Before I became a personal trainer, I used a north London gym which was full of bodybuilders, and hired a personal trainer who used to be a competitive bodybuilder in Russia. He taught me six vital lessons for building serious muscle mass.
1. Eat big
That doesn’t mean eat everything in sight. It means eat lots of clean natural wholesome food, with a good balance between protein, carbohydrates, fats, fruit & veg, and plenty of pure water between meals.
Here are some great bodybuilding foods from each food group:
Protein: sirloin steak, salmon fillet, eggs, tuna.
Carbs: sweet potato, new potatoes, oats, bulgar wheat, quinoa
Fats: almonds, cashews, flax-seed, sunflower seeds, extra virgin olive oil, avocados.
Fruit & veg: oranges, blueberries, broccoli, spinach, English spring greens
2. Train with intensity
“Progressive overload,” my Russian bodybuilder personal trainer kept growling at me as I lifted the weights. This is the principle of pushing your muscles beyond their comfort zone, incrementally over time, so that they are forced to adapt and grow.
There are several components to achieving this. One is to reduce the rest time between sets. The other is to maximise time under tension, in other words perform each rep of your exercise slowly to engage the muscle for as many seconds as possible. And of course to lift as heavy as possible with good form, keeping the reps within the 7-10 range.
3. Prioritize the compound movements
Compound movements are the big multi-joint exercises which tax the whole body rather than isolating just one muscle group. The best compound exercises are the barbell squat, the barbell deadlift, the dumbbell chest press (at varying angles on a weights bench), pullups, dumbbell lunges, and the farmers walk (where you walk around carrying two heavy dumbbells until your forearms scream for mercy).
These exercises push your whole body to the limit, and stimulate more muscle growth than isolation movements like bicep curls.
4. Drink protein shakes
The time to drink protein shakes is straight after your workout, when your muscles are crying out for protein to enable repair and growth. The best quality protein shakes are those with 100% whey protein. One really good quality shake is Hurricane XS by MyProtein, which is whey protein mixed with a small amount of carbs to replenish your glycogen stores after a heavy session.
The quality of a protein shake is also measured by what it does not contain. So you want to avoid shakes which are high in added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Whenever I use a gym, I look out for the guy with the best physique, and ask him what protein shake he uses. Nearly always it’s a really high quality shake. One of the personal trainers in the city gym I use, swears by Hurricane XS.
5. Sleep big
Growth and repair of your muscles occurs during sleep, so make sure you get plenty of sleep. A good rule of thumb is to be asleep before midnight, and get around 8 hours sleep a night.
My personal trainer in north London, the Russian bodybuilder, told me he slept 9 hours a night, going to bed at 10pm and getting up at 7am, and woke refreshed every morning. He would also drink an extra protein shake before bed so his muscles were fed with fresh protein during the night.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was a big believer in the power of visualising your goal. If you really want to achieve a big and muscular physique, you have to believe deep down that you can achieve it. Visualising your dream body on a regular basis sets the co-ordinates for achieving that goal, and embeds the goal in your subconscious mind. It also has a motivating effect to see what you want to achieve in your mind’s eye.
Dominic Londesborough is the author of this blog and a personal trainer in London. He runs the Fitness4London.com website, and helps clients burn fat, build muscle, and eat better.