Packing on lean muscle mass requires a fine balance between workout intensity, workout duration, nutrition, and sleep. Here are some quick tips to help you balance your training regimen and maximize growth:
1) Overload principle and some basic physics.
As bodybuilders we know that muscle hypertrophy (growth) occurs as an adaptive response to the stress of resistance training. This is the basis of the overload principle, where you must progressively increase the stress stimulus over time to create a condition of overload significant enough to induce adaptation as hypertrophy. Once the body has adapted, you must increase the stress further to avoid simply maintaining or plateauing. This is where many beginners fail, as they use the same weights and exercises throughout the year and wonder why they don’t continue to grow.
Overloading your muscles requires incremental changes in work. In physics, work (W) is defined as force (F) multiplied by the distance (D), or W = F x D. In the most basic sense, this equation tells us that in an effort to progressively stimulate muscle growth by increasing work, we must either lift heavier weights (i.e., increase F) or increase the number of sets and reps (i.e., increase D). This equation is especially helpful when you keep a training log, so you can go back and estimate the total work completed over the course of your training and make adjustments when your muscular gains slow down.
2) Periodize and Put on Size
If you are incorporating the muscle overload principle (see No. 1) properly, then you are likely using a periodized plan. Periodization simply means organizing your training over the year with specific goals in mind for different blocks or periods (e.g., bulking, cutting). This is based on the scientific principle that you must shock and exhaust the body for it to adapt. In a recent issue of FLEX we discussed the muscle-building benefits of using linear periodization, which is simply training to failure over several months, progressing from a regimen of high reps using moderate resistance to one of lower reps using high resistance. Research has shown that linear periodization can increase muscular development and strength two times greater than other commonly used schemes.
Most bodybuilders tend to be very good at following a plan of action whether they are bulking or cutting. How you decide to set up your periodization depends on your goals for that period and your diet. For example, it would be difficult to consistently use high-volume training (high sets/reps, moderate resistance) if you are undergoing a ketogenic (zero-carb/ high-fat/high-protein) diet. In this case, you would be better off progressively adjusting resistance upward to increase workload. The key is to match diet to the training program.