Ever since the first Greek Gods were chiselled out of stone in ancient times, it has been human nature for a lot of men to seek this aesthetic ideal through their training. However, too many men forget to equip themselves with the fundamentals and, no matter how hard they think they’re working-out, they never achieve their goal of a Herculean physique. That said, whether you’re just starting your muscle-building journey or have been lifting for years, below I’ve laid out the 10 most important bodybuilding tips to optimise your training and maximise your results.
Tip 1 – Set Clear and Realistic Objectives Every 3 Months
It’s well established that writing out clear objectives keeps you focused on your end goal and thus increases your chances of hitting them. In addition, resetting your targets every 3 months ensures that you’re adjusting your aims based on you progress to date. The most important aspect of goal setting however is making sure that your objectives are realistic and in line with your training experience. For example, if you’re in your first year of training, it is unrealistic to aim to be able to bench press, squat or deadlift your body weight within your first 3 months. However, a realistic goal might be to be able to master 10 strict wide grip pull ups or 20 push ups for example. As with most things, the key is to find the balance and to not set goals that are too overreaching or too easy to achieve.
Tip 2 – Develop the Right Training Plan and Stick to It
It’s also essential to create a training split that’s tailored to your goals. If you’re new to bodybuilding, it would be best to seek professional help when developing a plan from either a personal trainer or a strength and conditioning coach. If you’re an experienced lifter, you may have acquired enough knowledge over the years to create your own. The most important thing is to create a training plan that fits in with your weekly schedule and one that you enjoy engaging in. If either of these elements are missing, the programme won’t be sustainable, and you’ll have trouble sticking to it.
In addition, well formulated training plans are built around compound movements (those that use multiple muscle groups across multiple joints) such as the squat, bench press and deadlift. These exercises give you more “bang for your buck”. In addition, incorporating isolation movements (those that one muscle group across one joint) such as a bicep curl or leg extension will help pinpoint a certain muscle. Furthermore, the optimal number of sets and repetition range per exercise for muscle growth is about 3/4 sets and 6-12 repetitions respectively with the total number of sets per workout differing depending on training frequency. Rest periods should be limited to 60-90 seconds per set (Schoenfeld, 2010)
Tip 3 – Journal Every Workout
Another very important tip is to record and keep track of all your weekly workouts. The logic behind this tip is to monitor your progress. The reason why journaling is so important is because it records the specifics of each workout (something that can be easily forgotten by the following week) such as weight lifted and reps completed as well as how you were feeling that day, how many meals you had consumed and how much water you had prior to working out. It is essential to keep a log of all these details so as to ensure that you’re constantly improving in one way or another and moving closer to your end goal.
Tip 4 – It’s all About Frequency
Optimal training frequency is a central building block of any successful training regime. Gone are the days of training one muscle group extensively once per week through various forms of the infamous ‘Bro Split’. Research has found that training the same muscle group less extensively but twice per week is far more optimal for muscle growth. Ideally, if you can stimulate the same muscle group every 72 hours, your body will grow far more efficiently in comparison to training each muscle group once per week thereby reaching your goals quicker.
Tip 5 – Form Over Load
Maintaining proper form (or technique) during every exercise is not only safer and reduces your risk of injury, it’s also far more efficient when it comes to building muscle and thus seeing results. Its very important to leave your ego at the door when you arrive for your training session, stick to your plan and work with the appropriate weights for every given exercise. One of the most inefficient things you can do is arrive at the gym, let your competitive nature get out of control and attempt to work with weights that are simply too heavy for you. Not only are you ineffectively stimulating your muscles through poor technique, but you’re also setting yourself up for injury which will in turn slow your progress down the line and stop you from reaching your goals.
Tip 6 – Time Under Tension (TUT)
On a related note, a critical component to proper form is the concept of optimal time under tension (TUT). TUT refers to how long your targeted muscle or muscle group spends under strain or load during a set. This includes the time spent in the concentric or positive (shortening) phase, peak contraction and the eccentric or negative (lengthening) phase of an exercise. For optimal muscle growth, it is essential to follow the general rule of a 3 second eccentric phase or negative and a 1 second concentric phase of positive (Schoenfeld, 2010)
Tip 7 – Progressive Overload
Another extremely important bodybuilding tip is the concept of progressive overload which is critical to seeing results. Put simply, progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress (muscle tension) placed upon the body during exercise over time. In order for the body to grow muscle tissue (as well as get stronger), it must be forced to adapt to a tension that is greater than what it has previously experienced. Therefore, it is essential that during each workout you attempt to increase your body’s workload in some form. This can be done in a number of ways, such as by increasing weight, by an increase in repetitions performed or by increasing intensity through shorter rest periods. As long as you are progressing with faultless execution of technique, you can assure are growing.
Tip 8 – Nail Down your Nutrition
Although this blog is centred around training tips for body building, it is essential to consider the nutritional aspect of muscle growth. As the saying goes, muscles are broken down in the gym, fed in the kitchen and grown at night (See Tip 10 below). That said, you could be being trained by the top personal trainers or strength and conditioning coaches in the world, but if your nutrition isn’t on point, you won’t see results. As the saying goes: “You cannot out train a bad diet”. The two basics elements to a successful bodybuilding nutritional plan are 1) Eating in a Caloric Surplus and 2) Optimal Macronutrients and Micronutrients.
Firstly, muscle can’t be grown out of thin air so it is essential to be eating in a caloric surplus (taking in more calories than your body burns in a day. This is required to gain lean muscle tissue however it is not an excuse to binge eat. As a general rule, stick to a surplus of about 300-500 calories and adjust as you gain weight.
Secondly, calories aren’t the be all and end all as it is essential that you’re feeding your body the right ratio of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) and enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Generally, you should consume approximately 1g of protein (the building block of muscle growth) per pound of bodyweight to optimise muscle tissue development and allow carbohydrates and fats to naturally fall into place in line with your overall calories. Sufficient micronutrients should also be consumed through eating enough fruit and vegetables and by taking multivitamins and minerals daily.
In addition, it is also important to drink adequate amounts of water every day to keep your body hydrated. Furthermore, nutritional supplements (such as whey protein or creatine monohydrate) may be used to, as their name suggests, supplement part of or add to your overall nutritional plan and have been shown to aid recovery and thus accelerate results.
Tip 9 – Stretch and Stay Mobile
Another crucial tip is to remember to stretch regularly and stay mobile by incorporating various other forms of exercise into your weekly plan. Stretching is important in terms of warming up before a workout but also post-workout to aid recovery and allow for easy mobility. Regarding staying mobile, bodybuilding shouldn’t be your only focus and you should take care of your aerobic health by doing cardio (anything from walking to sprinting or golf to rugby training) a few times per week. Stretching and staying mobile will ensure that you muscle stays functional as well as looks aesthetic.
Tip 10 – Get your Sleep in Check
As mentioned above, muscles are broken down in the gym, fed in the kitchen and grown at night. When you’re sleeping, you’re in an anabolic (or growing) state and muscle protein synthesis is at its highest point of the day. Therefore, another key tip to building muscle is to ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of sleep every single night. Going back to the scenario above, you could be being trained by the worlds best coaches, your nutrition could be immaculate, however if you’re not getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night your recovery and results will be significantly hindered. As an additional tip, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to get into a regular sleep pattern.
- Schoenfeld, B.J. (2010) ‘The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training’, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10), pp. 2857–2872.