OK, so we’ve discussed a lot of cardiovascular exercises on the blog already and I figured it was time to step it up a notch and start talking about some bodybuilding exercises. Today’s topics will include some basic bodybuilding exercises as well as important tips for people to use if they’re just getting started with working all of their muscle groups or for the folks who have been bodybuilding for a while and need a few extra pointers to take things to the next level.
I figured the beginning of the article was as good a place as any to discuss protein supplements and eating correctly when you’re pushing your body to its limits. Body building shouldn’t be easy. And if it is, chances are you aren’t doing it correctly. Keeping your body not only hydrated, but fueled with the right types of food while you’re exercising is not only important to your overall health, it’s important for rebuilding injured muscles when you’re done working out.
I highly recommend drinking a protein supplement before and after your workout so that your body has the essential protein it needs to help rebuild muscle tissue during your workout and after when you make it home from the gym. If you haven’t had the chance to read the article yet, I did a blog post not too long ago outlining what protein does for the body and my favorite brands of protein supplement to use when you’re working out. With that said….
When Should You Eat Protein?
There’s a window of time before and after every workout that your body is primed to accept protein and nutrients to use to repair itself after rigorous exercise. This is known as an anabolic window. About 30 minutes before you head to the gym, prepare yourself a protein dense meal or protein shake so that your body has plenty of fuel on hand to use at the gym. The same 30-minute window exists after your workout and is exactly when you should put more protein into your body to help repair muscles even faster. While it won’t hurt you to consume protein throughout the day to help with muscle repair, the optimal time to get it into your body is right before and after you hit the gym.
The Basic Process
Contrary to popular belief, hitting the gym on a daily basis won’t build muscle as quickly as you’d think it would. The body building process consists of three very essential steps; Working out, eating right, and resting. If you don’t do them in the correct order or in the right amounts, you can not only seriously injure yourself, you will also end up with undesirable results. Some of the side effects of working out too hard or not taking a break after a hard day at the gym include:
- Trouble sleeping: Insomnia is a common problem among body builders. Because you’ve worked your body so hard consecutively without giving it time to rest, it feels as though it’s in an “always on” mode, which can lead to trouble sleeping at night when you actually want to get some rest.
- Lower immunity: Another huge downside to working out too hard is decreased effectiveness with your immune system. Your immune system helps keep your body protected from diseases and the common cold. Without letting your body rest after a workout you’re putting yourself at a much higher risk of getting sick with the cold, or worse.
- Decreased muscle size: If the above two side effects weren’t bad enough, you can also decrease the size of your muscles by working them too hard. While it may seem counterintuitive, your system tries to save your body from itself by decreasing muscle size to help prevent fatigue. If nothing else, smaller muscles from working out too hard should be enough of an incentive to not workout according to the basic process.
The Warm Up
The first step to working out and hitting the gym hard is to start slow. I can’t tell you how many times I see people in the gym walking straight through the doors and heading over to the big weights to start their workout. Although you may already be “built,” I can’t think of anything more damaging to your body than to head straight for an extreme workout without first warming your body up.
Here’s what I recommend doing to get your body ready for a workout at the gym. The tips can obviously differ for everyone, but this is my personal warmup technique.
- Treadmill: While you may not be planning on doing any cardio at the gym, warming up on the treadmill is still a good idea. I’ll put it on a medium-paced jog for about 15 minutes just to get the blood pumping and to help me get a bit of a sweat going. While I’m jogging I like to take that time to stretch my arms and shoulders out so that I’m loosened up when it’s time for me to hit the weights. Be careful not to burn all of your energy away while on the treadmill though. Like I said, try to stick to 15 minutes at the start of your gym routine so that you’re plenty rested for some harder exercise.
- Light weights: When I finally make it to the weight room at the gym, I like to start out with some small weights to get things going. It’s always a good idea to start out by lifting lighter weights to help get your muscles accustomed to the idea of lifting weight to begin with. Lifting 10 pound weights for 10 or 15 minutes gets your arms ready for the big time and will ensure that you’ve had a good warmup and are ready for a proper workout. Obviously, if you’re already lifting 50 and 60 pound free-weights, you’ll want to warm up with something a bit larger than 10 pounds to jolt your arms into a “Oh, we’re working out now” state.
Another common misconception held by newcomers to the bodybuilding field is that the number of repetitions you do is more beneficial than the actual weight you’re lifting. It doesn’t really matter how many times you can lift a 10 pound weight if you’re not making progress towards heavier weight to begin with. I recommend picking a comfortably heavy weight that’s “just out of your reach” in terms of weight and working towards being able to knock out 5 or 6 repetitions with a particular exercise with that weight.
