The list of training approaches is on-going and can be confusing even to an experienced gym goer.

People are often confronted with the same questions – Heavy or light weights? High reps or low reps?  How long to rest for in between sets? Isolation exercises or compound exercises? When answering these common questions about training it is important to understand body’s muscle building process and remember to keep your training as simple as possible.

BIOCHEMISTRY OF MUSCLE BUILDING PROCESS

The human body has one primary goal- which is to survive. In order to achieve this goal the body will adapt remarkably well to the stimulus provided to continue to survive. As muscle mass weighs more than fat mass, it costs the body more calories to maintain muscle than it does fat. It is important to understand this because the body sees muscle as a liability, the body does not care for your goals of achieving less fat and more muscle.  During a weight lifting session, you are challenging your body to its maximum and forcing your body to realise that it has insufficient muscle reserves to survive the stimulus provided (workout). The body is now aware that if it wants to survive the demands of your workout it needs adapt and thus the process of muscle growth begins. At any given time your body will be in an anabolic or a catabolic state.

The anabolic state is when your body builds tissue faster than it breaks it down.

The catabolic state is when your body breaks tissue down faster than it builds it.

Essentially you need to be in an anabolic state in order to boost muscle growth.

Anabolism and Catabolism are largely regulated by hormones. The hormone cortisol (catabolic hormone your body releases due to physiological or psychological stress) is chiefly responsible for catabolism, therefore, cortisol output should be kept at a minimum.

THE MAIN ANABOLIC HORMONES ARE:

  • TESTOSTERONE – Informs muscle cells to go into an anabolic state
  • GROWTH HORMONE – Stimulates growth and cell reproduction and regeneration
  • INSULIN – Causes cells to take up glucose and amino acids from the blood store

EXERCISE AS A TRIGGER

Progressive resistance training is the most efficient form of exercise used to drive the body into building muscle.  This is achieved by high intensity and short duration training which causes your body to secrete the desired anabolic hormones such as testosterone. Training with low intensity and long duration can cause your body to release the hormone cortisol which can result in a catabolic state, where the body uses muscle or other tissue as an energy source whilst storing fat. This is the mechanism the body uses in order to survive bouts of long exhaustive effort.  Let us have a look at an example:  The picture below compares two people who do the same sport- running but two people who do not train the same. A marathon runner on the left whose training regime is low intensity for a long duration of time and on the right is a sprinter who trains with high intensity for a short duration of time. With the aforementioned process and the example given let’s get into the fun stuff about training.

TECHNIQUE (FORM)

It’s not about throwing the weights around, with correct technique and movement you will achieve the best results. If you are moving up in poundage’s and it is too heavy – do not sacrifice your technique in order to lift the weights, this can lead to injury and you will not see many gains. Technique is key and the first thing to think about when training.  For beginners the use of manageable weights is important to gain confidence in weight training and to learn proper technique.

FREQUENCY AND DURATION

30 minutes for a beginner and 60 minutes as you gain experience is ample time. If you spend longer than 60 minutes in the gym you are either talking too much, overtraining or not training with sufficient intensity.   Training 3 days per week with 3 exercises per muscle group is ideal. If you want to train more than 3 days a week, split the muscle groups into different days, do not exercise each muscle group more than once a week.

INTENSITY AND REPS

The intensity of your workout is crucial to stimulating muscle growth. Overload the muscle and train to failure until you cannot perform another rep with the correct technique.  It is better to focus your time and energy correctly by training with heavier weights and fewer repetitions than trying to achieve absolute failure by using a lighter weight with higher reps.

The ideal rep range would be between 6-10 with maximum intensity. If you cannot reach 6 reps with proper technique then you need to drop your weights. If you reach 10 reps with ease you need to increase your weights. Remember your last rep of a set should be the most challenging and progressively overload your muscle by increasing your weights whenever possible (even by 0.5kg) as this stimulates hypertrophy.

“The last few reps is what makes the muscle grow. This area of pain divides the champion from someone else that is not a champion. That’s what most people lack, having the guts to go on and just say they’ll go through the pain no matter what happens.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

SETS

3 – 4 sets per exercise should be performed before moving on to the next exercise for a particular body part. For example, your chest (pectoral) workout could be as follows:

  • Flat bench press – 4 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Incline dumbbell press – 4 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Wide grip dips – 3 sets of 6-10 reps (add weight if necessary)

REST

The actual growth and recuperation of your muscle tissue happens when you are asleep, this is when the body hormones are secreted and proteins in your system are used to compensate for the stress of your work out on the muscles. A goods night sleep is imperative.

TOP TIPS

  • Set yourself a goal
  • Be consistent and patient -“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Being impatient is an athlete’s biggest threat. “Dedication weighs an ounce, regret weighs a ton”
  • Keep a tracking journal, this will help you track your progress and success and help you stay motivated as you begin to see results.
  • Regularly challenge yourself to lift more weights.
  • Seal the deal by backing your training with sound nutrition, sufficient protein intake (proteins are the most abundant and functional molecules in all living systems) and proper supplementation.