It’s time to go back to the drawing board, guys. No matter how much you think you’ve learned about bodybuilding from the moment you first walked into a gym until this very day, there’s no harm in repeating some of the most important lessons that can make or break a physique. After all, there is only a handful of absolute truths in bodybuilding, and we’ve listed most of them in this article to help you increase the efficiency of your efforts.
#1: Both high and low reps can build muscle
Actually, both high and low reps can help build muscle and both of them can lead to zero gains – their place in the overall training program is what matters, not the number by itself. The popular opinion that low reps lead to bigger mass gains and high reps produce definition is nothing more than a harmful myth.
In order to achieve serious mass gains and increase definition, you need to put a sufficient amount of effort into the right exercises and give your body the time it needs to heal itself in between workouts, of course. That being said, keep in mind that a very high rep range can easily lead to muscle loss instead of spectacular gains.
#2: You don’t have to train more often to build more muscle
People often think that just as with any other skill, success in bodybuilding depends on the frequency of exercising. But since there’s more to bodybuilding that pure skill training, this rule doesn’t apply to it very often. Growth is caused by achieving the right combination of training, nutrition and recovery time.
There has to be a certain training frequency in order to build muscle, of course, but this is different for different people and is usually a lot less than what most people think is required. Typically, the genetically gifted guys are more able to progress with excessively frequent workouts (think working out twice a day), compared to the average bodybuilder.
In fact, training too often can be counterproductive for the average bodybuilder because it naturally reduces the intensity of the workout and doesn’t allow for enough recovery time between workouts – and that’s where real growth happens. When the muscles don’t get enough time to heal and repair, the end result is zero growth or even significant losses.
Don’t compare yourself with drug-enhanced athletes or bodybuilders with amazing genetics – these people can make exceptional gains by training more often and with a greater volume. Most of us can’t get nowhere near such progress by following that kind of routine, which is why you would benefit a lot more by planning a training routine that’s adequate to your own attributes, possibilities and goals.
Finally, no matter if you are a hardgainer or not, if you make your workout as intense as possible and train properly, hitting the gym twice a week will be enough to stimulate decent growth, while splitting these workouts will inevitably lead to a loss of intensity, and therefore, efficiency. In addition, performing one single heavy set with ideal form and technique can ignite a lot more muscle growth than performing four lazy, half-assed sets. This means that you absolutely don’t have to train excessively in order to push your muscles to grow – this can also be detrimental for your gains, even though it seems logical, especially when paired with training too often. Instead, focus on performing one or two badass sets and give them all you’ve got.
#3: Isolation exercises are not crucial for gains
This is one of the bodybuilding myths that have hindered an incredible number of efforts, mainly in hardgainers. Many bodybuilding beginners think that hitting a muscle from every possible angle will give them optimal results, yet this is far from the truth. The general rule about exercise selection is that compound exercises should make up the base of the workout. Isolated exercises will not lead to significant muscle gains because they simply don’t hit as many muscle fibers with each lift as compounds do.
Big compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, dips, overhead presses, chin-ups, pull-ups and rows are the ultimate mass builders that can work your whole body and lead to relevant fat loss. And once you have already achieved some decent gains in the major muscle groups through compound exercises, you can focus on isolation techniques to add more definition on smaller muscles and perfect your new body even further. This is especially important for hardgainers – they are simply best off without any isolation exercises in their training routines.
#4: You can’t change the shape of your muscles
Muscle shape and separation and the number of nerve innervations are matters of genetic expression and cannot be changed with special exercises, no matter what some ‘exercise experts’ tell you. When under tension, a muscle may lengthen, shorten or remain the same and that’s all. And the only way a muscle can contract is by shortening, which means there is no such thing as a muscle contraction that can help you change the shape of your muscle other than making it grow in size.
Also, increasing muscle definition means shedding excess body fat and making the muscles that were hiding under it more visible – nothing magical or thought-provoking about it. Train hard and eat less and you’ll get an increase in both growth and definition.
And if you don’t like the shape of your muscles, you should really stop and think about that issue. Your muscles are what they are, and the faster you accept the way they look, the better use you can make of them. Yes, having an eight-pack formation of the abdominal muscles is pretty cool, but if you were born with a four-pack, there’s nothing you can do about it (except surgery which we assume you’ll find a bit too extreme) except make it as lean as possible.
After all, nature’s given you a way to develop whatever muscle shape you have to an insanely ripped level that will directly affect your confidence and pride in yourself on the most positive way.
#5: Women should train the same way as men
Men and women have different levels of the same hormones and their primary goals in terms of aesthetics are substantially different as well, but this doesn’t mean that women should stay away from the weights. Most women want to improve their shape and definition, and this cannot happen without building muscle. Therefore, they can successfully use the same training programs as men without fearing they’ll become huge – their naturaly lower testosterone levels simply won’t let that happen.
On rare occasions when a woman wants to promote greater muscle growth, she should follow a routine similar to the one used by hardgainers, meaning lots of heavy compound exercises, followed by an even greater amount of patience and dedication. It won’t be fast or easy, but it’s most certainly achievable.
#6: Bulking up doesn’t require overdosing on food
In the bulking phase, most bodybuilders add far more body fat than muscle, resulting in a lot of trouble in the following period of cutting. There is a fine line between a surplus of calories that allows significant muscle growth and a surplus of calories that creates a significant amount of stored body fat, and recognizing it is of vital importance to your progress.
Bulking up doesn’t mean that you have a free pass to stuff yourself with junk food and be lazy in the gym. If you overdo it, you risk putting on too much body fat that will take a long time to trim down. Besides, your workouts have to be really efficient so that you can use all that excessive nutrition to actually build mass. So make sure you consume an significant quality calorie surplus without exceeding the limit and pair it with grueling workouts and plenty of rest.
#7: Dietary fat is not your enemy
Healthy fats should make up to 30% of your total caloric intake if you want to see your muscles grow. Carbs are important, but you can’t rely on carbs only to keep your organism running smoothly under a rigorous training regime. A low-fat diet can be detrimental to muscle growth in a similar way to the low-carb option, and it’s definitely bad for your overall health.
Of course, trans fat and hydrogenated fats are to be avoided. A serious bodybuilder should have a balanced diet that provides all essential nutrients the body needs to stay healthy and promote muscle growth by consuming high quality food and reducing the frequency of cheat meals to the absolute minimum.
#8. There is no such thing as safe-to-use supplements that are just as effective as steroids
It’s true, that kind of supplements don’t exist, no matter what kind of wild claims you can hear from certain supplement manufacturers. Simply put, there are no food supplements that can give you the effect of steroids minus the side effects. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make good use of some high quality supplements – they are legal, safe and somewhat able to support your gym efforts, but they won’t do any magic tricks to your body and most certainly can’t help you build muscle as fast as the use of steroids would.