Man, do I enjoy clanging heavy iron around in the weightroom -- a passion of mine that I had forgotten long ago. As I work toward my goal of weighting over 200 lbs by April (while staying under 10% bodyfat), I have been continuing to refine my program and find ways to keep the gains coming.
About 3 months ago, when I got really serious about building muscle, I weighed 175 lbs and I'm now sitting at an acceptably lean 192 lbs. I was never able to gain that quickly during my bodybuilding years in college. I think that is mostly because I am lifting and eating much smarter now. Back in the day, my training style was all ego -- throwing around more weight than I should have been and eating anything I could get my hands on. Now, I'm into controlled, focused lifting and a clean diet.
I'll elaborate on this more below as I outline some important adjustments I've made to my routine, which I believe have had a significant impact on my progress.
Vary the Rep Range: I've seen plenty of research lately showing that an important method to gaining size is to use a wide variety of rep ranges. I am currently doing 2 sets of 8-10 reps for each exercise and then often decreasing the weight by half and cranking out 50 reps for a third set. The idea is to hit the slow twitch (endurance) fibers, which are usually neglected by bodybuilders -- this helps create more muscle volume. I've also found it is also good to do really heavy sets of 5 reps every few weeks to shock the muscles and build strength. In addition, I do a fitness class called R.I.P.P.E.D., which involves a lot of high rep work with light weights. For me, such a wide range lifting types keeps the muscles adapting and growing.
Keep a Lifting Log: To really progress, you have to push yourself to do more weight or reps than you have done before. With so many exercises and variations, it is almost impossible to keep track of this in your head. I've actually found a smartphone app called Jefit, which is great for logging my workout.
Use Intensity Boosting Reps: After my second set, I always try to do something to boost the intensity of stress put on the muscle. One method is doing a few negative reps after failure -- I'll cheat the weight up or have a spotter help and then let the weight down very slowly. Negative reps (resisting the weight while lowering it) have been shown to induce as many, if not more, muscle fiber stimulation than the positive (lifting) portion of the rep. Another method for intensity is "rest pause", where I will set the weight down after reaching failure and wait for about 15 seconds, then pick it up and do more reps.
Only Use The Proven Supplements: I don't chase magic in a bottle. The bodybuilding supplement industry is ridiculously lucrative and people spend a ton of money with no noticeable payoff. The only truly proven supplements for muscle building are creatine and whey protein, both of which are quite cheap. In addition to those two, I also take Shakeology to keep me healthy.
Intermittent Fasting: Warning, this is very controversial! You would be hard pressed to find a trainer that would recommend it. In fact, some of my good trainer friends might give me a hard time for posting about this. However, in full disclosure, I'm trying it and have been rather pleased so far. The idea is that you fast for 12-16 hours a day and then eat your food for the day within the remaining window of time. Recent research has shown that when you fast for this long, your human growth hormone levels increase by up to 2000 percent! Proponents of Intermittent Fasting also claim your body learns to burn fat very efficiently in a fasted state, which goes against the generally accepted "starvation mode" theory. I remember always being scared that if I didn't eat every 2 hours, my body would burn muscle. According to the Intermittent Fasting community, this is not the case; fasting actually builds up your HGH levels, which primes your body for growth while burning fat. Then, when you do eat food, BOOM, serious muscle gains! As unconventional as intermittent fasting is, I decided it was worth a try -- as I like to try new things. Dr. Mercola is actually a big proponent of fasting -- his methods are sometimes a little "on the fringe", but he is usually right about a lot of things.
Anyhow, those are the refinements I have made in my training that I have found to be very beneficial. On another note, many people have asked my why I am not running anymore. I was a very dedicated runner for over 5 years, which led me to training hard for many races -- including 3 marathons. I am very thankful for my experiences as a runner; it was definitely an important and rewarding phase of my life. However, I reached a point where I decided it was time for different fitness goals. I rediscovered my passion for weight lifting, which life events had steered me away from 15 years ago. At this point, when I compare myself as a runner 2 years ago (left photo) to training more like a bodybuilder now (right photo), it has become clear which avenue suits me more.
Merry Christmas and thanks for reading my blog!