14 Muscle Building Basics for Better Results Now
When I decided it was time to change the way I was eating and to reintroduce weightlifting to my life I tried to educate myself on the best way to workout and nourish myself. I was seriously out of shape and was looking for every advantage I could find.
My sources of information were the Internet and a few lifting friends. The answers I found to my questions were rarely the same and often dramatically contradicted each other.
Trial and error, along with countless mistakes, has helped me learn. I’ve come up with the following information that has helped me as I transform my body. “Back to the basics” type information that can help you improve your body and maximize your results from the gym.
Before I dive into this article, here is a summary of my best tips:
- It’s more important to start lifting than it is to have the best workout. Just lift!
- It’s a far better option to properly execute your current workout than to waste time hunting for a perfect workout.
- Don’t negate the importance of rest and sleep.
- Eliminate distractions prior to lifting. Have your water/BCAAs and playlist ready.
- Choose your workout partners wisely.
- Track your workouts and monitor progress. Progress fuels gains.
- Keep an eye on your long term goals.
- Forget perfection. Aim for progress.
- It is more important to get in proper macros and calories than to worry about food timing.
- Don’t fear fats. Learn the difference between good and bad fats.
- Know the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates.
- Protein! Get in enough daily protein!
- Get an app and track your food intake.
- Use the mirror, not the scale, to track your progress.
Finding a Workout in a Sea of Confusion
On the Internet there are countless examples of what are proclaimed to be “the best workout” for results. These systems contain various rep and set schemes, countless unique strength and hypertrophy styles. And don’t forget about the everlasting debate between full body workouts and various splits.
The list goes on and on. Advanced techniques such as time under tension, partial reps, rest-pause, supersets, drops-sets, slow negatives, and forced reps are often touted as the best way to maximize workouts.
All of these plans and techniques are effective if correctly executed at the proper time. Know that instead of studying all these plans, your time is better spent lifting. Research is important but you learn a lot from experience.
It is more important that you START lifting than it is to have the BEST program. Workout programs constantly change over time as your body and goals change.
Start by picking one that looks like something you will be able to do without issues. It should be a workout that you can consistently perform as directed and finish within the recommended time period.
There are various ways to keep track of your workouts. A notebook allows you to easily flip through to check your progression.
Give Your Workout Time to Work
Give the program time to work. Resist the urge to switch programs every few weeks.
Use your downtime to investigate other plans or techniques. These are things you can add in the future. They will allow you to progress in strength and/or endurance.
Every program that is consistently executed will yield better results than sitting on the couch searching the computer for the next best program.
Make sure you have a clear understanding of what your program involves so you can properly execute it. This includes both in the gym and the kitchen. Don’t forget how important rest and sleep are for your program.
Perform your workouts properly fueled and focused. Eliminating distractions in advance increases the chance that you will successfully reach your goals. A notebook is a quicker way to track your workouts than a digital device – you can transfer it later when rest periods don’t matter if you want.
Have your entire playlist preset so you aren’t wasting time choosing your next song. Bring your drinks with you to avoid repetitive trips to the water fountain and the conversations that go with them.
Choose wisely if you decide to have a workout partner. You would be better off working out alone if your partner isn’t as dedicated and focused as you are.
Track your workouts! Progression is mandatory for continued results, regardless of which program or advanced techniques you choose to utilize.
There are various ways to keep track of your workouts. A notebook allows you to easily flip through to check your progression and compare what has worked with what has not. Tracking your workouts allows you to accurately do that with ease. As you advance you can use your log to help design future programs.
I am using a Push/Pull/Legs…for now. I perform this double split 6 days a week. My notebooks show 6 different programs over the last 24 months, each one leading to increasingly challenging programs with a focus on long term goals.
Individual programs are adjustable and change often but my long-term goal does not. Finish line dreams of perfection are not for me; my goal is continuous improvement and progression.
You must properly fuel your body for success.
