Beast Mode Activated!
For the vast majority of us, we start out going to the gym looking to improve our physiques, and one of the main ways we can achieve this is by building muscle.
There is just one huge problem.
With the amount of misinformation that exists about hypertrophy, it makes our task that much harder! We fell victim to this in our early 20s and basically threw away all of our newbie gains for the simple fact that we did not know how to go about the process intelligently.
There is much more to hypertrophy than just engaging beast mode, drinking protein shakes and wearing very revealing stringer vests.
In this article, we outline the 8 things that we wish we’d known about building muscle when we first stepped through those gym doors.
If you start applying these simple muscle-building principles now you will be getting on the fast-track to hypertrophy & improving your physique in no time.
1. You’re not a pro bodybuilder, so why train like one?
Unless you’re competing in the next Mr Olympia, there is no need to train like the top bodybuilders. Firstly, they are probably in the top 1-2% when it comes to genetics, meaning they can put on muscle just by looking at a dumbbell.
Not to mention all the other “assistance” they have access to. Plus, this is their job, they get paid to look this way, it’s what they do for a living!
For the vast majority of us, we just want to look better naked, build a little muscle, gain more strength and lose body fat. For this to happen we should not be training like Kai Greene or Jay Cutler.
If you’re a natural trainee and you’re doing a strict body part split, you could be leaving a lot of gains on the table. What I mean by a strict body part split, is you only work one muscle group, once a week.
So, if you train chest on international chest day (Monday), then wait all the way until next Monday to train it again, don’t expect huge gains.
This study showed that training a muscle group 2-3 times a week is better for hypertrophy.
Just from going from a typical once-a-week body part split to a training split that has you working muscle groups more frequently, could help increase your rate of muscle growth.
Seriously, do you really think you will get big legs by only training them once a week?
2. Learn the lifts first before loading up the weights
One thing we see in gyms everywhere is ego lifting, gym-goers clearly thinking they are more advanced than they actually are. We fully admit to being guilty of this for years!
If you’re just starting out in the gym, then you need to master the techniques of compound lifts. If you find yourself doing more bicep curls than squats or deadlifts, then you have it the wrong way around.
When you first start working out with weights your body is primed and ready to gain muscle, this is called newbie gains.
Alan Aragon came up with a good model to determine your rate of muscle gains for a natural trainer. Which you can see below.
As you can see the rate of muscle gain for a beginner is far greater. For example, if a 150lb beginner is starting out in the gym, they could potentially put on 1.5-2.25lb of muscle a month!
If you’re just starting out in the gym, make sure you spend a couple of weeks or even a couple of months just learning the big compound lifts, such as squats, deadlifts and bench press. For this we recommend you read Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, this is an awesome read if you want to get big and strong and build more muscle.
If you learn these big lifts early on and get stronger on them gradually, chances are you would put on a fair few pounds of muscle just from focusing on these lifts.
3. Keep a log of your workouts and track nutrition
The famous quote says “what is not measured is not managed”, this is so true if you’re hitting the weights and looking to build muscle.
If you don’t track your workouts, you won’t know if you’re getting stronger & you won’t know if you’re increasing your training volume. You will not be able to measure if you’re actually progressing. There is nothing better than looking through your training log and seeing that you have increased your squat by 20lb in the last 8 weeks. That is motivation right there! Keep a training journal to measure your progress.
You don’t want to be that guy that turns up to the gym every week and makes his workout up on the spot.
The same principle applies to tracking your nutrition, if your main goal is to build muscle then you have to make sure you are in a calorie surplus.
If you’re not in a calorie surplus, it makes it extremely difficult to build muscle and recover from your workouts.
How do you know if you’re in a calorie surplus if you are not tracking your calories? For all you know you could be in a calorie deficit. If you want to build muscle it doesn’t quite add up!
With apps like My Fitness Pal and just being able to scan the barcode, tracking nutrition has never been easier!
4. You don’t have to eat every 3 hours to boost your metabolism or stay anabolic
How many times have you heard “You need to eat small and frequent meals to keep your metabolism burning”?
