Building muscle and strength isn’t the most complicated thing on earth but there are some common mistakes that can really limit your progress. It’s not just beginners, but even experienced gym goers that can end up making some basics mistakes.  So, whether you’re just starting out on your muscle and strength building journey or a seasoned lifter, avoid these 10 common training mistakes to ensure you keep improving:

1)      Being inconsistent – One of the things I’ve learnt is that consistency is king! Being consistent with your workouts, nutrition, and rest is one of the most important factors that will determine your success in building muscle and strength.  There is no point in having the perfect week working out, pushing yourself hard and then following it up with nothing for weeks.  Or, there is no point making sure you never miss your chest workout and being inconsistent with your leg workouts.This will lead to an imbalanced physique.  So, whether your plan is to workout 3 days a week or just 1 day a week, make you are consistent and have a program that you stick to. Each workout and each quality meal will add up over time and contribute to building a stronger and more muscular physique.  

2)      Quitting – A lot of people start on the path to building muscle and strength, but many quit before they really begin to see results. Remember, it’s a journey, and sometimes it’s going to be hard. There will be times where you have brilliant training sessions and set personal bests and other times you will struggle to increase your strength. You may even have to try out numerous approaches to training and nutrition to see what works for you. But whatever you do, stick with any given routine long enough and you’ll see results, and once you do you’ll never want to quit.

3)      Not eating properly – You know what they say, you are what you eat! You could have the most effective workout plan and really train hard in the gym, but all this is wasted if you don’t have proper nutrition to fuel your training and help repair your muscles. When you lift weights, your muscle fibres are broken down and it’s only when you are resting that they are rebuilt stronger and bigger. You should put in as much thought to your nutrition as you do for the actual workout.  If you don’t, then you’re really limiting your muscle and strength gains.

4)      Not doing compound movements – A lot of people will spend hours in the gym performing isolation exercises such as bicep curls, tricep extensions or dumbell flies for chest.  Focusing primarily on in isolating individual muscles isn’t the best way to build a strong a muscular physique.  People that do these are basically majoring in the minors and not getting the most out of their workouts. You’re workout needs to be focused on doing the compound movements such as squats/leg press, bench press, shoulder press, rows etc… By doing these exercises you are working more muscle groups that will all be getting stronger.  Isolation movements can be fitted into the end of your workout as assistance exercises. Personally, I aim to base most of my routine around compound movements and very rarely isolate things like biceps. The compound pulling and pushing movements will work muscles such as the biceps and triceps anyway.

5)      Not training the legs – We’ve all probably seen the guys with  a really muscular looking chest and big arms but  skinny legs.  Not only does this make the physique look unbalanced it’s also one that isn’t truly strong. Training the legs also helps your whole body get stronger and the benefits can be carried over into other lifts such as bench press and shoulder presses. So if you want to build a balanced physique, make sure you work your legs.   

6)      Not pulling enough – A common mistake a lot of people make is to concentrate too much on pushing movements such as bench press and not balance this out with pulling such as barbell rows. This leads to muscle imbalances, can lead to a slouching posture and even lead to shoulder injuries. You should ensure that you balance your training by performing as many pulling exercises as you do pressing.  This will help keep your shoulders healthy, improve your posture and even give the illusion of a bigger chest.  I often train chest and back together and ensure that for each pressing set that I do, I do the same number or even more sets of pulling movements.

7)      Using bad form – It’s all well and good using compound movements as the staple of your workout, but if these are done with bad form, you’re wasting your time. More importantly, you’re increasing the risk of serious injury. So if, when you are squatting, your back is rounding or you can only manage 2 inch knee tremblers, then you should lower the weight and perform the exercise with correct form. Quality, perfect form reps are much more effective and safer than bad form reps with a heavier weight.  When you begin, it might take you some time to perfect your form. Don’t worry about this because once you have perfected your form you’ll be able to make good progress safely.

8)      Comparing yourself to others – There is nothing wrong with a bit of competition, but you should know your limits. There will always be someone bigger and stronger than you. When you go to the gym there will be a range of people including, beginners, seasoned bodybuilders and power lifters with huge amounts of muscle and strength. Don’t be fazed by this and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.  Remember, everyone started as a beginner. More importantly, know what your own goals are and stick to them.

