With so many training theories being floated around the internet and in gyms all over the country, it’s not hard for a beginning bodybuilder to be a little confused on the best way to develop muscle mass and get big. These theories vary from “Go Heavy or Go Home”, “Train to Complete and Total Failure”, “Feel the Muscles Working”, “Drop Set Until You Drop”, etc, etc. What’s a skinny hardgainer going to do with all this conflicting information?
There are many ways to train a muscle to grow. Hypertrophy comes in many shapes and sizes but one underlying tenet is as true today as it was over a century ago when Eugene Sandow first picked up his first barbell (or kettlebell). That tried and true concept is A BIG MUSCLE IS A STRONG MUSCLE.
I was reminded of this basic truth to building muscle the other day in the gym. A personal trainer was instructing one of his brand new students on how to do a Dumbbell Bench Press exercise. Coming from the school of “feeling the muscles work”, this trainer spent several long minutes instructing his poor confused client on body position in order to feel the muscles working. From arching his lower back to pulling his shoulders down to keeping his feet elevated to performing the exercise in super slow motion, this guy (who was doing his very first workout ever) must have marveled at the advanced thought process that was involved in pushing up a couple of dumbbells.
Finally, the trainer laid his hands on his clients underdeveloped pectorals so the student could “feel” those pecs contracting during the movement. By the time the poor guy mastered all the techniques he was being drilled into performing simultaneously, they had to go all the way down the rack to the tiny 10 pound dumbbells in order for him to do the exercise correctly.
“In the Beginning”, the God of Muscles once said, “You must get Stronger before you can Grow!” The concept is remarkably simple. A muscle will grow based upon the stress imposed on it. A rank beginner who normally doesn’t lift anything heavier than his car keys or his TV remote control will grow from doing the most basic tasks in the gym. If our skinny novice client was handed the 20 pound dumbbells (as opposed to the embarrassing 10 pounders) and told to do 3 sets of 10 repetitions, he no doubt would have been sore in the pecs, shoulders and arms the next day.
If he was now eating correctly (six small meals a day consisting of complete
protein foods, complex carbohydrates and essential fats), his muscles will recover from this first training session by growing both bigger and stronger. He may not be ready for the Olympia stage yet but he will have made progress, even though he probably will not be able to notice it yet.
If he trains each muscle group consistently and attempts to lift MORE weight each time he trains, his muscles will adapt by getting both stronger and bigger. The strength leads the way and the increased muscle size follows. As the nerve to muscle pathway becomes more efficient (it’s like riding a bike), he will be able to handle more resistance on the many exercises he is performing. As he gets stronger,the muscles will adapt (they have NO choice) by growing in size.
Before he knows it, those puny 20 pound dumbbells will be replaced by the 40 pounders and then the 60 pounders. After several months of consistent training, our once former skinny novice gym member will be anxiously starring at the 100 pound dumbbells at the end of the rack. And by the time he does get to meet those coveted 100’s first hand, it will be a much bigger chest, shoulders and arms that is going to be lifting those prodigious weights into the air. A stronger muscle is a bigger muscle!
Of course, the instruction on feeling the muscles working, doing the movement in good form and performing the exercise correctly is all good stuff. However, you need to have some muscle to feel before that advanced lecture is necessary. In the Beginning, it’s really as simple as consistently increasing your strength in order to build more muscle.
It’s not a coincidence that the biggest and most massive bodybuilders from every generation were also incredibly strong. Reg Park and Bill Pearl led the way in the 1950’s and ’60’s followed by Sergio Oliva, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu in the ’70’s. Franco once remarked that both he and Arnold had a powerlifting/weightlifting background and that was one of the primary reasons they were so far ahead of everyone else when they competed in bodybuilding.
If you are still attempting to increase your muscle mass, don’t get confused by all the advanced theories on feeling every muscle fiber contract during each inch of movement during a rep. Stick with the basics by training with mostly barbells and dumbbells, pushing yourself to use more resistance and be careful not to overtrain so you can recuperate and grow. As you get stronger, you will get bigger. This is a tried and true concept that has worked for centuries and it will still work today.
About the Author
John Hansen is a competitive natural bodybuilder who has won the first Natural Mr. Olympia title and is a three time Natural Mr. Universe winner. John has appeared in various magazine covers and contributes material to various online and traditional magazines, including IRONMAN Magazine, where he has a monthly column.
It should be mentioned that at 49 years old, John Hansen also won the 2012 Natural Mr. Universe in the Professional Masters division; 20 years after winning his first Natural Mr. Universe title in 1992! You can follow John through his several websites including www.naturalolympia.com, www.johnhansenfitness.com, www.musclesatthemovies.com and his YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/naturalolympia. To contact John, email him at email@example.com