The smartest way to train and/or diet is to do as little as is required to get results. Don’t feel like you’re slacking- the body adapts and you will need to dig deeper at some point. And eating a lot less or training a lot more will backfire and take you off track at some point. With consistency and patience, you can reach your goals and find a nice balance to maintain your hard-earned health and new physical abilities. I am a competitive bodybuilder, so I take the process a little farther, but the principles are the same. However, I don’t ever think that what I’m doing in the gym is any sort of “beast mode”. I do what Coach Alberto programs for me to do each week. Despite what my pictures may lead one to believe, I did not get younger as the years went by. My joints and connective tissues are at least 54 years old – possibly older considering how creeky I feel some days! My program is based on the principles my friend Colin describes in this article. To read Colin’s other articles in this series, look under the “Guest Blog” category in the menu on the right. ~ Tammy
In my previous blog I went over some tips on how to get started with weight training if you are in the beginning stages. Today I want to go over some more advanced topics of training. This will be an article for you to reference back to once you’ve been training consistently for a handful of months and the “newbie gains” have started to slow.
As I previously mentioned when you’re new to training it doesn’t take a lot to start seeing some decent results from your training. Just show up consistently, do the work and your body is going to change (it’s that pesky consistency part that usually stops people from seeing any real results.) So in the beginning life is good. You’re showing up, you’re building muscle and your body composition is changing. You just keep showing up and you’re rewarded for you efforts.
What happens though, when your body is no longer changing? Fast forward a year down the road, you keep working out hard but you’re just not seeing improvement. You are working just as hard as you were before, why aren’t you changing anymore? It’s because your body has adapted to the stressors you’ve given it. It can handle everything you throw at it with ease now, so it has no reason to adapt any further. (It’s also worth mentioning that results WILL slow down the longer you train, even if you are doing things “right.”)
You see, in order for your body to change it must adapt to what it’s doing. Yes, adaptation is a GOOD thing. Your body adapting to what you’re doing is what facilitates change. The thing is, once your body has adapted, it needs a new training stimulus to further advance. So in the beginning you want your total volume to be relatively low (volume is simply sets x reps x weight) and it should continually increase over time. This is called progressive overload which basically states that your body will not change unless it’s forced to adapt to a tension above what it’s currently used to. So for your body to continue to change over time you must be doing more volume over time as well.
Now volume is extremely important when it comes to building strength and muscle. It’s most likely the most important part of training, however, that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing that comes into play. Other things such as time under tension, metabolic stress and muscle damage are all factors for muscle-building. The problem is, many people place those things things ahead of total training volume and that’s a mistake.
For instance, a lot of people like training to failure on every set of exercise because it will create a lot of muscle damage and metabolic stress. While it’s true training to failure does have its place, if you do it too frequently, it will significantly reduce your training volume. Just think about it. Say you are doing 3 sets of 10 reps on bench press. Perhaps you can normally do about 100 lbs for 10 reps before failing. If you take your first set to failure and get all 10 reps and fail trying to get an 11th you will be really fatigued for you next set. So on your second set you may only get 6 reps. Now you’re extremely fatigued for your 3rd set and can only get 4. You’ve now done a total of 20 reps at 100 lbs for a total volume of 2000 lbs (remember volume is sets x reps x weight used so in this case it’s 3x20x100.)
Now let’s say instead of training to failure you leave a rep in the tank. You do your first set to 9 reps and since you haven’t fatigued yourself so bad you are able to get 9 reps for all three sets. Now you’ve done 2700 lbs of volume, 700 lbs more than when you were going to failure or 35% more total volume. Certainly with training to failure you’ve created more stress and muscle damage, but you’ve significantly sacrificed the most important aspect of training to do so – volume. This is why I don’t like to put a limit on rest periods as well. Longer rest periods have actually been shown to produce greater results in hypertrophy (essentially muscle-building) than shorter rest periods and I’d personally contribute that to being able to move more total volume with the extra rest. (1) Obviously not everyone can spend several hours in the gym nor do you have to, but the point is volume is important and it’s not smart to sacrifice volume where you can help it.
One question I get frequently is if volume is so important and is the key to strength and muscle gains, why wouldn’t you just go out and do as much volume as possible? Quite simply it’s because if your body isn’t used to high volume, the chance for injury becomes high. Plus if you start with high volume, even if you get lucky and don’t get injured, see tremendous progress, but now you’ve set your volume threshold high. To see further progress, you’ll have to do even more volume to see better results again.
So while you want to continue to see volume increase, you want to progress at a reasonable rate. Basically, the less volume you can do while still seeing results the better off you’ll be down the road. (I hope you’ve been paying attention through this series because that’s been a pretty common theme throughout.)
This is why I strongly suggest keeping some sort of training log so you can look back at what you’ve done and make sure you’re continuing to see progress going in the right direction. Plus, it’s fun to look back at how far you’ve come. Especially when you inevitably get to a point where you feel like things aren’t working, it can be a real boost in morale to see how much progress you really have made.
Okay so that’s the article for today. The main takeaway from this should be that in order to continue building muscle over time you have to continually do more work over time. Your body will adapt to what you give it, and if you never give it a reason to adapt to a new stress it will never have reason to make further change. If what you’re doing right now is producing results by all means keep it up, just realize that eventually it won’t be enough.
If you are looking for more information from me you can follow me on Facebook and you can also download this free guide to help give you some direction. This will also put you on my email newsletter where you will get daily emails for a little motivation, guidance, and possibly a small kick in the rear from time to time… Warning – I tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. So if you are sensitive you may want to pass. But if you’re serious about changing your life and taking ACTION, you should love it.
Lastly if you’re ready for change RIGHT NOW and want to take the guess work out of it, I am accepting clients for both training and/or nutrition help. If you’re looking for coaching just head here and choose the option you would like. I’d love to help you reach your goals!