No matter what it is, everyone has to start somewhere! Cake making or bodybuilding, no one starts off at the top. To get to the top it takes dedication, consistency, experience and knowledge. It takes Knowledge gained by learning lessons through trial and error, knowing what works for you and having the patience to persevere when things get tough. Some people may be lucky and land on information that may save them time right away, however, most of us aren't and fall into the trial and error method of learning which in my opinion is much more fun.
In this article I’m going to talk about my top 5 things I wish I knew when I first started bodybuilding, when I first started training I was guilty of doing none of these and after witnessing it myself I know I’m not the only one!
These are basic but key fundamental things I think anyone picking up a weight with the intention to progress should know, be it competing in a bodybuilding show or just looking good in general these 5 tips should help you get the most from your hours spent pounding the iron in the gym.
1. The Importance of Nutrition
This is the single most important factor in your quest for physical greatness, without eating enough of the right foods at the correct times you will get nowhere, plain and simple! You can train as hard as you want for as long as you want with better form that an Olympic power lifter but without optimal fuel, your body cannot perform at an optimal level. The more serious you are about nutrition the more serious your gains will be. To start off you need to pay close attention to your macro-nutrients (proteins, carbs and fats) calories, and the times at which you’re ingesting your nutrients.
Protein is the only macro-nutrient that will repair damaged muscle tissue from weight training. Beginners should consume around 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight, protein provides essential amino acids that are used as the building blocks of muscle protein. You should consume your protein intake from lean sources like chicken, turkey, beef, fish, eggs and dairy. Keeping a steady intake of protein throughout the day can also help increase thermogenesis.
Carbs provide your muscles with glycogen to power you through your workouts and keep your muscles looking full and large. They also provide fuel for the central nervous system, enable fat metabolism and prevent protein from being used as energy.
The best type of carbs to have throughout the day are slower digesting carbs like whole grains, sweet potatoes, brown rice and oats. Also carb choices high in fibre will slow the rate of digestion thus keeping your insulin levels lower.
The single most important time to consume carbs is AFTER training. Since your body uses glycogen for energy during an anaerobic weight training workout, your glycogen stores will be depleted after hitting the weights. If you do not replace those burned carbs immediately after your training session, you're missing out on a great opportunity to increase your muscle growth and enhance muscle recovery and recuperation.
1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
Dietary fats are essential. Fats are your friend!! As fats are so calorie dense they are ideal for bodybuilders looking to add mass, which most of us are. Any time is a good time for fat. Fats make a delicious addition to any meal, and complete meals tend to have lower glycaemic indexes. Fats also keep you feeling full, they are ideal for breakfast and in between meals.
Fats come in various forms;
A great source of fat that has many benefits including lowering cholesterol, reduction in heart disease and healthy skin. Good sources of this type of fat are olive oil, almonds nuts, cashew nuts and avocados.
Like the monos (above), polyunsaturated fats are associated with raising good cholesterol and lowering bad cholesterol. These fats are usually liquid at room temperature and in the refrigerator. Good sources include corn, sunflower and soybean oils, walnuts, flaxseed and fatty fish which contain alpha-linoleic acid (ALA).
Saturated fats have got a bad rep but they have major advantages especially for bodybuilders, saturated fats aid in the incorporation of calcium into the skeletal system and most importantly saturated fats are great for testosterone production, enough said! Eat your steaks, eat your egg yolks and cook them in coconut oil for maximum growth. But always remember moderation, as these are very calorie dense foods.
Trans fats start out as mono or polyunsaturated fats, but they are altered when they go through a process called "partial hydrogenation". Unfortunately, the formerly good qualities of the original fats are reversed, and trans fats raise bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, raise your risk of stroke and heart disease, and even developing diabetes. These fats are to be avoided at all costs.
2. Using Correct Form
As beginners we have all fallen custom to this one from time to time - "ego lifting" - using a weight that is too heavy for us to perform the exercise effectively thus not gaining the full benefit of the exercise and wasting time. However you may look around the gym and see people conducting the same exercise with different form, this isn’t to say one of them is wrong. The reason for this is everyone has different biomechanics, bone lengths, muscle lengths, different alignments of our spine and pelvic structure, this is why someone’s form may not look the same as the next guys.
There is no more important thing than feeling the muscle work at the target area. If you are stable, your body is correctly aligned and you feel the mind muscle connection working the target area then you are using your correct form, even if it’s not text book it still works!!
3. SQUAT! SQUAT! SQUAT!
As a beginner, power movements like the squat and deadlift should be the bread and butter of your training programme. Building a solid strength base should be your foundation before you move onto isolation exercises.
The strength and development needed to squat a heavy weight will build bigger arms faster than focusing on biceps and triceps training with isolation exercises. Even though squats are primarily a leg exercise, they stress and stimulate the entire body especially the legs, hips and back which will translate into being able to handle greater weights in arms, shoulder and chest exercises.
As the squat uses pretty much every muscle in the body including the core, it’s a great exercises for sculpting those abs. It’s also very taxing on the body, thus increasing your metabolic rate and keeps you burning fat for longer. If you are doing a long leg workout i.e. an hour or more, it may be beneficial to think about an intra-workout drink.
4. Keeping your Workouts Varied
It is important to vary your workouts and exercise choice for a number of reasons.
Can you imagine doing the same exercises for the same body part week after week, you’re going to get bored very quickly and in turn the motivation you once had developed, that dream physique you've always wanted is going to take a massive dip and training will become a chore. After a period of your body will quickly adapt to a routine and you will reach a plateau, you will also burn fewer calories as your body becomes custom to the workout and becomes more efficient.
All you need to do is periodically change your workout to challenge your body in a way that it’s not used to. Your body will have to work harder as it adjusts to the new activity. Keep your muscles guessing and they will keep growing.
There are several ways in which we can do this;
- Increasing weight for lower reps
- Increasing volume
- Intensity, adding super sets
- Drop sets, rest pause sets etc. etc.
There are plenty of ways to change up your workouts just use your imagination and you will keep growing.
5. Rest is Vital
When people tell you "you don’t grow in the gym" they are completely 100% correct, the only time your body grows is when you are resting. So unless you want to waste the blood, sweat and tears you pour out in the gym, rest is vital! While we sleep, we go in and out of four phases of sleep. This is known as the "sleep cycle" and is very important to the bodybuilder since this is the time at which the body releases the growth hormone. Not getting enough sleep can be responsible for decreased energy levels, decreased testosterone levels and decreased growth hormone levels all of which will have detrimental effects on your training and your body’s ability to grow new muscle. A bodybuilder requires more sleep than the average person because of the stress the body is put through after every weight training workout, shoot for a MINIMUM of 6 hours sleep a night to keep your hormone levels functioning properly.
It is also important to include rest days into your routine to prevent over training. Your body uses these days to repair and rebuild muscle and connective tissue. Over training will ultimately lead to an injury, slowing your muscle building progress even further. Since you are placing a tremendous amount of stress on the muscles and nervous system each and every training workout, allowing enough time in between workouts is critical. Another way of combating this is to add in light days here and there to give your joints and nervous system a break from the heavy lifting.