9)      Thinking that you need supplements to build muscle and relying too much on them – Certain supplements can be a useful aid in helping you to reach your goals. But that’s just what they are, supplements. Too many people fall into the trap of relying on supplements and they end up taking the place of proper nutrition from a balanced and varied diet made up of whole foods. In truth, you can build a muscular and strong physique without supplements and the only things you really need is a good workout and program and good quality nutrition from food.  So don’t fall into the trap of believing all the marketing, supplements can be useful but there isn’t any magic formula that will make you gain muscle and build strength. The only thing that will do that is lifting weights and proper nutrition from whole food.

10)   Overtraining – When it comes to building muscle and strength, more isn’t necessarily case of better. When you work out, you are essentially breaking down the muscle. The body then needs rest and nutrition to repair and build the muscle.  Overtraining occurs when your body hasn’t been given the chance to recover. It can result from working out for too long, to frequently, not eating properly or not getting enough rest.  Spending 3 hours in the gym everyday doesn’t mean you will get stronger and bigger. You could end up overtraining and could actually lose muscle and strength because the body isn’t getting the chance to rebuild. So’ if you’re starting to feel weaker, getting aches and pains and feel exhausted all the time, these are just a few of the symptoms of over training and it’s time to take a break. Giving your body time to rest and recover will ultimately mean you’ll come back with more motivation and feeling stronger.

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Muscle Milkshake

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Recipes
Tags: , ,

 

 

A lot of my friends say that they don’t have time for breakfast due to increasingly busy life styles. It’s not always easy to have a hearty cooked meal every morning and sometimes it would be nice to have something we can just pick up and go.  When I’m in a rush or know that I’m not going to be able to have proper meal during the day, I turn to a homemade smoothie that takes minutes to prepare, tastes great and is packed with the nutrients you need to keep you fuelled till your next meal. Here is one of my favourite smoothies that I normally have 1 hour to 1 ½ hours before training if I’m working out early in the morning. It’s also ideal as a breakfast if you’re pushed for time, a meal replacement or post workout shake. One thing to remember is that I only use this smoothie if I’m pushed for time. If you have time always go for real food, as its much better! 

Ingredients

1)      30 – 60 grams porridge oats (the more oats the higher the carbohydrates and thicker the shake will be

2)      One or two whole  sliced bananas

3)      Tea spoon of honey (optional)

4)      Tea spoon of flaxseed oil or ground flaxseed (essential fats)

5)      30 grams (one large scoop) whey protein (I normally use unflavoured whey but flavoured whey can work too)

6)      300ml semi skimmed or skimmed milk

Note: The quantities of the porridge oats can be altered depending on your goals. If you’re aiming for size and strength then you’ll need more calories but if your aiming for fat loss, just 30 grams of porridge oats should be sufficient.

Instructions

1)      Put the porridge oats, banana, milk, flaxseeds and honey into a blender and blend till all the ingredients are liquidised.

2)      Pour the smoothie into a shaker so that it is half full

3)      Add the whey protein to the half full shaker

4)      Pour the rest of the smoothie into the shaker and give it a good shake for a minute or so.

5)      Enjoy immediately or store in the fridge and drink it later

Note:  Ideally you should use a shaker that has one of those plastic inserts that help the mixing and break up and lumps. If you don’t have a shaker then just add the whey into the blender along with the other ingredients. But I prefer to add the whey protein to the shake because that way I know that none of it is left stuck to the side of the blender and wasted!

Nutritional info:

Protien = approx 30 grams

Carbohydrates = approx 50 grams based on 60 grams oats and 300 ml semi skimmed milk

Fat = I’m not entirely sure but it’s not much!

You can try other combinations too. If you don’t like bananas, try something else such as strawberries.   So, there you go, no more excuses to miss breakfast. Try it out and let me know what you think!

Muscle building breakfast

Posted: September 19, 2012 in Recipes

Muscle Food – High Protein Breakfast

A healthy balanced breakfast is really important when trying to build muscle.

I often get asked what I eat for breakfast as part of a healthy muscle building diet. Well I try to eat something slightly different each day just to avoid getting bored of eating the same thing all the time. However, I always try to stick to a few simple rules when it comes to breakfast. These rules are:

1)      Must contain protein to help build muscle

2)      Must contain complex carbohydrates to provide energy

3)      Must contain some essential fats to provide energy and help body function normally

Before I carry on, I know some of you might be shocked at the idea of consuming fat but you needn’t worry. The fat I’m talking about here is the good kind that your body needs. The link below provides an easy to understand explanation of why fats are important to building muscle.

http://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/the-role-of-essential-fats-in-bodybuilding.html

Anyway here is a sample of one of the breakfasts I often have. I normally choose this meal if I don’t have time to cook something like an omelette which I prefer!

