This is part 3 of my “Becoming a Bodybuilder” Series of articles, see the other parts here:
Part 2: Selecting a Show
It all begins with picking up the iron. I have grown by myself with my own effort, so I was able to learn what training style works for me, and which styles do not. Therefore, it's very important for an athlete to have a wide variety of training programs that successfully support his or her goals. Much like the use of anabolic steroids and supplementation, physical training is something that should be cycled in order to prevent the buildup of muscle memory. By cycling training, you are not letting your body adapt to the current training program.
Hence, when selecting a training routine with bodybuilding in mind, it is important to fully understand the principles of how skeletal muscle is built. Muscle and strength are built by the recruitment of motor neuron activity, as your body’s motor neurons are the ones that tell the skeletal muscles to contract. During these contractions, you are breaking down muscle fibers in the specific muscle groups that are being trained. Then, after working out, the human body repairs these damaged fibers in the recovery phase through a cellular process of fusing together damaged muscle fibers, creating new muscle protein strands. This process causes the muscle fibers to increase in size and number, which is how new muscle growth is created. Thus, muscle growth occurs when the rate of protein synthesis is greater than the rate of protein breakdown. Interestingly, this muscle building process happens after the actual act of lifting weights, and not during workouts, as many tend to think.
What's more, there are ways to maximize the process of muscle fiber breakdown and recovery. For instance, precisely for this reason bodybuilding often focuses on training specific muscle groups, rather than full body workouts. In addition, these muscle groups often have a direct relation to each other as well, such as back and biceps, chest and triceps, etc.
Typically, sets range anywhere from 4-6 sets per exercise to anywhere from 8-20 reps depending on the individual's program. Bodybuilding focuses on three principles in any training routine; mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscular damage. This is why you see training programs typically at a high rep range with several sets, as opposed to few sets with only one, or very few reps. Hence, it takes a fine balance to really build up muscle mass. That being said, there are several benefits to modifying the common standard, which is often neglected by bodybuilders.
Personally, I have worked hard on my training programs in the last year. Since starting this prep to step on stage September 26th, I have methodically implemented different routines to maximize my genetics. Therefore, I began my bulk with a more “powerlifting” or “power building” approach, and for 20 weeks I focused on compound muscle groups with very little attention to the others. Such exercises as deadlifts, squats and bench were my go to exercises.
Even though I experienced another knee injury during this program, it is very clear that there is a level of muscle maturity developed by this program that you will not see with a different approach to training. A good example of this is the size of my back, which has become a strong point of mine. As a result, the sheer mass and muscle maturity gained from this training is the clay for sculpting my muscles.
Once 20 weeks had passed, I began to transition my training to include more of a bodybuilding approach. In spite of the fact that I started to focus on all muscle groups over a six day split, I still incorporated heavy lifts on days with compound muscle groups. At exactly twelve weeks out from my show, I dropped most heavy lifts and focused solely on the aspects of metabolic tension and muscular breakdown. My exercises include 4-5 sets at 12-15 reps, and I incorporate various supersets and dropsets. Since the beginning of this process, I have seen the muscle volume increase dramatically. It truly began to chisel down mass and began to mold my physique, much like how a sculptor chips away at his marble statue. In fact, the muscle growth is so good, that I will continue this program up until the very day of my show.
Regarding the cardio, in this article I will not get into the importance of this aspect of training or how I implemented it my program. I will dedicate a separate article to cardio because there are many tricks of the trade that need a thorough discussion.
All in all, the important thing is to find what fits you best because no two individuals are the same. What Phil Heath does, may work for him, but not for you. Finding your sweet spot takes a lot of research, as well as some trial and error. Nevertheless, if you can remember to maximize your training with the three essential categories, which are mechanical tension, metabolic stress and muscular damage, you will always find success.
Your body is easily adaptable to your training, so remember to switch it up with different movements and programs, even if they are ever so subtle. In my opinion, no two workout sessions of the a single muscle group should be the same. Finally, the most important point is that recovery is the key! Muscle growth does not actually occur when you lift the iron, but it rather does so when you put it down and rest.