The internet is flooded with information about how to lose fat, gain muscle and feel amazing; so you likely have at least a basic understanding of the lifestyle you need to live. Less Snickers, more vegetables. Less Words With Friends, more deadlifts.
So how can we speed up muscle growth? While muscle-building is definitely a marathon and not a sprint, there are little tricks you can follow to speed up the process and show off your progress to your friends on Instagram.
Don’t lie. We all do it.
Here are a few tried and true methods to help you improve your #gainz, #transformation, #beastmode and whatever other hashtags you can think of.
Incorporate More Compound Movements
Think of fast muscle-building as a “two birds, one stone” kind of deal; or in many cases, it’s three or four birds and one stone. Utilizing compound movements — exercises that target multiple joints and muscles — gives you more bang for your buck and puts your body under additional tension. Also, by activating more muscle fibers at once, you’re reducing the total amount of time you need to spend lifting. You’re taxing your body more in a shorter period of time, which also means a greater release of all those happy hormones that make us big and muscly.
Bench presses, squats and deadlifts are widely considered the main compound movements. Squat jumps, lunge jumps and walking lunges are also great examples. This doesn’t mean that exercises like bicep curls aren’t advantageous; but they shouldn’t be a focus of your training and should be kept as toward the end of your session (1).
Experiment with Progressive Overloading
Progressive overloading is a fancy schmancy term, but you might already be doing it without realizing so. It simply means that you’re doing more work over time. Most commonly, people understand this as adding weight every week. Week 1, you squat 150 pounds; Week 2, it’s 155; and so on. This is one idea. Bear in mind that at some point, adding five pounds a week will no longer be manageable.
Good news! There are many, many ways you can practice progressive overloading. You can do more reps; you can take shorter rest in between rounds; you can lift the same weight for a longer distance like walking lunges.
Whichever you choose, make sure you’ve mastered the movement at bodyweight before kicking things into gear. If things start to fall apart, hit the pause button to reassess.
Dwell on the Negative
As in, the “downward” part of the movement. See what I did there?
Practicing negatives — also known as eccentric training — is excellent for strength building and range of motion. Again, it’s more time under tension. Consider your squats: You lengthen the negative to five seconds, hitting parallel around three. These “tempo” squats are one way to highlight the negative part of the squat. By the time you hit the grass, your cheeks will be quivering.
Another example is pull-ups — a seemingly simple exercise that ironically takes people (especially women) quite a while to achieve. Start with your chin over the bar. You can kip up there, jump up, whatever – it doesn’t really matter, in this case. Slowly lower yourself, keeping on tension until your arms are once again straight. Do this negative for a count of five or ten. And no cheating! Try not to break at the very bottom, because that’s the hardest part. In fact, you might consider throwing in a brief pause at that exact moment.
Something cool about eccentric exercises is that you can typically do them heavier than normal. Using the previous example, even if you can’t do a single pull-up, you can probably practice the negative while hanging on to a dumbbell with your legs or feet (2).Incorporate exaggerated eccentrics into your chin-ups, dips, bench presses, strict presses, and even GHD sit-ups for a major boost.
Don’t Go to the Brink of Your Fitness and Nutrition Regimen
For many athletes, especially ones just beginning their fitness journey, it can be tempting to do a complete 180 and take your diet and training to an extreme. Make no mistake, however, that dining on a piece of Iceberg lettuce and a lima bean while training 20 hours a week will birth no positive results, unless you want to look like a wire hanger.
I hate to even use this cliche, but it’s true: Muscles are largely made in the kitchen. They’re also made during rest. While everyone differs in how much they need, at some point, we all need to stay home, chill out, watch Netflix, have a cookie. Maybe a cocktail.
The dangers of under-eating and overtraining are usually fairly evident: Exhaustion, little to no progress or worse, your performance declines, moodiness/depression, lack of motivation, trouble sleeping, a weaker immune system, and constant soreness are just a few signs. Be sure that you’re giving your body adequate time to recuperate and that you’re all the fats, carbs and proteins you need.
Cut Back on Cardio (Or Choose the Appropriate Kind) to Help Muscle Build Faster
Going for a “light jog” might not seem taxing on your body. In fact, I used to occupy my rest days with two-mile runs. In actuality, not only do activities like jogging fatigue your body, but in too-large amounts, they can work against your muscle-building goals.