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Fuel Your Workouts With Quality Nutrition
In order to optimize your workout program you must properly fuel your body. You can be a flexible dieter, a clean eater, a “Bro” eater, follow IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) – or an adapted version of any of those or almost any nutritional approach. Each of these will work as long as your body is consistently getting correct amounts of the proper fuel.
Don’t dwell on the best time to eat specific foods until you are certain you are properly fueling yourself. It is more important that you get the proper amount of calories and macros than when you eat which food.
Spend time learning about nutrition to increase your chances of success. It is mandatory that you properly nourish yourself.
Don’t be afraid of fats, your body needs them and knows how to utilize them. Stay away from trans fats and learn the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats so you can properly fuel your body.
Carbohydrates are important for your body so it is valuable to know the differences between simple and complex carbohydrates. Your body needs more protein than the average individual if you are involved in resistance training of any type. Your body will respond positively once you properly nourish and fuel it for the training you are performing.
Find an App and Track Your Food Intake
Find an app for your digital device that will allow you to track your nutrition. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. The one I use is free and it tracks calories and macros with ease.
Touching a few buttons lets me see how many calories I’ve eaten with a breakdown on my macros and how much more I can consume to stay within my preset goals. It will scan anything with a barcode for easy calculations and it is easy to adjust whatever I’m tracking. Find one you like and use it.
When you consistently track your nutrition you pay closer attention to what you shouldn’t be eating, if you are eating enough or too much, and how healthy your fuel is. As your nutrition improves you can begin to think about the timing of various foods but first you need to make sure you are getting the proper nourishment. Honestly track your nutrition so you can adjust your eating habits and develop a nutritional strategy that works for you.
My IIFYM Strategy – 20/50/30
My nutritional strategy is a version of IIFYM. I am almost always eating a 20% fat/50% carbohydrate/30% protein ratio. My saturated fat and sugar levels are very low and the majority of my carbohydrates are complex instead of simple.
I estimated my calories/macros before I started using a fitness app and I quickly realized my estimations were nowhere near correct once I started tracking. I cook almost every meal I eat and utilize both protein powders and mass gainers when necessary to help me reach my daily goals.
Consistently tracking your nutrition and getting the proper calories/nutrients is more important than which strategy you choose to utilize. Choose one that you can consistently follow and you increase your chances of success with your goals.
Tracking Personal Progress
Your body will respond to proper nutrition and exercise with positive results. You will see the difference before your friends and family see improvement; they will notice the difference before your acquaintances do. However, the changes will not be as fast as you want them to be.
Every day you will see yourself in the mirror and maybe (hopefully not) on the scale. I would advise you to use the mirror and pictures instead of the scale to track your progress. I don’t worry about my body fat percentage and I rarely step on the scale. The mirror and my pictures tell me all I need to know.
Trust your eyes.
I take my progress pictures every 4-6 weeks to allow my body time to change. I take pictures more often than that but my comparison pictures are something different. I don’t take progress pictures immediately after a workout because my muscles are pumped and full of blood at that time so my overall body looks different at those times than I normally do.
Be consistent with your progress pictures as well. My progress pictures are taken on a rest day. I’ll do a basic stretch/warm up for about 10 minutes to get my blood going and then I wait about 20 minutes to take the pictures.
Every time I set the camera up in the same place, use the same poses from the same spot, and compare. I can visually track my progress from those pictures and decide what needs to be adjusted in the kitchen and/or gym.
Rob Engelman with his dog Kaiser. They both actually lift.
Summing Things Up
Simply put, stripped down to an over-simplified statement completely omitting the details and challenges of each task:
If you consistently perform progressively challenging workout programs while consistently fueling yourself properly you will consistently improve your body.
Kaiser and I always have time for the gym. One by one, our lifting partners have quit. Excuses – legitimate or not; marriage; kids. Kaiser and I are the only ones with gains because we know consistency is mandatory.