Welcome back! As a quick refresher, the first five points that I wish I had known before starting strength training from the previous post were:
1) Your performance will vary from day to day based on MANY different factors.
2) Diet and sleep play an ENORMOUS part in training progress – possibly even more than the specifics of your physical training (movement selection, reps, sets, training frequency, etc)
3) The best way to stay stuck and not make progress is to push yourself to the absolute max every single training session.
4) Your technique doesn’t need to be “perfect” when you start – or at any point.
5) Big, compound movements (squats, bench press, deadlifts, overhead press, cleans, snatches) are the most efficient use of your time in the gym for general strength purposes – not bicep curls, leg extensions, tricep pressdowns, and hamstring curls.
Ok. Let's dive into the last five points for this post now.
(And as always, none of the information provided here should be considered medical advice. It is for informational/entertainment purposes only. Always consult your doctor for medical advice or before starting a new exercise or nutrition program)
6) Cardio will not “kill your gains, bro.”
Despite what some people may tell you, doing cardio (running, biking, rowing, swimming, etc) will not hinder your strength training in any way except possible time restrictions you may have on your training. For example, if you are conditioned well enough to productively handle strength training four days per week and you only have four days to work out, using one of those sessions to do cardio may slow your strength gains down in that sense. But the simple act of performing cardio work work will not melt away any muscle you've built or steal your strength gains.
This idea may have its roots in people who are concerned primarily with "bulking" and gaining as much muscle as possible. If someone is struggling to consume enough calories and macro nutrients (fats, carbs, and proteins) to gain muscle, it may be counterproductive (to THEIR SPECIFIC GOALS) for them to burn a bunch of those macros through cardio work. I will concede that point. But cardio is absolutely not inherently counter-productive to strength training. If anything, cardio is more likely to make you better conditioned to productively handle more strength training volume, thus allowing you to more quickly progress in your strength training journey.
Also, cardiovascular health is pretty important too. There are definitely cardiovascular benefits from strength training, but cardio work is still very effective and important for maintaining a healthy ticker in the long run.
7) Just because somebody who is more jacked than you tells you something in the gym, it doesn’t mean they are right or that their advice is applicable to YOUR own goals.
If you've regularly gone to the gym at any point in your life, you've probably been. there. Hercules finishes his set of 75 leg press reps with 16 plates and then watches you finish your set of five squats at 135 pounds. He then proceeds to walk over to you, uninvited, and tell you how you're squatting too deep (or not deep enough) and you really should be leg pressing and doing at least 250 leg extensions and leg curls every day if you want to get huge legs "like him."
First of all, who said you wanted huge legs? Maybe you have strictly strength or sport-specific goals for your training and you don't care about looking like a body-builder. Maybe you're a wrestler in the middle of the season and weight gain would actually be super counterproductive at that point in your life.
Most people like the stereotype described above assume that the goals they have for themselves are the same goals everyone else in the gym is pursuing. But that is rarely the case. Some people train for strength. Some people train for skill development or sport-specific purposes. Some people train to get as big as possible, and some people train to get as lean as possible. Some people just train to feel good. And it's ALL awesome!
That doesn't mean all advice in the gym is inherently bad. If it's good advice, that's great! Use it to make you better or as an opportunity to make a friend. If not, just smile and nod, thank them for their advice, and go back to doing whatever it is that you set out to do that day.
8) If you want to build muscle, you’re more than likely going to gain some amount of body fat along with it...
This seems to be a common point of confusion/misunderstanding for a lot of people. "I want to gain 20 pounds of muscle and get leaner at the same time. How do I do that?"
Well, here's the thing. There are two main states your body can be in with regard to muscle and fat gain or loss: anabolic and catabolic. But what exactly does that mean?
Keeping things in simple terms, think of anabolism as gaining or building and catabolism as losing or destroying. If your body is in an overall anabolic state, you are building muscle, fat, or both. If you are in an overall catabolic state, you are destroying muscle, fat, or both.
You can't be in both anabolic and catabolic states simultaneously. You're either gaining or losing overall. This has to do with whether you are in a caloric surplus (consuming more calories per day than you are burning) or a caloric deficit (burning more calories per day than you are consuming).
This means that if you want to build muscle, you'll probably put on some amount of fat too. And if you want to lose fat, you'll probably lose a little bit of muscle too. Your body is either adding/building overall or subtracting/destroying overall.