Porridge, Boiled eggs, blackberries, banana, Orange juice and cond liver oil / flaxseed oil

1)      50 grams of porridge oats with 300ml skimmed or semi skimmed milk. Cook in the microwave for 2 – 4 minutes depending on your microwave.  Add some sliced banana in for sweetness.  This will provide the complex carbohydrates and provide you with energy slowly during the day.

2)      3 whole boiled eggs.  The whole egg is packed full of nutrition is a great sources of protein and vitamins. Each egg contains about 6 – 7 grams of protein depending on the size. Half of the protein is contained within the yolk.

3)      Handful of blackberries. These taste great and are a great antioxidant

4)      Glass of pure orange juice with no added sugar. Great source of vitamin C

5)      Teaspoon of flaxseed oil or cod liver oil. Provides essential fats to help body function

The meal above provides approximately 30 grams protein and 40 grams carbohydrates. On days that I’m going to working out I normally increase the porridge oats to 100 grams to increase the calories.  You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m by no means an expert on nutrition and nor can I explain in detail all the scientific facts for the food I eat. But I do know that it works for me. So feel free to give this easy to prepare breakfast a try.  I’ll get some details of the more interesting recipes up soon!

If you ask a lot of guys what their ideal physique would be,  I’m pretty sure a lot of them would choose the physique of a sprinter. Sprinters that run the 100 and 200 meters and to some extent the 400m generally have very muscular, powerful and lean physiques. This has been achieved through years of training using a combination of weights, sprinting and diet. Now, just because you may not have aspirations of being the next Usain Bolt, it doesn’t mean you can’t  incorporate sprint workouts into your fitness regime to help boost muscle gains, fat burning and help improve your overall conditioning.

 

Sprint to build muscle and burn fat

By sprinting I mean running as fast as you can for a period of 10 – 30 seconds, having a rest and repeating again. That’s it; it really is as simple as that. Why should you sprint? Well, sprinting is one of the most functional exercises you could possibly do. When you sprint, not only are you using your legs but also the majority of your upper body muscles including your arms, back, shoulders, abs and even chest.  As well as this, sprinting allows you to work your muscles in way that isn’t possible by just lifting weights. You may find that hard to believe, but trust me, after a sprint session you will really feel it in your whole body.  

Sprinting will also help you become leaner. If you don’t think this is true then just take a look at the examples of 100 meter sprinters physique compared to that of a long distance runner. Not only do sprinters generally have more lean muscle but also tend to have lower body fat too.

Sprint anywhere

The great thing about sprinting is that you can do it anywhere. If you’re lucky enough to have a local track nearby that’s great but any open space such as a field or even a hill would do. Actually hill sprints are great too for some added resistance if you feel up to it.

Sample Sprint routine

Try incorporating the following routine into your workout regime once or twice a week. If you don’t have the time to sprint on separate days then you could do it immediately after your weight training. I’d try to avoid sprinting the day before you train your legs though as that wouldn’t allow for enough recovery time. Also, if you’ve never sprinted before you could reduce the distances or amount of sets you do and slowly build up. Remember the routine below is just a sample to give you an idea. Feel free to experiment with the distances, rest periods and number of sets. Also note that for simplicity I’ve used a conventional 400 meter running track in the sample. If you don’t have access to a track just do the same thing on a field.

Warm up:  1 – 3 laps of gentle jogging to get warm and loose. It’s really important to get warm and loose before going into the sprints to help avoid getting injured

Warm up: Perform some dynamic warm up exercises such as jogging on the spot and really focusing on lifting your knees high and pumping your

Warm up: Perform some light stretching of your hamstrings and quads

Warm up: Run 30 meters at 50% pace and just concentrate on pumping your arms and getting high knee lift. Perform this 2 – 3 times.

One you are warmed up it’s time to get into the sprinting.

Sprint:  100 meters x 5 –  Sprint 100 meters as fast as you can, then walk back to the starting point and repeat again 4 more times. Feel free to take a longer rest in between sets if you need to.  Once your fitness levels improve you can increase the number of sets to 10 or you can try sprinting for 200 meters and then jogging for 200 meters for 5 sets.

