As a rock climber, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can get stronger. It’s something we all think about. Just about any activity that takes you outdoors is going to test your body and require a certain level of physical fitness. And I’ve always thought, hey, I’m strong enough to get by. However, there’s always a point where outdoor athletes start to push their limits to the boundary of their physical ability. In climbing, it’s pretty obvious when you’re not strong enough for the climb you’ve undertaken, and the consequences can be dire. We all know when we confront our physical max. And like I used to, most people probably think that just trying harder and consistently practicing your sport is enough to improve your physical ability. But I’m here to tell you that there’s so much more to it.
Building strength requires a diversity of exercise, a regulation of intensity, and a healthy diet to achieve maximum progress. Today we’re going to go over a couple of the most fundamental ways that you can improve your game, no matter what your sport is. If you’re not already doing these three things on a regular basis, you’re missing out on a huge percentage of your potential.
In this article, part one, we’ll look at how to develop a more effective training regimen. In part two, we’ll look at some important dietary practices to help you maximize your return on all this investment.
How to Build Muscle – the Basics
You know when you haven’t worked out in a long time, and your first day at it absolutely kills you? You can’t walk, lift your arms, or bend your joints. But then, as you do the same routines throughout the week or month, all those sore feelings fade away until your body feels great the day after your workouts. Do you know why that is?
It’s called DOMS, or ‘delayed onset muscle soreness’ and it’s a big deal in the bodybuilding world. And although we’re not looking to bulk up and make maximum gains like those guys (or maybe you are?), there’s a really important lesson to be learned here. Now, we’re not talking about the soreness you experience during a workout, that’s different. But the pain that sets into your muscles hours or even a day after intense exercise, that’s called DOMS, and it’s the key to building muscle.
You see, DOMS is literally the feeling of your muscles repairing torn tissues. It’s not something you should feel in your joints, but deep in the body of your muscles, and it’s a sign that you exercised in a new and strenuous way. The reason why the second week of training doesn’t inspire the same amount of soreness as the first is because your muscles adapt very quickly to the type of stresses you put them under.
The fact that you don’t feel the same amount of soreness is one of the best indicators that you’re no longer building muscle as effectively. I know, the feeling of DOMS is pretty rough, but it’s also the most reliable sign that your body is getting stronger.
Diversity of Exercise
So how do you continually challenge your muscles when they adapt so quickly? Well, the secret is in the diversity of the movement. And depending on what type of muscle you want to build, you can look to the training routines of different professional athletes for inspiration. You see, almost all serious strength nerds switch up their routines on a regular basis. As soon as you stop feeling DOMS the day after your workout, it’s no longer giving you maximum return on your investment. That’s why you’ll hear lifters talking about leg day, and core day, etc. But it goes even deeper than that.
For example, suppose your regular push-ups are no longer doing the trick. All it takes is a change of posture. You can bring your elbows closer to your sides. You can do push-ups on your fists (it changes which arm muscles you use). Or, you could elevate your feet by putting them on a stair or riser. All of these are ways to change which muscles are doing most of the work, and there are many, many more. Do 100 push-ups in one of these new ways, and you’re almost sure to feel that good ole’ soreness again tomorrow. Creativity pays off big when it comes to working out.
If you want big muscles, try to hit the same ones over and over in slightly different ways. Like these variations of push-ups we just described. If you want to build lean muscle, diversify even more and do plenty of cardio in between working on the same muscle sets. MMA fighters are a great example of how diverse cross training coupled with intense cardio can build some serious strength without all the extra, unnecessary bulk.
Proper Resting Intervals
Now, I’m not referring to the resting intervals you take during your workouts. That’s going to be up to you. Because basically, the harder you push yourself, the more strength and endurance you’ll build, as long as you don’t kill yourself.
What I’m referring to are the rest days you take in between days of training. You see, it’s not good for your muscles to work intensely every single day, they need time off to heal and regrow. If you push them every single day, you will certainly get stronger, and you’ll develop a lean, tireless type of power, but you won’t be maximizing your gains, so to speak.
Now, there’s a lot of debate in the fitness community about all of the things we’re discussing today. Rest days are no exception. For a long time, everyone had their right answer, and everyone else was wrong. However, over time, we’ve come to understand that it depends largely on your own body, the type of exercise you’re doing, and the way you’re eating.
It all comes back to DOMS. Depending on your genetics, environmental factors, diet, etc. DOMS will last longer for some than for others. And usually, you want to let it run its course, at least partly. For most people, the ideal intervals for exercise are either two days on, one day off, or three days on, one day off. You’ll have to figure out what works best for your body and your lifestyle.
These days, there are all kinds of new ideas being introduced to the fitness community. SUP yoga will test you in just about every way imaginable. Generally, you can work intensely on one part of your body, let’s say legs, one day. Then, the next day you can do more upper body or core work. The third day, if not allocated to rest, makes a great cardio day, or you can lightly hit all parts of your body. By day four, you probably aren’t going to be feeling your strongest. Definitely, rest for one or two days before doing any more training.
The Bottom Line
Everyone has a different routine. Everyone has different goals. That’s really the beauty of it all. The best way to work out is almost as diverse as humanity itself. This article isn’t meant to tell you what work outs to do, or how many reps, or anything that specific. For that, you should hire a personal trainer. The big idea today is to highlight some of the basic principles of muscle growth. And to give you some ideas how to use those principles to your advantage. So, no matter what your overall goals are, and no matter what your workout routine looks like, applying these scientific truths will help you make the most of what you put in.
In part two, we’ll look at some important misconceptions about the diet that might be holding you back, as well as how to maximize muscle growth through healthy eating. Until then, keep working hard, and remember to keep your workouts diverse and creative.
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