Years ago, this was taken as the gospel truth. If you wanted to see results with your physique you had to eat 5-6 meals a day. In the past, we would often tell our clients to eat 5-6 meals a day. We would follow this advice strictly, eating every 3-4 hours to keep our metabolism “firing”
We now know that meal frequency should not be top of our priority list. We would be much better off and see better results if we focused primarily on the core principles of both training and nutrition.
This graphic is taken from the Muscle and Strength Pyramids, written by Eric Helms, Andy Morgan and Andrea Valdez.
You can clearly see from the graphic, that nutrient timing is 4th in order of priorities. This is not something that you should be really stressing out about and spending loads of time focusing on.
So don’t worry, you will not lose all your gains if you forget to down your protein shake 10 seconds after your last rep.
5. Eating “clean” or going low carb will not get you jacked
Building muscle and getting jacked is hard and it takes time. If it were easy everyone would be walking around with impressive physiques.
Unless you have extremely gifted genetics or you’re getting “help” from elsewhere, you have to accept that building muscle will take time.
Now we can cut this time frame down by having a good solid progressive training plan and have our nutrition in check.
Nutrition is hugely important if you want to get jacked.
Eating ultra “clean” and having 100g of carbs a day will not get you jacked for a couple of reasons.
- We know that if you want to gain weight and build muscle you HAVE to be in calorie surplus. So, you should be eating more calories than maybe you are used to. Have you ever tried getting 3000 calories in a day from just “clean” foods, well we have and it’s not pleasant. Eating 6 meals of chicken and veg is not fun! If you have a fair few calories to fit in a day. Don’t be afraid to throw a small amount of “junk” food into the mix. Plus, remember calories are the most important factor, so if you’re fitting this “junk” food into your calories it’s all good!
- To build muscle you have to train with weights duh! Also, to build muscle you have to have good productive training sessions. Well, guess what? if you’re constantly eating 100g of carbs a day or even less, your workouts will suffer and you’ll probably feel as weak as a kitten. Believe us, we are talking from experience!
Weight training is a highly glycogen dependent form of exercise, what I mean by this, is that when we are in the weights room lifting the iron, our bodies much prefer to use carbohydrates as fuel. If you’re constantly undereating on carbs there will come a time where your workouts will suck!
This study here showed that low levels of muscle glycogen are associated with fatigue.
So, if your main goal is to build muscle, do not cut out carbs!
5. Do not rely on Supplements
This can be a huge mistake, if you are just relying on supplements for results and progress, you are selling yourself short. For example, you could have the “best” supplements available from all the top brands, but if your main goal is to build muscle and you’re not in a calorie surplus, these supplements mean absolutely nothing!
There are very few supplements out there that actually work, those that are beneficial and are backed up by countless scientific reviews are the following:
If you want to know what supplements are actually worth taking, we highly recommend you check out Examine.com, they are independent and unbiased when it comes to supplements.
Don’t be that guy who spends far more on supplements than he actually spends on food! Guess what? we were that guy 5 years ago!
6. All your gains won’t be lost if you miss the odd session, or have a “bad” day of eating
Who hasn’t been in that situation, where for whatever reason you just have to miss a gym session?
You may be ill, you may have an injury or god forbid, you have any sort of social life.
To think that you will lose any sort of muscle mass from missing just one or two sessions is just complete nonsense. This study showed only SMALL reductions in muscle loss, after 3 weeks of no training, so do you really think if you miss one session that you’ll lose al of your hard-earned gains? Training and building muscle should enhance our lives and give us more confidence, but if it gets to the stage, where we have a meltdown every time we miss one session, maybe it is becoming an unhealthy obsession.
The same goes for a “bad” day of eating, there may be certain days when tracking your nutrition is not possible, events such as Christmas and birthdays. One or a few days of relaxed nutrition will not ruin all of your hard work. The best thing you can do is accept that these events happen, enjoy them with friends and family and get back on the wagon as soon as you can.
Don’t be the guy who misses every social event going, because you are scared you will lose all your gains!
7. Going to failure every session and waking up with extreme DOMS, does not automatically mean it was a good session
You’re not a true gym warrior if you don’t engage beast mode every session, walk into the gym making more noise than a woman giving birth and crawl out of the gym drinking your protein shake through a drip.
