Perhaps you have been working out for awhile, and you’re disheartened by the lack of results. You’re on a good time management routine, working out 3-4 times per week balancing work, life, and fitness. You’ve sweated. You’ve sacrificed. But something is missing when you look in the mirror. You may see Captain America staring back at you, but it’s Captain America before he was Captain America. You may notice some results, but you know it doesn’t relate to the work you’ve been putting in.
There is a right and a wrong way to gain muscle. Gaining muscle the right way begins by engaging in a consistent routine, so if you haven’t been working out 3-4 times per week, you can learn the proper way from the start to gain muscle without the heartbreak of lackluster results. However, if you do find yourself wanting more after a bout of consistent workouts, don’t lose heart. It’s never too late to begin gaining muscle the right way. You can make sure every workout counts.
To ensure that your muscles are getting the maximum benefit from a workout and you are gaining muscle the right way, follow these tips:
1. Eat the proper foods.
This tip may scare people more than any of the others, but it doesn’t have to. If you have the time and resources, registered dietitians can give amazing advice about how to structure your diet according to your fitness and health goals.
You can still make healthy diet choices based on some simple facts. Your diet should consist of foods including vegetables, fruit, protein, grains, and dairy. Make at least half of your grains whole grains to avoid too many processed foods. Drink more water than any form of drinks loaded with sugar. Your muscles need water to grow. Keep a close eye on foods like dried fruits and nutrition bars that are disguised as “healthy”. They are loaded with sugar and can be counter-productive.
Vitamins and minerals also help the body produce the needed hormones essential for muscle growth and development.
2. Eat the proper amounts of foods.
The amount of calories you consume should be directly related to your level of fitness and activity (i.e. a very active individual requires more caloric intake than a sedentary person). Your calories should be balanced. Enjoy your food, but avoid oversized portions.
3. Take care of your body.
Smoking implants carbon monoxide into your body. Your muscles will struggle to gain the necessary oxygen they need for energy and growth.
Drink alcohol moderately. This may surprise you, but beer is a fat-free beverage. It is fat-free, not calorie-free. Beer drinkers usually gain weight due to the fattening food normally consumed before or after drinking.
The majority of Americans don’t get enough sleep. Your muscles need to recover, and sleep is crucial. You also will not be able to workout as hard if you are tired.
5. Refuel your muscles.
Foods high in protein and carbohydrates should be eaten within 2 hours after a workout. After a workout session, your body is scrambling to convert glucose (sugar) to glycogen (stored sugar) so your muscles can grow and repair. Carbohydrates before a workout will help your muscles sustain longer bouts of energy. Carbs during a workout allow for longer training sessions. Carbs are the body’s preferred energy source. They will help you workout longer and gain more muscle.
Let your muscles recover. Sleep is the first step. Adequate time between working muscles groups is the next step. Broken down muscle fibers require 72 hours to fully heal. If you work your chest and triceps on Monday, don’t work them again until Thursday. Adequate protein can speed up recovery time. You should eat a gram of protein for every 2.2 pounds of body weight.
6. Do less cardio.
Too much cardiorespiratory training can take away the muscle you’ve been trying so hard to pack on. Cardio should never be eliminated completely, as it is crucial in melting away fat, but if you are having trouble gaining muscle, reduce the amount of cardio training and watch your muscles grow.
7. Mix up your routine and increase the weights properly.
You will gain muscle the right way only if you train them the right way. Mixing up your routine can be done by training your muscles in various ways. Don’t train only with isolation exercises. Include exercises that allow multiple muscles to work coherently. For example, if you are working your biceps, don’t just do curls (isolation), but try pull-ups (biceps, lats, etc.) as well. Also, you could spend one week doing isolation exercises and the next doing combination exercises.
Try combination exercises as well. Instead of simply doing a row (either on a machine or bent over), try a row mixed with a leg balance. Take the dumbbell on your right hand, bend your right knee slightly, and lift your left leg off the ground. Balance on your right side while rowing with your right arm. Keep your left (or free hand) close to a stable support in case you lose balance. Switch and try the left side as well. This add stability and mobility to your workouts.
When it comes to increasing the weights properly, there are recommendations to adhere to, and they are strictly based on your goals. If your goal, for instance, is muscle hypertrophy (larger muscles), your target amount of repetitions will be 6-12. You want to pick a weight that allows you to do 6-8 reps while feeling fatigued at the 8th rep. Keep in mind you will be doing 3-6 sets. Continue working out with this weight until you can get to 12 reps. Once this target is met, increase your weight 5% and move back to 6-8 reps until you can comfortably push 12 repetitions. Continue this process and you will gain strength the right way.
General muscle fitness > 1-2 sets > 8-15 reps
Muscular endurance > 2-3 sets > more than 12 reps
Muscular hypertrophy > 3-6 sets > 6-12 reps
Muscular strength > 2-6 sets > less than or equal to 6 reps
Power (single-effort events) > 3-5 sets > 1-2 reps
Power (multiple-effort events) > 3-5 sets > 3-5 reps
Whatever your training goals or level of fitness, engage in a regular fitness routine, follow these tips, and you will gain muscle the right way and see the results you desire.