Warm down: After your sprint sets have finished, warm down by doing a couple of fast paced walking laps of the track to help alleviate some of the tightness that may have resulted from the sprints

Static Stretches: Finally, spend some time stretching at the end of the workout to once again, help to avoid tightness and also aid recovery.

That’s it really, it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t take long at all. Just be sure to warm up properly before you sprint. So, try to fit in some sprints as part of your workout and start to build muscle and burn fat!

High protein muscle building chicken sandwich

Lifting weights is only one part of the equation when it comes to building muscle and strength. The other two parts which are just as and if not even more important are quality nutrition and rest. Basically, when you lift weights you are tearing your muscle fibres and it’s only when you’re resting that your body rebuilds the muscle using the food that you’re eating. Eating enough quality calories to build muscle and strength isn’t always easy though.  A clean diet can be a bit boring. There is only so much grilled chicken, tuna, brown rice and veg a person can look at! But with a little bit of planning and effort you can make some really good tasting meals and snacks that are packed full of the nutrients you need to build muscle and strength.

Here is one of my favourite snacks that is really easy to make and tastes great.  

Ingredients

Chicken fillet –  8oz / 226 grams (marinated in any way you want)

Sliced onion

Tomato slices

Cucumber slices

Low fat cheese slice (optional)

2 slices of thick wholemeal granary bread

Mayonnaise (optional)

Garlic and Herb sauce (optional)

Instructions

Now , this is so easy I really don’t think it needs describing but I’ll do it for completeness.

1)      Grill the chicken fillet. I use a George Foreman grill but you can use a griddle pan or even put it in the over. I prefer the George Foreman grill because it only takes about 10 min.

2)      Once the chicken is grilled, toast the granary bread.

3)      Spread some mayonnaise on one of the slices of toast

4)      Put the cheese slice on the toast

5)      Cut the chicken breast so that it fits neatly into the toast and place it down

6)      Put the sliced onions, tomatoes and cucumbers on the chicken.

7)      Spread the garlic and herb sauce on the top slice of toast and put it on top to complete the sandwich

8)      Enjoy!

The sauce, cheese and mayonnaise are optional but it would be a pretty boring sandwich without them. Feel free to use any other choices according to your taste.

Nutritional Facts

I haven’t really worked out the exact macronutrients for this sandwich but based on the ingredients described above it should be approximately as follows:

Protien = 40g

Carbohydrates = 35g

Fat = 5g

Muscle and Strength program for beginners

Starting out on the path to building muscle and strength can be quite daunting for beginners.  I was there myself once. There is so much information out there it’s hard to decide what program is best for you. A common mistake a lot of beginners make is trying to follow the workout programs of professional bodybuilders found in a lot of magazines. The problem with this approach is that the workouts of professional bodybuilders aren’t suitable for beginners for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is that pro bodybuilders use a whole host of performance enhancing products that allow them to train and recover in a way a natural athlete simply couldn’t match.  In any case, even the pro bodybuilders themselves wouldn’t have started with these routines when they were beginners.  

Anyway, let me get to the point. Gaining muscle and strength for a beginner is pretty simple. You need a program comprising of the basic compound exercises, eat enough good food (proteins, carbohydrates and good fats) and get enough rest.

The Program

One of the most effective muscle building training programs for beginners and even more advanced trainees is a program that uses the 5×5 approach.  This approach is a tried and tested one that has been used by strength coaches with great success.  There are many variations of the 5×5 approach and the one below is a slightly adapted version of the routine used by renowned strength coach Bill Starr to help American Football players build muscle and strength. I can personally vouch for this approach as it’s helped me really increase my strength and put on quality lean muscle. I still run with this program from time to time to help increase strength.

So, the program consists of two full body workouts. Workout A and Workout B. It should be performed 3 times a week with a day of rest in between each workout and 2 days rest every 5 days.

Workout A

Barbell Squats = 5 sets, 5 reps for each set

Barbell Bench Press = 5 Sets, 5 reps for each set

Bent over Barbell Row = 5 Sets, 5 reps for each set

Optional assistance work

Pull ups = 3 Sets, 10 reps each

Dips = 3 Sets, 10 reps each

Workout B

Barbell Squats = 5 sets, 5 reps for each set

Standing barbell shoulder press = 5 sets, 5 reps for each set

Barbell Dead lift = 3 sets, 5 reps each. Ramp up the weight for each set with the aim of using the first 2 sets to warm up and the last set is going to be the heavy set.

