Putting on muscle will pay off in multiple ways:
• You’ll have a higher metabolic rate, making it easier to stay lean.
• You’ll reach your strength potential faster by building muscle first and then stimulating the neuromuscular system with heavy loads.
• You’ll be healthier and have a stronger immune system.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t find they get the results they’d expect when trying to put on muscle and lose fat. Mistakes are common, but easily avoidable if you follow a few simple principles in designing your training. This article will tell you how to avoid common mistakes to get the physique you desire.
#1: You’re overweight and insulin resistant.
A common mistake people make is to think that they’ll just pack on some muscle and then worry about their body fat later.
Nice idea because the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate, but there’s a catch: One of the most important factors that influences muscle growth is the sensitivity of the lean tissues in the body to the hormone insulin.
The sad truth is that the vast majority of the population has some degree of insulin resistance even if they’re lean. Plus, different tissues in the body have varying degrees of sensitivity to insulin.
If this is you, results will be slow. You won’t change your body as dramatically or as quickly as someone who is lean and insulin sensitive.
Insulin is a very anabolic hormone and it will drive nutrients into muscle cells, whereas in an insulin resistant state you are much more likely to store the food you eat as fat.
Fix It: Get to your fighting weight first by prioritizing nutrition and using a training program that creates metabolic stress. Short rest periods, higher reps, and moderate loads will result in the release of the fat burning hormone Growth Hormone and elevate metabolic rate in the post-workout recovery period.
#2: Inconsistency or not prioritizing lifting with multi-joint “classic” lifts.
Inconsistency in training can be defined as any of the following:
• Skipping workouts.
• Not having a pre-set workout with specific set/rep/rest schemes, or not completing workouts according to plan.
• Doing random workouts—lifting one day, a group class the next, and cardio after that.
• Mixing cardio and lifting in the same session.
• Not giving full effort 99 percent of the time. There will be hard days in the gym, but those are the ones that make you better if you give it everything you have.
Fix It: Building muscle with lifting is pretty simple: Train four times a week for about an hour. Lift a fairly high volume (4 sets per exercise with up to 8 sets during higher volume phases), 8 to 15 reps per set with 40 to 80 reps per muscle group, short rest (zero rest to 2 minutes), and use squats, deadlifts, pulls, presses, and step-ups.
Use moderately heavy weights in the 65 to 85 percent range and occasionally train to failure. Don’t do things that inhibit muscle building or recovery like long, slow cardio, constant partying, or living a high-stress life.
#3: Not counting tempo.
Tempo refers to the speed with which you perform the up and down phases of any lift. Many trainees don’t know what tempo is and just haphazardly raise and lower the weight without paying any attention.
This is a big mistake because using longer tempos is a huge driver of mechanical stress that leads to muscle damage. Muscle damage leads to greater protein synthesis and greater muscle growth in the long run. Everyone from your sister, to your grandmother, to elite bodybuilders should be counting tempo because it allows you to radically increase the effectiveness of your efforts.
For example, studies show bench pressing with a prescribed tempo resulted in a 10 percent increase in strength by placing greater demand on the muscles, which led to increased recruitment of motor units for greater growth compared to a random tempo.
Fix It: Always count tempo. Do eccentric-enhanced training that uses a longer tempo (4 to 8 seconds) in the down motion of the lift and shorter tempo (1 to 2 seconds) for the concentric or up motion.
#4: Not eating enough.
High-quality calories are king when it comes to muscle building. A lot of people go wrong with caloric intake and eat too little in an effort to also lose fat, thereby depriving themselves of nutrients and energy needed for recovery, or they eat enough, but choose foods that are nutritionally poor.
You will get the best body composition results from training by providing your body with high quality nutrition. For example, in a study of fit athletes who wanted to improve body composition while training to compete, those who achieved a smaller energy deficit lost the most body fat and gained an average 2.1 percent lean muscle mass. A group that had a greater energy deficit lost less body fat and gained zero lean muscle because calories and/or nutrient-quality were too low.
Fix It: Pick foods that are the most nutritious, but generally lower in calories. You know what these foods are because your being told to eat them all the time: meat, fish, eggs, whole dairy, green and colorful veggies in general, dark-colored fruits, nuts, seeds, tea and coffee.
Plan every meal around a protein, beneficial fat, and vegetable, and consider getting workout nutrition in the form of whey protein because it far out performs other protein sources when it comes to optimizing body composition.
#5: Doing cardio for the goal of health or fat loss.
A common mistake is to think that to improve conditioning, or train for healthy cardiovascular function, you have to do aerobic exercise like running or cycling. In fact, any physical activity that is challenging enough will improve heart and lung health and function. You can get “in shape” with cardio or by doing high-intensity training, either with lifting, sprints, or some other interval mode.
Therefore, the only reason to do cardio would be if you are training for an endurance event, or you really like it and your primary reason for exercising is enjoyment.
Aerobic exercise will reduce your muscular gains because it triggers different pathways in the body, leading to something that is known in science as the “interference” phenomenon in which people who lift weights and do endurance exercise simply don’t see the strength or muscle gains they’d expect.
Fix It: If your goal is to build muscle, lose fat, and improve health, you’ll get better and faster results from adding high-intensity efforts into your workouts. Ditch anything that resembles steady-state cardio in favor of interval training or strongman workouts. Workouts should be less than 25 minutes long and metabolically taxing with short rest periods and intense work bouts. Do them separately from your weight training workout to maximize effort and recovery.