Training Methods and Nutrition for Muscle Mass Building
10 Tips For Breaking Plateaus and Building Strength and Muscle Mass
By Eric Astrauskas, Spec. Hons. B.A. (Kinesiology), P.T.S.
Personal Trainer in Toronto
1. Train to failure (or close to it) for muscle building.
You want to "feel the burn" and produce lactic acid during your sets. This helps boost growth hormone, testosterone, and nitric oxide. All of these work to build muscle mass.
2. Vary your program with drop-sets, negative reps, explosive training, high reps training, and stability training.
Training should be performed with cycles that vary from 2-8 weeks in length. You want to constantly challenge your body to reach new levels of fitness. You want to stress different fiber types to achieve maximum muscle building potential. You must cycle your training to include training for strength, power, and endurance. This maximizes utilization of all types of muscle fibers, fast and slow twitch. This is called periodization training and is used by competitive athletes and bodybuilders.
3. Make sure you train each muscle in the full range of motion and use different joint angles.
You want to maximize fiber stimulation. You have to work through joint angle "sticking points" through full range of motion. You also want to stress a muscle from different joint angles. An example of this would be working out your biceps at different angles and muscle lengths, an example would be preacher curls and straight arm cable curls.
4. Monitor your nutrition intake.
Sometimes you will hit plateaus if you have macronutritient (protein, carbohydrates, fat, water) or micronutrient (vitamins and mineral) deficiencies. Watch out for missing meals and not eating after workouts. This will hamper progress. Look at your pre- and post-workout nutrition. You may want to consider high quality multi-vitamin/multi-mineral, oand whey protein isolate. Occasional use of a pre-workout supplement that contains BCAA's and creatine can help you push harder and reach your goals faster. Other supplements to consider are; magnesium, zinc, and fish oil/omega3-6.
5. Make sure to stretch and foam roll.
Tight muscles will prevent you from working them in the full range of motion. With limited flexibility, you are more prone to injury. Spend less time recovering and more time training by stretching and foam rolling. Check out some of my favourite stretches and foam rolling. Great references for flexibility training and foam rolling include: The Foam Rolling Bible , Total Foam Rolling Techniques , Foam Roller Workbook , Stretching Anatomy, Prescriptive Stretching , and Stretch to Win .
6. Training weak links (grip strength).
Many people could take their training to another level if they had stronger forearms/grip strength. Using a fatter grip with Fat Gripz will help strengthen forearms and grip. Another one of my favourite tools are Heavy Grips hand grippers
which go from 100lbs to 500lbs of resistance! Towel wringing is also a good way to building the forearms. Even try hanging for time on a chin-up bar. Stronger forearms will enable you to do more weight in many exercises (including: chin-ups, pull-ups, deadlifts, side rows, arm curls, shrugs, and more). You can perform grip strength training at the end of every workout as forearms recover very fast!
7. Avoid over-training and make time for rest.
Over-training wreaks havoc on your hormonal balance. The end result includes adrenal fatigue and cortisol imbalance. Muscle gains and fat loss become almost impossible. Realize when you are physically and mentally drained and rest or hold back on the intensity of your workouts. A naturopath can help determine if you have adrenal fatigue and provide supplements to improve your adrenal health along with a dietary plan that will help. Usually these will include adaptogenic herbs and vitamin C among several other helpful supplements. Overuse of stimulants may cause this adrenal fatigue and you make have to take a break.
8. Workout journal and fitness assessments.
Map out your workouts and note any improvements and weaknesses. This will help you with designing future programs. Know if your program is effective by completing regular fitness assessments every 4-6 weeks. Do maximum/submax strength tests, tape measurements, and skinfold measurements.
9. Make sure to get at least 7-8 hours sleep.
A great amount of repair occurs when sleeping as growth hormone increases during deeper stages of sleep. Do not eat or drink beverages that interfere with sleep cycles (these include; alcohol and caffeinated beverages among others). If you have trouble sleeping try yoga, tai chi, qi gong, or deep breathing before bed. Stay away from too much stimulation (light and sound). Blue light prevents the secretion of melatonin at night. If you are on the computer at night you can try wearing blue blocking glasses. Supplements that I have found help with sleep include: magnesium glycinate (I take 400mg), taurine (500mg), zinc (15mg), and vitamin D3 (1000iu). I take these an hour before sleep. Other things like lavendar essential oils can help calm you down. Keep your bedroom uncluttered, cool, and dark.
10. Train with someone that is above your level and experienced (even a quality trainer who has a good/better understanding of biomechanics and can improve your techniques).
Inspiration always helps you push yourself to higher levels. A workout partner can also help you push yourself to the limit without injury. A good trainer will see the flaws in your technique and tweak your program appropriately.
For more information and tips on breaking plateaus I recommend the following:
The Poliquin Principles: Successful Methods for Strength and Mass Development
Encyclopedia of Muscle and Strength
Serious Strength Training