But don't panic. Diet has a big impact on both of these processes (anabolism and catabolism). The biggest thing to keep in mind is keeping your protein intake high regardless of if your goal is to build muscle and gain weight or shed some fat but maintain muscle. Keeping your protein intake up (close to one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight if you are training consistently) will help maximize muscle gain while minimizing fat gain, and it will also help minimize muscle mass loss while losing fat.
Basically, if you're trying to put on muscle while minimizing body fat gain, keep your protein high and shoot for a surplus of about 1000 calories per day. The majority of your calories should come from protein and carbs, but don't cut fats out altogether either. Accept the fact that you will likely put on a little bit of fat, but you can lose it after you build the muscle mass you want.
After you've finished building, continue to keep the protein intake high (up to about one gram per pound of bodyweight as mentioned) but decrease carbohydrate and fat intake until you are consuming about 500 fewer calories per day than you're burning (500 calorie deficit). Since one pound of fat contains 3500 calories, you should be losing close to one pound of fat per week (500 calories per day x 7 days per week = 3500 calorie deficit per week) while minimizing muscle loss.
Keep in mind that the maximum weight loss rate recommended for reasonably healthy people (not super-obese) is about two pounds per week, but the quicker you try to lose weight the larger portion of that weight will be from muscle mass.
If you are closer to or in the obese BMI range, it is recommended that you consider losing fat first and then building muscle while if you are more toward the underweight BMI range, you should build the muscle you want before shedding any unwanted fat you gain in the process.
9) ...but if you want to get significantly stronger, you’re probably going to have to build some muscle mass.
Strength, or at least strength POTENTIAL, has been shown to be very closely correlated with muscle cross-sectional area. This means that the bigger your muscles are, the more force they have the potential to exert depending on how well trained they are.
In simplest terms, bigger muscles have the potential to move more weight than smaller muscles.
Seems straightforward enough right? This is worth noting because of the last point about body fat increasing with muscle mass increase (at least at first). If you want to increase your strength POTENTIAL, you'll have to increase muscle size and most likely, at least temporarily, your body fat level to some degree.
But what about those tiny powerlifters that have higher one-rep maxes than people who are 50 pounds bigger? Here's a secret and probably a massive shift in how you think about heavy lifts...
10) Having a massive one-rep max is as much of a skill as anything. It doesn't depend SOLELY on how much muscle mass you have.
If a 130 pound guy can deadlift 600 pounds but you struggle as a lean 180 pound guy to deadlift 500 pounds, what does that tell you?
The ability to lift heavy doesn't depend SOLELY on your lean muscle mass. It depends on a whole host of other things, unfortunately including genetics and muscle fiber type. But the ability to lift crazy heavy weights is as much a skill that you can train as it is dependent strictly on how big your muscles are.
Your central nervous system plays a huge role in how much of your muscular potential you can display. Training it to activate a larger percentage of your total number of muscle fibers allows you to lift a larger percentage of your physical potential. But how do you do that?
Well, the same way you get good at anything - you practice. The trick is to balance practicing heavy lifts with adequate recovery (both active and passive) to allow your body to adapt. More practice isn't necessarily better. More PROPERLY TIMED practice is the critical part most people miss.
If you are constantly pushing your body to "100%" every day, then you are ironically never actually performing at 100% because you are never fresh and recovered. It is much more beneficial to alternate "hard" and "easy" days such that you allow yourself to truly push your limits on the hard days because you are physically and mentally fresh and recovered from some recent easier days.
That doesn't mean you need two weeks off between heavy sessions either though. Volume, and in my opinion frequency, are both very important in developing strength. Volume, which is how many useful (non-warmup) reps you are completing in a given amount of time like one week, is extremely beneficial from a practice perspective as well as being a huge driver of hypertrophy (muscle growth). Frequency, which is how many days you are training a movement per week, is obviously huge for practice too.
You'll be better at squatting if you squat every day than if you squat once every two weeks, but they can't all be one-rep max attempt days. They should actually be mostly light/medium days with some hard, all-out days sprinkled in where appropriate. And the more conditioned you become to training with more volume and more frequently, the quicker you will recover and the more often you can train.
Matt Perryman wrote a great book discussing this mentality in much more detail called Squat Every Day: Thoughts on Overtraining and Recovery in Strength Training. I highly recommend you check it out if you are looking for a good read that will help you get stronger. And no I don't get paid if you click the link, just trying to provide you with helpful resources.
That's all for now. Make sure to check out the other StrongFriends Tools training articles to maximize your gains and make the most of your time in the gym!