Updated 23 January 2015

Build muscle the logical way

Two men in a gym: one flings weights upward while emitting a noise like a gored bull. The other pushes weights quietly, with a fiercely measured, almost mathematical fervour.

Two men in a gym: one flings weights upward while emitting a noise like a gored bull. Then he drops the pile of iron with a bang that rattles the gym’s windows and measures on the Richter scale. The other pushes weights quietly, with a fiercely measured, almost mathematical fervour. Whose workout is more effective?

Maybe you just slipped into some bad habits or maybe you were never shown the right techniques. Whatever the case, here’s a short list of hints to help you build muscle. If the man in the gym throwing his weights and his weight around applied these, he’d look like the buffed Brad Pitt in Troy, without needing to be an exhibitionist.

  • Get someone to spot for you. When you’re using free weights, you need to be able to work to failure – push the weight until you simply can’t anymore. Hint: it’s two or three reps later than you think it is. Those final, sweetly agonizing moments is when you’re piling on muscle. Have your spotter ready to grab the weight when you cave in;
  • Get expert help. Get a gym instructor or personal trainer to watch you work out. You may find you’re exhaling and inhaling on the incorrect stroke. Ask him or her to check your stance: At best you’re wasting your time with the wrong stance. At worst you might be risking injury.
  • Slow down. Robbing your muscles of the advantage of impetus forces them to work. Try doing each rep half as fast as you normally do. You’ll hear muscle fibres screaming that you didn’t even know existed.
  • Do three sets each time. You may find you can do 20 reps in the first set, 10 in the second and three in the third. If so, you need to adjust your weight load. But it’s the third set that builds muscle. The other two might only qualify as a warm-up.
  • Complete your cycle. Cutting corners, by not keeping your arms tucked by your sides, or by “flinging” a weight to complete a movement, just gives a lie to your workout. Rather do fewer reps and do them properly.
  • Know your musculature. If the only muscle you work on in your upper arm is your bicep, you’ll look disproportionate and even risk injury. Attack your muscles with a variety of exercises and routines.
  • Keep working. A punishing workout that leaves you stiff and sore for a week, followed by no exercise for five days while you fret over the lack of growth in your quadriceps. This is nobody’s idea of a good time. Keep working out, three days a week.
  • Rest. Work hard, play hard is an ideal maxim for 20-year-old sales reps with undemanding jobs and lots of cash. If you’re serious about your weight training, get eight hours of sleep a night. It’s when your body recovers and your muscles repair themselves.

  • Get some variety. Dumbbells. Weight machines. Super circuits. Swimming. Cycling. When your body gets the message that there’s really no predicting the challenges – measured, bearable and scientific – that your assault it with, it’ll have no choice but to build muscle to cope. And Brad Pitt will have sand kicked in his face. (William Smook)

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