When joining a gym for the first time, the initial goal is usually to look better. Over time, you realise that the pursuit of loftier objectives such as lifting heavier weights is more satisfying than the endless striving for bigger muscles, less fat and more sex appeal. Deep down though, you never really lose that desire, even if it’s just so the people around you recognise that while you’ve started to get a little fluffier in your noble quest for strength, you still LOOK like you’re fit. You’re not, you’re strong, but you don’t need them to know that. As it turns out, the more muscle you grow, the stronger you get as well, so you can have your cake and eat it too, quite literally. If you want to cut down and worry about your ‘aesthetics’ at some point, then no, you can’t really have the cake. You may only indulge in sadness as you watch life’s culinary parade pass you by.
Rule number 1.
To grow more muscle you need more food. All the heavy lifting, brilliant technique and tertiary-level knowledge won’t help you if you don’t have enough food. Here’s where a lot of the conflict arises. There’s a myth that chicken, broccoli and rice are all that bodybuilders and muscular people eat. What they really eat is often everything. Eating enough food to grow muscle efficiently requires a bloody minded commitment to consumption. If you’ve been into Below Parallel lately, you’ll know that the sweet, buttery aroma of french toast permeates the gym most mornings. That’s because we understand that 6 pieces of french toast per day (after some cereal to stave off the worst of those early morning pangs) is what it takes to get off to a good start when you’re trying to fill a doorway. After breakfast and second breakfast, there’s elevensies, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper – AT A MINIMUM. There’s room to sneak a couple of snacks in there as well, if you’re really struggling with hunger.
Rule number 2.
Lift weights. The secret here is there’s no real secret. You can build muscle lifting weights in almost any rep range. Sets of 5? Building muscle. Sets of 30? Building muscle. The caveat here is that you have to aim to get close to failure. To do this with sets of 5, you’re lifting around 85% of your max, and that’s going to hurt. It’s going to wear out your Central Nervous System (CNS) pretty fast. You’ll get strong, but do it for too long and you’ll bust. 30 rep sets? You’re essentially doing 25 reps of bullshit in order to build up enough fatigue to force your brain to recruit the large motor units that control the large muscles we want to work. If you want some sweet science to read while you’re force feeding yourself following Rule Number 1, look up Chris Beardsley. Simple, smart, kind of a dorky photo, like a REAL scientist should. Solution? Somewhere around the 8-12 rep mark is manageable from a fatigue, time and intensity perspective.
Rule number 3.
Focus on the big stuff. Don’t spend 80% of your time focusing on 20% of your body. Don’t over isolate. If you’re benching and pressing a lot, you probably don’t need 2, 3 or 4 tricep accessories. Same with rowing exercises. Same with leg extension. You’ll build more muscle by adding some bicep and quad accessories, but if you’ve been rowing and squatting, it’s just icing on the cake of your physique, it’s not the actual cake. If I’ve learned one thing in my life, it’s that an amazing looking cake is a waste of everyone’s time if the cake that it’s built on is useless, flavourless sponge. Fuck that sponge.