This week's blog is another guest article from strength and conditioning expert Ryan Thomas (@Uncle_muscle_ ). He wants to tell everyone 5 muscle building tips he wishes that he knew 10 years ago. So if you've been struggling for size, or are new to bodybuilding and want to start the right way, then read on.
1. Time Under Tension (TUT)
A recent study conducted by Morton et al. (2016) has completely shaken the world of fitness and bodybuilding! Forget following the 'Bro science' of old where we were told to 'lift heavy to get big' and discover a new blueprint of packing on lean muscle mass. The study concluded that high repetitions (volume) with a moderate weight (load) produced greater gains in muscle mass and fat loss. This is also supported by Burd (2010), who suggests ‘low-load high volume resistance exercise is more effective in inducing acute muscle anabolism than high-load low volume or work matched resistance exercise modes’. Before you start picking up the 2 KG dumbbells with the intention of getting massive Burd suggested that the load needs to be 30-60% of your 1 rep max and performed for three sets until failure (20-25 reps). For example: If your squat 1 rep max is 140 KG, you would drop the load down to 42-84 KG and perform 24 reps at volatile failure.
The trigger for this stimulus is time under tension. Within a 2012 article published in the Journal of Physiology, it was discovered that muscles exposed to longer time under tension experienced a greater degree of protein synthesis (the repair and regrowth of the muscles) (Edgley, 2018). Therefore if you are cringing at the thought of performing 24 reps for every set in every workout, for eternity, why not try a slower eccentric (lowering) phase? A good start would be to get yourself a metronome app and perform 2-3 seconds eccentric on each exercise and work until failure. You will be surprised how quickly that ‘moderate’ weight will turn into a heavy one!
2. Intermittent Fasting (IF)
Intermittent fasting (IF) has exploded in popularity within the fitness industry over the past 3 years and this is unsurprising, with the host of benefits countless studies have unearthed. IF is the process of switching back and forth between predetermined periods of eating and not eating. IF boasts a ton of benefits, particularly an increase in testosterone and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) production. Paulson (p.8, 2014) states:
‘Placing your body in a fasted state will cause it to secrete a hugely increased amount of both growth hormone and testosterone… This will add lean muscle at an accelerated rate.. This is awesome as you build muscle rapidly and muscle raises you metabolic rate, meaning you burn additional fat.'
Win win if you ask me. A large population of IF users opt for the 16/8 method, where you place your body in a fasted state from 9 pm the previous night up until 1 pm the next day. A large majority of the fast is spent asleep so it makes it fairly easy to not eat during this time. Others opt for 1 fast day per week, supplementing with MCT oil and BCAAs to sustain hunger pangs. The fast can include consumption of non calorific drinks so I would suggest getting yourself a large coffee mug!
3. High Intensity Interval Training
High intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a form of training that involves alternating between intense bursts of activity and less intense activity or sometimes complete rest. This can literally be carried out anywhere using weights, bikes, parks, or even in your back garden on your own. The beauty about HIIT is in its intensity, the working phase of this training is maximal effort, e.g. a 20 second sprint followed by a 40 second jog/walk (rest). In the gym this may look like drop sets, super sets and going beyond fatigue.
HIIT may not be the most effective workout routine to build lean muscle mass, however HITT can help preserve or retain lean muscle mass. Perry et al (2008) suggests HITT promotes higher levels of fat burning and muscle building when compared to traditional steady state exercise. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published recent work showing that HIIT can actually increase testosterone levels, as opposed to steady state cardio that will do the polar opposite! The best part about this form of training is that it only takes 20 minutes to burn fat and build lean muscle. How long was your Game of Thrones episode again? Get your stopwatch out and get moving!
4. Perform Compound Exercises
We have all heard the saying 'don't skip leg day' and everyone loves a good chest, back and arm pump. This could not be more prevalent than in the case of piling on lean muscle mass, straight from the most muscular man’s mouth:
"The most effective exercises for stimulating muscle growth are multi jointed movements like the squat, bench press, deadlift, chin-up and dip"
- Dorian Yates, 2018
Musnick & Pierce (2004) second this and believe training large muscle groups more than any other exercise are responsible for a huge increase in the release of growth hormone & testosterone, and we already know what those muscle building bad boys can do!
