|Image 1: You may call it "toning" or "shaping", but in the end it's bodybuilding in the literal sense.|
Gaining weight? Yes! Getting fat? No!
With that we have actually arrived at the very first of three key points, I promised to address in this issue (cf. end of last installment): effective ways to measure your progress. In the "weight loss installment" of this series you have already learned that other than the morbidly obese "King Size Homer", physical culturists and athletes who do not compete in weight-classes are ill-advised to step onto the scale too often.
|Figure 1: Lee Priest's transformation is certainly amazing, but let's be honest, do you really want to run around like Michelin man in the off-season and then have to resort to extreme measures to get back in shape for a few days, only? (comparison posted by "Tibo" at the SRTrading Forum)|
|Figure 2: Other than for the "pros" with their versatile arsenal of "weight loss tools", the journey of the dirtily bulking average self-proclaimed hardgainer is a one-way street.|
Bottom line: Do not rely on the scale too much. Yes, you want it to go up steadily, but faster weight gain does not automatically equate greater muscle gain. Keep a close eye on your waist circumference and decide a priori when (no matter how close you may be to your superordinate goal, e.g. "achieving 20" arms") you need to cut back on calories to avoid "adipolateral damage" ;-)
Taking stock also implies coming to terms with yourself
|Image 2: Just as when you are "dieting", the scale is not the best meter for your progress. A measuring tape, a notebook and a digital camera should be your tools of choice.|
In order to make a change you must initially objectively assess and accept where exactly you are standing in order to decide what you want to change and by which means you can achieve that. As long as you keep thinking of you and your body as disconnected units, you will never achieve whatever physique it may be that you are dreaming of. So, this kind of initial stock taking is way more than just setting the baseline reference. It is (at least for many trainees) also a matter of coming to terms with theirselves.
Bottom Line: You are your own yardstick. The figures on your measuring tape and your weekly progress pics are objective measures of your progress, which is defined against where you are coming from. 10" arms are an awesome achievement, if 8" where you are coming from!
Build on your strengths while working on your weaknesses
Start out with your strengths! What is that you like about your physique? What is your most developed muscle part? And if you are already training... ask yourself what it may have been that you have done right, here. I remember that I have always been pissed off that my legs appeared to grow like crazy, while my arms and "most importantly" (my perception at that time) my chest "just wouldn't grow". I looked at the figures and pictures and then peeked at my routine. "How on earth can my legs grow like that if I only train them once a week and do nothing like some warm ups on the leg extensions and some squats?" It was back then, when I eventually realized two things:
- Everybody has certain strong and certain weak body parts. Part of this is genetics. Especially if you have not reached your "full genetic potential", an even more important factor is however what you do in the gym, at work or in your free time. If you are carrying beverage crates all day, chances are that your "strong" body parts are your neck and your back, no matter if those are the muscle groups with the greatest genetic potential. If, on the other hand, you are like I once was and have a reasonable training plan for your legs (because people say that you have to train legs ;-), but are so eager to grow your chest and arms that you totally overtrain them, you must not wonder if you grow tree-trunk legs, whie your arms and chest shrivel away.
- Success comes from building on your strengths, and working on your weaknesses. It does not make sense to stop training legs, to "save the energy" for whatever other bodypart you feel is lagging behind. Not only will you run the risk that your former strength becomes your future weakness. You could also end up with two not one weaknesses by overtraining your weak and detraining your strong body parts.
|Image 3: Do you really think anyone would know Tom Platz, today, if he had decided to neglect his strength (obviously his legs)?|
Bottom line: Cherish your strengths and stop lamenting about your weaknesses. Analyze and build on what worked for you and acknowledge and learn from your own mistakes.
Hearing and listening to what your body is telling you
|Image 4: Cable crosses certainly cannot replace the bench or dips, but they allow you to practice to flex your chest against resistance.|
Sticking to what does not work, because people keep telling you that it does work is probably the most stupid and yet most common mistake I see in the gym.
If you read all the information in the "SuppVersity EMG Series", then you will be aware which exercises work best for the average trainee in the Boeckh-Behrens and Buskies study. You do not even know if these are also those exercises that work best for "the average trainee in general", but you can easily find out if these are the exercises that work best for you - and more importantly, if they are not, you should give a damn about how they rank in anyone's "Top List" (mine included!).
Bottom line: Never, I repeat, never(!) assume that what worked for someone else, or even the majority of the participants in a scientific study must also work for you. Listen to advice, build new routines based on scientific studies, experiment, but do not stick to a routine / exercise if, after 2 weeks, your body still keeps telling your that it ain't right for you.
Weight is important in weight lifting, posing is key in body+building
|Image 5: If you want to maximize muscle gains, posing - or rather learning to flex your muscles against resistance is obligatory (img Johnny Jackson)|
If there is one thing I want you take away about goal setting for muscle building from this installment of the Intermittent Thoughts then it is that your primary goal in the gym must always be to work the muscle against resistance and not to break personal records. Here lies a fundamental difference between weight lifting (as in O-lifting or powerlifting) and bodybuilding. As someone whose primary goal is to improve his physique, the lifting weights is only a means to a completely different ends.
If all you want is to build a bigger bench, fine! But don't expect to make similar gains as someone who understands that he is at the gym to work his muscles, not his ego. By practicing posing and doing what I like to call 1-2 "acclimatization sets" with ~50% of the weight you would use for 6-8 reps before every exercise, not as a warm-up but to memorize the movement pattern, to feel and flex the target muscle and to be able to transfer this pattern to your working sets, you will soon be able to decide which exercises are working for you, and which aren't.
Bottom line: You are not in the gym to move maximal amounts of weight, but to induce maximal muscular stimulation. This requires that you train your mind-muscle-connection and accept that the weights you are using are just a means to another end - the physique of your dreams. Remember: You increase your weights to keep challenging your muscle, and thusly to be able to record a new personal best in the notebook with your body measures, not the one where you keep track of your weights.
Although, I did not get totally side-tracked this time, I still have to postpone the scientifically based considerations of the implications of the biological underpinnings of skeletal muscle "hypertrophy" (and maybe hyperplasia), at which I have been hinting in yesterday's blogpost, to another installment of the Intermittent Thoughts.
Note, in view of the pictures I have been using in this part of the series, I may have evoked the false impression that these rules apply exclusively to "bodybuilders". This is however not the case. There is no fundamental difference between training "to look good naked" and training for the "Mr. Olympia", as far as the take-home messages from this installment of the Intermittent Thoughts are concerned. Flexing your muscles, "posing" and practicing the mind-muscle-connection for example could be even more important for the ladies who want to "tone" their physiques than for the skinny ectomorph whose primary goal is to "get big".For the time being, you would be well-advised to get yourself a measuring tape and a camera to take stock of where you are, physique-wise, to (re-)evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, to identify what worked for you and to get to know and learn to flex all the muscles in your body - and yes, there are more than biceps and chest, or chest and biceps ;-)