Fewer repetitions on heavier weights is the way to build muscle mass, not repeatedly lifting lighter weights more and more times. All you’re doing in that case is getting your body used to lifting a particular weight, not encouraging it to grow and get stronger.
- Be careful: I can’t say this enough. Be careful when you’re pushing yourself to get heavier weight sets. It’s easy to overestimate your own strength when you start moving up the weight ladder. Try 5 pounds just above a weight that you know you can manage to see how you feel about adding more weight. It’s good to build up incrementally than to start with a huge jump in weight that your body may not be ready for.
- While I won’t recommend rushing through all of the different weight classes that there are at the gym, I will say that you should always be working towards heavier weight classes over the course of your gym going time. By not pushing your body harder and harder over a gradual time frame, it will get used to the weight you’ve been applying and your muscles will loosen themselves up as you get “stronger.” If you don’t continually move towards larger and larger weights, your muscles will get lazy and will slowly get out of growth mode and into a relaxed state instead. Keep moving forward, but don’t overdo it.
When to Stop
“If I go to the gym and push myself as hard as my body will go and then stay there all afternoon, my muscles will get bigger, faster.”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I cringe every time I have to step into a gym and see new body builders in there trying to strut their stuff and prove a point to the people around them to show that they’re the strongest and are getting the most out of their workouts. Staying in the gym LONGER doesn’t produce BETTER results.
It isn’t an entirely scientific term, but your muscles go “numb” after working themselves into the ground and even though you can continue to lift heavier weights, you’re actually doing damage to yourself by not stopping and resting to give your body time to heal and make progress towards better muscle toning. When you’re hitting the weights, the best advice I can give to anyone is to stop just before you think you can’t take anymore. Pushing yourself over the cliff is too late, but if you stop before you roll off the edge, you’ve done the best you can. What I mean by “stopping before it’s too late” is that when doing reps, don’t just simply push until you can’t push anymore. Quit while you’re ahead and you’re feeling the burn, but you don’t feel exhausted. It’s good to leave the gym with a little bit of ache in your body, but not pain.
Need More Convincing?
By pushing your body too far, you can actually end up moving backwards through your workout routine, not forwards. If your body gets too exhausted too often, it will eventually slow down considerably and you’ll notice your progress actually moving backwards, with you only being able to lift smaller and smaller weights. And if your ultimate goal is to get stronger, being able to lift less and less is definitely counterproductive.
Just like anything, your body expects change on a regular basis to prevent itself from getting “bored.” Plateaus, as they’re called in the body building world, are points in time where your body has worked itself as much as it can in a certain area and it is now used to the exercise routine you’re doing. When your body hits a plateau, progress will slow down to a halt and won’t be able to move forward any more. The key to avoiding these types of plateaus is to change your workout on a regular basis.
I recommend changing things up at least once a week. You don’t have to make huge changes to make a difference. Changing the amount of time you rest in between sets is a good way to make a change, as it pushes your body to work harder in a shorter period of time. You can also reorder the way you do things when you get to the gym. You could put free weights at the end of your workout instead of at the beginning, or even throw in a post-weight cardio workout to keep things fresh.
You don’t have to change your entire workout routine every week, but keeping the surprises for your body coming is the best way to keep it growing. As soon as your muscle groups become too used to any one way of doing things, it will ultimately affect your progress at the gym.
If you really want to keep your body on edge and keep it moving up the ranks, any time you think you can handle taking on more weight, go for it. Obviously, don’t pack on the extra pounds onto the bar if you don’t think you’ll be able to do a decent amount of reps with it, but if changing your rep count and rest times isn’t producing the results you’d like, it’s time to increase the amount of weight you’re lifting with each press.
Get a Trainer
This one is probably a beginner’s tip, but I’m sure there are some seasoned veterans that could benefit from it as well. If you have some extra cash, I highly recommend getting a personal training session for a day or two. Go in and talk with someone about what your goals are and how you can achieve them. Then, learn a few different exercises from them that you can utilize to help you achieve those goals.
If you feel like you’ve been stagnant for a while or you’re not sure where to go next, a short session with a personal trainer can help you develop a workout routine that you can change up and make your own as time goes on. Learn some new exercises and some techniques and craft your own personal routine in the coming weeks. Like we talked about earlier in the article, you have to keep things fresh and new with your body, so adding some new tools to your arsenal is extremely beneficial.
Trainers can also help you work on form. It doesn’t matter how much weight you’re lifting if you’re lifting it incorrectly. See what a trainer says about how you should be lifting different weight sets and how you can get a better form to see better results.
Obviously, prices vary from gym to gym, but at my gym the prices for personal trainers are about $60 an hour. I recommend getting a 2 hour session every 3 months or so to get some new tips for your workout routine. If you can change things up drastically every few months, you’ll be on a much faster track to the body you’re looking for than if you simply watch other people around the gym continually perform their reps incorrectly and you end up copying them.