The big lifts are a great starting point of any workout, however to ensure full muscle stimulation you must not neglect using smaller isolation movements.
'To fully tax the length of any given muscle, you should perform both a basic compound movement and an isolation movement' (Edgley, p.208, 2018).
So get away from those bicep curls, go compound (pull up/dip) for a stimulus and use isolation (curls/pull downs) to provide stress at either the full stretch or the peak contraction of the movement.
5. Nutrient Timing
Supplementation is huge in the bodybuilding industry. So much so that there are thousands of supplements out there that claim to give you the body like Arnold and a face like Denzel! However selecting the right supplementation to suit your needs is the first stage, it is the timing of your supplementation that can have the most dramatic impact when it comes to building lean muscle. Ivy (2004, p.7) states ‘…that If you’re able to deliver the right nutrient mixture to the muscles at the right time, you can greatly enhance recovery from exercise and improve muscle growth, strength and power.’ Not only do supplements assist in recovery but they also can help prevent muscle waste during a workout by blunting the rise of cortisol (a hormone that stimulates muscle protein breakdown).
The Importance of Simple Carbohydrates
Ivy and Portman (2004) recommend supplementing with a carbohydrate drink during exercise to blunt the rise of cortisol, limit suppression of the immune system and prevent inflammation and muscle damage by 50%. Maltodextrin is the ideal choice of carbohydrate as it sits high on the glycemic index and will be rapidly absorbed to produce a high insulin response.
Post Exercise Metabolic Window
We all know that guy who shoves 4 scoops of protein in his post workout shake! Yeah he will maybe use 20-30 g of that protein if he’s lucky and it may be as effective as doing half of a workout. Ivy and Portman (2004) believe that we all have a metabolic window that is open for 45 minutes post workout, give or take. They also believe that if we miss this golden opportunity we risk potentially reducing both protein synthesis (building muscle) and glycogen replenishment (refueling the muscles for your next workout). In order to see significant gains, Ivy and Portman (2004) recommend a whey protein/carbohydrate supplement in liquid form with the amino acids leucine and glutamine for muscle repair and recovery. They also recommend supplementing with Antioxidant vitamins C & E to blunt free radicals and protect the immune system.
If I could add a sixth it would be rest and recovery.
“Training at maximum intensity is good thing, but too much can be detrimental. Eventually your nervous and adrenal system would burn out and you would become grossly overtrained” (Edgley, 2018, p.209).
Active rest days and scheduled de-loads are recommended for those of you who can’t imagine not exercising every day. Plain and simple, a de-load is a short planned period of recovery; you take your training slightly lighter, maybe workout a little less, and generally just ease things back. A typical de-load will last a week and is scheduled in every 4 weeks of a given training program.
Written by Ryan Thomas (Instagram: @Uncle_muscle_)
Burd, N., West, D., Stapes, A., Atherton, P., Baker J., Moore, D., Low-Load High Volume Resistance Exercise Stimulates Muscle Protein Synthesis More Than High-Load Low Volume Resistance Exercise in Young Men.
Edgley, R (2018) The World’s Fittest Book: How to Train for Anything & Everything, Anywhere & Everywhere. London: Sphere.
Hopper, A., Haff, E., Barley, O., Joyce, C. and Lloyd, R. (2017) Neuromuscular Training Improves Movement Competency and Physical Performance Measures in 11–13-Year-Old Female Netball Athletes: Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 31 (5) pp.1165-1176.
Ivy, J. and Portman, R. (2004) Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition. USA: Basic Health Publications.
Paulson, P.(2014) Intermittent Fasting 101: A Simple Guide to Losing Fat, Buiding Muscle & Becoming an Alpha Male. USA: ICG testing.
Perry, CG., Heigenhauser, GJ., Bonen, A and Spriet, LL. (2008) High-intensity aerobic interval training increases fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities in human skeletal muscle. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 33(6) pp. 1112-23.