Optional assistance work

Hanging leg / knee raises = 5 sets, 10 to 20 reps each

Example Schedule

If you train Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the program would be run as follows:

Monday – Workout A

Tuesday – Rest

Wednesday – Workout B

Thursday – Rest

Friday – Workout A

Saturday – Rest

Sunday – Rest

Monday – Workout B

So, you get the picture. You train 3 days a week alternating workout A and B.  One week you will perform Workout A twice, and Workout B once and the next week it will be Workout B twice and Workout A once.

What weights should you use?

The whole aim of this program is to progressively allow you to get stronger and put on muscle. When you first start out you should use a weight for each exercise that you can easily do 5 reps on with perfect form. By this I mean that you should be able to do at least another 5 to 10 reps on the weight if you wanted.  For some people this may even mean starting with only the bar. Don’t be ashamed of this as the whole point is to gradually build your strength.

Each week, add a total 2.5kg to weight for bench press, shoulder press and barbell row. Add a total 5kg each week to the squats and deadlift.  The aim is to gradually increase the weight each week. You must complete all the sets and all the reps. If you fail on a set then don’t increase the weight next week. Only increase the weight if you can perform all the prescribed sets and reps.

To begin with, this program will feel easy. But in a few weeks, as the weights get heavy, you’ll really be feeling it by the end of the workout. Over time you will get stronger and as a result put on muscle.

Where are the bicep curls for big arms?

This is a full body workout. You’ll be using all the major muscles and you won’t need to do isolation movements like bicep curls. Your arms will grow big and strong as a result of the heavy pressing and pulling.

How long to use this routine?

I would recommend that you run with this routine for as long as you are making gains i.e. getting stronger. When you get to the point where you can’t increase weight each week, change it to increasing the weight every 2 weeks and eventually every month. Basically, stick with it for as long as you are getting stronger. After that you can start looking at other types of routines such and 3 and 4 day splits.

Key things to remember

1)      Make sure you use perfect form. Get instruction on how to perform the lifts properly if you need to. 

2)      Start light and gradually increase the weights. If you start too heavy you won’t make progress for very long.

3)      Make sure you are eating good quality food and getting enough rest.

Opposing muscle Supersets to supercharge muscle gains

One of my favourite muscle and strength building tactics is to use supersets in my training.  Super sets are a great way to boost your muscle gains, build endurance and also get more done in the gym in less time!  On some days, if I’m pressed for time due to other commitments I will base my entire workout around supersets using opposing muscle groups

What is a superset?

A superset is one where you perform two exercises one after the other without resting in between. It is effectively combining two sets into one.  Generally people tend use supersets towards the end of their routine and combine exercises targeting a particular muscle group. For example, many people will perform a superset for triceps using close grip bench press immediately followed with an isolation movement such as cable tricep extensions.

Opposing Muscle supersets

Now, same muscle group supersets are great, but if you really want to turn up the intensity of your workouts and build some serious overall muscle, try incorporating supersets using only compound movements that utilise opposing muscle groups.

Not only will opposing muscle supersets allow you to get more done in less time, they can improve the circulation meaning that muscles can work more efficiently with more oxygen. You’ll also get an awesome pump and even find you can lift more and do more reps on the second exercise. Many a bench press personal bests have been set even when it has been performed immediately after a set of rows! I personally find that I often feel stronger on the second exercise than if I had started with it.

My favourite superset at the moment is weighted Pull ups + weighted dips. This is an awesome superset that hits the back and biceps and the chest and triceps. Sometimes I do the pull ups first and other times I’ll start with the dips. But whichever order I start with, it really leaves the muscles pumped. Seriously, try super setting with opposing muscle groups. You will really feel it working!

Another favourite superset of mine is barbell row followed immediately by bench press or vice versa.  Here are just a few examples of great opposing muscle supersets.  Remember, as with all exercises, only use a weight that you can do perfect form with to avoid injuries and get the most out the workout.

Opposing muscle superset examples

1)      Bench Press + Bent over barbell rows

2)      Bench press + Pull ups

3)      Barbell rows + Dips

4)      Pull ups + Dips

5)      Standing barbell shoulder press + pull ups

6)      Bicep curls + tricep extension

The possibilities are limitless so why not include supersets into your workout and see yourself pile on the lean muscle, get stronger and burn fat.