ever moved furniture, picked up a fifty pound bag of dog food or carried bags of groceries into the house you’re performing the same movements you’ll perform with weights.
The equipment in a free weight gym is basic. You have a barbell. It will either be a 15 pound training barbell or a 35 or 45 pound barbell. If you’ve never lifted a barbell in your life you’ll probably start out doing exercises using only the barbell, with no added weights.
Next you have the plates. They have their weight stamped on them. It’ll either be in kilograms or pounds. The larger plates usually start at 10 pounds. Then you’ll have a 15, 25, and 45 pound plate. There are also smaller 2.5 and 5 pound plates. Then you have clips that you put on the end of each end of your barbell to keep the plates from sliding off. That’s it.
The next concept to learn is the fundamentals of a strength training workout. It looks like this:
After doing about five minutes of low intensity cardio to get your muscles warmed up and your blood pumping you’ll want to start warming up your specific lifting muscles.
You’ll warm up at about 50% -60% your max. (For example, if your max deadlift is 150 pounds you’d warm up by doing deadlifts at around 75-85 pounds.) Warm up in short sets, gradually increasing your weight until you’re at about 80% of your max and you’re ready to begin the workout.
Your sets will be for max effort. Generally speaking max effort workouts look like this:
1x1x1x1x1 – This is for a one rep max, which is the heaviest weight you can lift one time.
3x3x3x3x3 – This is for a three rep max, which is the heaviest weight you can lift three times. It will be less than your one rep max
There are also 5 and 10 rep max workouts and workouts to failure. For example, you lift the weight as many times as you can until you can’t lift it anymore.
CrossFit workouts tend to build muscle quickly because of the nature of the rotation and the variety. CrossFitters will do several high intensity workouts each week coupled with heavy lifting workouts. This helps burn the fat and it helps build muscle mass. If you’re strictly focused on building muscle mass you can do one or two high intensity workouts each week and spend the rest of your time focusing on strength training. Here’s a quick example of a high intensity workout:
10 sprints for time:
-Run 100 meters
-Rest the time it took you to run the 100 meters between each round.
The Importance of Compound Movements
There are different types of movements that you can do. The most effective and functional movements are what are called compound movements. They use more than one muscle or muscle group.
For example, when you do a bicep curl you’re primarily focusing on your biceps. Great. However, if you do a chin up or a weighted chin up you’re using your biceps, your shoulder muscles, chest muscles, back muscles and even your abdominals. You’re getting more bang for your buck.
So let’s take a look at some core weight lifting movements.
Squats – Your leg muscles are your biggest muscles. When you do a squat you use not only the big muscles in your legs including your hamstrings and quads, you also use your lower leg muscle, your glutes, and your core muscles.
There are essentially three different types of squats and the difference depends on where you position the barbell.
-Front – The barbell is resting on your deltoids and is held against the front side of your body as you squat.
-Overhead – With a wide grip the barbell is held overhead as you squat.
-Back – The barbell rests on your shoulders and is positioned behind your neck. You squat with the weight on your back.
Other weight lifting and strength training movements include:
-Deadlifts – This may be the heaviest weight you can lift. It starts with the barbell on the ground and you lift using your hips and leg muscles. Proper form is critical here to prevent back injury.
Cleans and Snatch – These are the two most difficult movements in weight lifting. They’re Olympic weight lifting movements. They’re extremely fun to do, however it’s strongly suggested that you watch a few videos or get some help from a trainer before you attempt these movements. And always practice and learn with an empty barbell.
Shoulder Press and Jerk – To work your upper body – including your core muscles, your arms, shoulders and upper back – the shoulder press, push press, and push jerk can get the job done.
The shoulder press is a strict movement moving the barbell from the front rack position to overhead. With a push press you’re allowed a small dip so you can gain some momentum and lift a bit more. The movement is still from shoulders to overhead. With the jerk you’re able to dip your body in order to drive the bar up. You’ll drop down below it so you can lift more. Someone with a 90 pound strict press might have a 115 push press and a 125 push jerk.
Pull-ups – Pull-ups work the entire upper body, including the core muscles in your abs and back. Once you’ve mastered pull-ups, you can add weight to them to make them more challenging. If you can’t do a pull-up, there are modifications you can do to build strength. You might do a jumping pull-up to help you get over the bar. You can also slowly lower your body from the top of the bar; these are called negatives, and they help increase your strength.
Pushups – Pushups are another upper body and core muscle builder. Again, you can add weight to them when you’ve mastered the pushup. You can also do them from your knees if you don’t have the strength to do a traditional pushup just yet.
Thruster – The thruster is a movement that combines a front squat with a push press. With the bar held in front of you in your front rack. You squat just as you reach standing you push the barbell overhead. Do ten of these with a moderate weight and you’ll feel the burn.
What About Abs?
You might have noticed there are no abdominal movements listed above. That’s because we’re talking about compound movements and each one of the movements we’ve discussed works your abs and your back muscles. However, if you want that six pack, you can also do sit-ups on the floor. You can add weight to the movement or ask your gym to show you how to use the GHD (Glute Hamstring Developer) apparatus to work your abdominals and back muscles.
Getting Started – Don’t Be Afraid Of Free Weights and Barbells
We’ve already talked a bit about getting comfortable with free weights and barbells. If you aren’t in the market to buy your own set of weights (and you can generally buy them used for a good price) then consider joining a gym.
If you join a gym, get a tour and ask about the rules. Some gyms require a spotter for movements like the back squat and bench press. Make friends or work out with a friend so you always have a spotter. You might also consider signing up for a personal training session and tell them your goals.
Keep in mind that your goal is to build muscle mass so anyone that tells you to do tons of reps at a low weight isn’t helping. Also make sure you know the proper form for each movement. You can learn by watching video tutorials online or take a weight lifting foundations course. Good form prevents injuries and helps you maximize the movement.
You’re not going to see results if you only strength train once a week. The key to building muscle mass is to develop a schedule that has you working your muscles on a regular basis. That includes a day or two of cardio and some time off to let your body simply rest. A sample schedule might look like this:
-Day 1: Upper Body – Bench Press, Shoulder Press, Pushups and/or Pull-ups (Choose one or two movements and focus on those)
-Day 2: Lower Body – Squats, Deadlift, Lunges (Choose one or two movements and focus on those)
-Day 3: Cardio – Run, jump rope, swim, cycle, dance, row.
-Day 4: Upper Body – Focus on movements you didn’t perform on Day 1
-Day 5: Lower Body – Focus on movements you didn’t perform on Day 2
-Day 6 – Cardio
-Day 7 – Rest
Keep track of your weights. For example, if you begin strength training and you’re working out with an empty barbell for your shoulder press, try adding a small amount of weight the second week you’re working out.
You might be surprised to see that you’ve already gained a bit of strength. Also keep in mind that some days are going to be better than others. Poor diet, poor sleep, and stress can all have an impact on performance. Stay strong and be persistent and patient.