If you can’t tell that was extreme sarcasm!
Of course, training needs to be tough and challenging, as we are trying to force our bodies to build new muscle. But that does not mean going to the gym and lifting to complete failure all the time.
A definition of failure from Alan Aragon in his research review is.
“The point in a set where a full repetition cannot be completed during the concentric (positive, or muscle shortening) phase of the rep without assistance from outside means (such as cheating or assistance from a training partner).”
For example, in the bench press failure would be, after you have lowered the bar to your chest, you would not be able to push the bar back up to its starting point. Sound familiar?
One of the main reason not to go failure every single set is that it greatly increases the risk of injuries. If you’re always taking the big compound lifts to complete muscle failure, there is a good chance an inury is heading your way.
In addition, going to muscle failure every session will affect your overall total training volume. Your total training volume is one of the most important principles if you’re looking to build muscle. Total training volume is the amount of poundage that you have lifted over the course of one session, one week, or even one month.
The goal, if we want to build muscle, will be slowly to increase this number every week or every month so that we are giving our bodies a new stimulus to adapt to.
If you’re going balls to the wall on your first exercise of the day, and basically making yourself puke, the chances are the rest of your session will suffer and your overall training volume will drop.
Yes, train hard, but train smart.
Don’t be that guy, who goes beast mode for 3-4 weeks, then picks up an injury and is out of the gym for 2 weeks. Only to come back and engage beast mode again.
8. Preventing an injury is easier than recovering from one
This brings us to our next point perfectly.
Using strategies to stay injury free and healthy are going to prolong your lifting career. Meaning you can spend more time in the gym lifting and making gains.
If you’re always injured, you will not even be in the gym lifting.
We have already talked about one great way to stay injury free and that is to trains mart and not lift to failure every single set.
Another important way to stay injury free is to take your warm ups and recovery time seriously. It amazes us at how poor people’s warm ups are. We were prime examples of this years ago, 5 minutes on the cross trainer, straight into a heavy set of squats, that was our warm up back in the day.
No stretching, no mobility work and this is one of the main reasons why we always seemed to pick up niggling injuries. Make sure you dedicate a good 10-15 minutes to a warmup, especially if you are going into heavy sets of the big compound movements.
Secondly, if you’re not recovering between sessions, the likelihood is it will catch up with you. We have all heard the saying that you don’t grow in the gym, you grow outside the gym and to a certain extent this is true.
Try to get 1-2 rest days in a week, sleep 7-8 hours a night, schedule in deload weeks and try and limit stress outside the gym. Easier said than done, right?
But don’t be that guy who trains 7 days a week for months on end, getting 3 hours sleep a night, who is always stressed. You will not build muscle like this
8. There are no quick fixes! Consistency and hard work trumps everything
In today’s society, we are surrounded with instant gratification and quick fixes. We are surrounded with the latest fitness gimmicks, which promise us iron clad abs in 7 minutes.
There seems to be a new diet or new supplement every week, which is promising us the body of our dreams.
All this is not true!
Building muscle, gaining strength, getting shredded, whatever you want to call it, will take time, it will not happen overnight. But if you embrace the journey and accept the challenge of trying to improve yourself week to week. The chances are you will fall in love with the journey and turn it into a habit.
That is the key thing here, if you turn going to the gym and working out into a habit then results will come it’s just a matter of time.
Consistency and hard work are the two principles that will get you dream results in and out of the gym.
- Stop looking for that quick fix.
- Stop looking for that magic pill.
They do not exist.
Be consistent with your training sessions, put the work in and results will happen.
We can personally say that we made every one of these mistakes in our early training days.
We hope by reading this article you can avoid some of these common mistakes and get the results you want faster!
Thanks for reading!
SJ Fitness is an online coaching company run by 2 brothers, Joe and Simon Passey. We are extremely passionate about helping and coaching people towards their health and fitness goals. We used to hold a degree in bro-science until we threw that in the bin and committed to a ore evidence based approach. We now combine that evidence based approach with over 16 years of combined experience to help people get the results they want while avoiding the catalogue of bro-science mistakes we made in the past.
If you want a no nonsense, straight to the point approach to training and nutrition, please feel free to check out our social media channels below.