Here’s something you probably never thought about before. The clothing you wear to the gym actually has a big impact on how well you perform. Even though it may be summertime wherever you’re working out, wearing a long sleeve shirt with some sweat pants will help keep your body warm and prevent injuries in your joints. The warmer your body is, the more blood flow there is. Keeping your joints and muscles warm will help with the overall effectiveness of your workout and will help you from injuring yourself severely from the weather being too cold.
It’s probably important for us to mention that the “more is better” rule does not apply here. This means that if one long sleeve shirt is good, 4 long sleeve shirts must be even better. Don’t cover yourself in clothing to try and retain even more heat. Your body needs to sweat and it needs to eventually cool itself off. Keeping your body too hot could cause severe dehydration if you’re not careful. Wear proper gym attire and don’t go crazy trying to lose weight or accelerate your growth curve.
I discussed protein briefly at the start of this article, but I’d like to make another note about eating properly down here. It’s important that you have 5 or 6 meals a day when you’re body building seriously. Your body needs the energy and needs constant nutrition to repair important muscle groups so that you don’t wear yourself out quickly the next time you get to the gym.
Another tip I’d like to make sure makes it into the article is that drinking plenty of water is important. Not only does water help keep you hydrated, it helps eliminate toxins from your body that can often cause fatigue and sickness. Staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do when you start working out. I like to bring a gallon of water to the gym with me so that I always have water on hand and don’t have to leave my bench to head over to the water fountain (My gym is crowded and people often take benches if you get up even for just a second).
Resting deserves its own section since most body builders don’t ever take enough time to rest their bodies. Resting doesn’t mean taking a few hours off between workout sessions, it means RESTING. For serious body builders, you should take at least 2 full days off each week where you do no type of workout activity at all.
My favorite way to get a full workout in is to alternate days between cardio and body building workouts. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I’ll work on building up my strength by hitting the weights and on Tuesday and Saturday, I’ll do some cardio to keep myself working out and working other parts of my body. Notice that I’ve left Thursday and Sunday as rest days. It’s good to have rest days in the middle of your workout routines instead of back to back so that your body doesn’t get too used to being on “vacation.” It’s also more motivating when you don’t have two days to rest back to back and don’t feel like going to the gym on Monday morning after your restful weekend is over.
I can’t reiterate this enough. Stay hydrated. Bring a huge bottle of water with you to the gym so that you always have something by your side in between sets. Even though your body may not be sweating, it’s important to keep the water moving through your body. Your body needs and craves water throughout the day, and if you don’t drink enough of it while you’re working out, you could end up causing serious harm to your body.
No body building article would be complete without at least mentioning steroids. I’ve seen plenty of guys burn out on steroids well before they ever reached their desired muscle mass and end up in the hospital because of severe side effects associated with steroids. No one should ever take performance enhancing drugs to try and grow faster. Who are you trying to impress? Keep it clean and with the proper nutrition, your body can grow itself naturally and healthily, not through the use of damaging chemicals all for the sake of bigger arms.
Keep a Book
This was one of the most valuable tips I ever received when I first starting working out. Having a written log of what exercises you did and how many reps you achieved helps you stay motivated about going back to the gym again. By seeing your progress on paper you can follow how often you increased the amount of weight you were lifting, as well as how many reps you accomplished. I know that I really liked being able to look back through the book every few weeks to see how much progress I had made over such a short amount of time. It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re not seeing progress every day, but over time every little bit adds up.
This may not be a surprise to some, but many of the body building magazines you find on the store of your local book store are actually owned by the companies who make different nutritional supplements to help with your body building efforts. If you couldn’t guess already, they’re going to make sure that they’re pushing their own products in the magazines, which means that just about nothing you read in those magazines is true. If you pick up a magazine that has a famous body builder claiming that he gained a lot of muscle mass with a particular product, the chances of it being true are slim to none. Stay clear of these tricks. Hard work and dedication go a lot farther than a bottle of powder.
Another quick tip you can utilize to help you stay focused when lifting is breathing properly. When you’re lifting a weight, let out a deep breath. When you’re letting the weight back down to your chest, inhale again. Just breathe normally and try not to force it.
There’s a 30 minute time period after you workout that your body craves nutrients and food. This is what’s known as the “anabolic window.” Do your best to eat as much as you can during this period and get down a protein shake. Your body will soak up the nutrients to repair itself and get you ready for the gym in the next few days.
It’s a good place to end by recommending that you don’t hit the gym for body building on a daily basis. I like to alternate between cardio and body building so that I don’t wear myself out too quickly. Doing body building every day can lead to the fatigue that was mentioned at the start of the article and can lead to lasting consequences for your body. Stay healthy and don’t do it too much!
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