If you look around any gym on the planet, you cant help it but feel that you're in a time capsule. That's right, nothing and nobody ever changes. Same people, same weights, same physiques, same lack of progress.
Why is that?
Why Aren't You Building Muscle?
Culprit number one would be the 23 hours a day spent outside the gym, meaning horrible eating habits, lack of sleep, consumption of alcohol and the like. But then there are some people who actually have a decent lifestyle and still can't get it together. So what's the story with them?
In short, they are working out. Working out is a completely (in my opinion) hollow phrase. It is used by people in order to justify their lack of progress: "well, I work out three times a week."
Training is different from working out. Working out is merely showing up at the gym and going through the motions for an hour or so. If you want to achieve your goals, working out is not enough. You need to commit yourself to training.
Most people approach lifting like homework; a piece of paper to be followed that says 3x10 bench press. But it’s more than that; you need to feel your muscles working, feel the rep speed, and above all push yourself.
Some days you add sets, some days you drop sets. It’s not about going through the motions; it's about improving on a constant basis.
A Real World Muscle Building Example
Let's look at a real world example. The gentleman in the picture by the lovely French beach had been working out for five years. He had a decent strength foundation (275x10 squat, 225x10 bench press, 315+ deadlift), but wasn't quite ready to win the Mr. Olympia.
So we sat down and came up with a plan by looking at his strengths and weaknesses. He obviously does not have any issues packing on mass and has great arms (lucky bastard), but his chest and shoulders were lagging. Furthermore, he was quad dominant in his legs.
What we needed to do:
- Broaden his shoulders since his arms are overpowering.
- Thicken his chest.
- Bring balance into the legs.
- Add some lean mass and reduce the waist line.
From there on, we started training shoulders and chest twice a week. Once on their own day, and once in combination with a strong body part, either legs or arms.
I made this point before but I am not a huge fan of the flat bench for chest development so we stuck with floor flyes and incline presses. As for the shoulders, the main focus was the medial head so we would often superset squats with side raises, just to get some extra volume in there. Also, we would add standing military presses, Arnolds and partial side raises, often done as giant sets such as:
In terms of legs, we added hamstring work on a 2-1 ratio. That meant more good mornings, stiff legged deadlifts and single leg presses. As we got closer to show and shoot date, he started doing cardio 3-4 times a week and posing 1-2 times a week in order to burn off some more bodyfat.
Diet wise, we started out with a a rather low-carb approach (3 days low/1 day high). We soon realized that it didn't work for him and shifted to a moderate carb intake, where he would eat most of his carbs around the workout. Furthermore, we kept the last meal of the day strictly protein and veggies.
When it came down to the last 3 weeks before the photo shoot, we took out all the red meat and reduced the fats to two tablespoons of coconut oil a day. The results can be seen in the attached after photo.
Training requires a goal, and your gym sessions are oriented toward achieving that goal. As a results-oriented personal trainer, I work with my clients to establish their goals before we do anything. If you don’t know where you’re going, there’s no way you’re going to get there.
And goals must be specific. People often say they have a goal, but they don’t really. For instance getting in shape is not a goal; it’s too vague. You have to be specific.
Do you want to lose eight pounds? Be able to bench press another 20 pounds? Become a better tennis player? Improve an injured knee or shoulder? Getting in shape means nothing until you establish what it means for you specifically.
And once you have a goal, you need a plan. Whether it’s a six-week or three-month plan, you need to evaluate your progress. Ask yourself: Where am I? Am I on track? If not, what is wrong?
Maybe you're not getting enough sleep or enough protein, or maybe you're not pushing yourself hard enough in the gym. Whatever is standing in the way of your progress can only be adjusted for if you’re clear in your goal and you’re taking the time to evaluate your progress.
And yes, sometimes life happens. You’re having a stressful time on the job, you’re in the midst of a divorce, you have young children keeping you up at night, you’re traveling a lot - all of these can affect gym performance. Don’t give up, just acknowledge the issue and find ways to correct for it.