Beginners Guide: How to Build Your Body and Get in Shape
Posted on Thursday, January 17th 2013. Written by Michal Ugor
I am London based entrepreneur & writer on this website, you can follow my updates at @fortunepick
I am a Quora user and I like Quora a lot. Recently I flicked through the answers of "What do you regret not doing in your 20s?" question and stumbled on this one: "Not building 6 pack abs". From all health related regrets not getting in shape was stated the most. Thinking of other health benefits I had a little epiphany and decided to get in shape.
Well seriously, so what can you get from a gym workout and why should you give it a try? Here are some reasons:
Improved memory, focus, creativity and brain function.
Physical activity increases blood and oxygen flow in your brain, helps create new nerve cells, enhances neuron connection (synaptic plasticity) and increases dopamine, glutamate and serotonin levels which are known to boost cognition.
Muscles = longer, better life.
In a recently published study, Swedish researchers tracked more than a million teenage boys for 24 years and found those with low muscle strength - weaker leg and arm muscles and a limp grip - were at increased risk of early death.
Boosts your confidence, improves mindset.
Seeing results, gaining strength and feeling good about yourself will develop a confidence and strength that will spread into all areas of your life - business, expressing your creativity, interpersonal relations.
A study by Jim McKenna from the University of Bristol showed that after exercising, the work performance of participants was consistently higher, as shown by better time management and improved mental sharpness. Physical workout also improves sleep, mood, increases energy and alertness.
One misconception about gym workout is that it's boring. Well, playing tennis might appear as much more entertaining but working out in gym is not supposed to be entertainment. Paradoxically the boring bit about working out is the reason you will love it. Every moment you manage to conquer yourself and defeat your weakness, plus high volume of endorphins released and the visible progress later on, all will make you feel awesome. In gym you build your personality, character, discipline and inner strength.
So where to start? Here is the layout of most important principles to follow:
1. BALANCE OF WORKOUT, REST AND NUTRITION
Muscle gain is a result of balanced workout, rest and nutrition. Your muscles don't grow while you workout but while you rest. The workout causes a muscle breakdown and your body responds by building stronger as well as new muscle fibres. Rebuilding peaks 24 to 36 hours after training and continues at increased rates for as much as 72 hours.
2. BEST TYPES OF EXERCISES
Emphasize "heavy compound movements" over isolating movements. Compound movements are multi-joint exercises that affect more muscle groups and therefore give your body maximum stimulus. Dead-lifts, bench presses, shoulder presses, squats, dips and pull-ups are the best type of exercises to stimulate muscle growth.
Free weights over machines. Cable and machine moves are often isolation movements. You should leave machines out and choose free weights over them.
Squats. This exercise deserves special mention. It's the single best and most important exercise to stimulate growth of all muscles. Squats are basically all body exercise, they stimulate your largest muscle group (legs) and that results in a high growth hormone response. Squats can be painful however, never leave it out - you will end up looking ridiculous (you'll notice guys in gym with big body and thin legs) Deadlifts are a closest relative of squats.
3. SETS, REPETITIONS & FREQUENCY
4 times a week, 2-3 exercises, 3-4 sets, 8-12 repetitions. There are many discussions about number of repetitions, however the general rule seems to be: fewer reps + higher weight = muscle mass and strength, while more reps + lower (adequate) weight = lean muscle growth and endurance. Most researchers agree on 8-12 range being an optimum for muscle gain however that might be individual and with some 6-8 might work much better. According to the latest research the optimal balance between growth, endurance and power can be achieved with 25 reps.
In order to get enough rest you should not exercise more than 4 times a week. Some good workout plans can be found here.
Balanced workout in under 60 minutes. In order to maximize both stimulus and ability to rest you should ideally exercise 1 large muscle group (legs, chest, back) combining with 1 or 2 small muscle groups (biceps, triceps, abs. shoulders, traps) in one training.
Complete your workout within less than 60 minutes including stretching. Otherwise you will burn too much calories and undermine your efforts.
Don't waste time. 1-2 minute breaks between sets are ideal for getting most out of your workout. 45 minutes to 1 hour of proper intensive workout what you should aim for, not 2 hours of nonsense.
Forced reps on last set, focus on the correct technique. A Finnish study found that when subjects performed a workout with forced reps (a spotter helped them get through their sticking points to get a few more reps), their growth hormone (GH) levels were almost 4,000% higher than without using forced reps. For the last set of each exercise after reaching failure, go for 2-3 extra forced reps, but utilize these sparingly to prevent over-training.
Train the last set to failure. Researchers from Australian Institute of Sports have reported that training with one set to failure increases strength better than taking no sets to failure. However, when subjects did more than one set to failure, strength gains were lowered by almost half compared to the subjects doing just one set to failure.
Training with higher weights can easily lead to injury. Learn the correct techniques (google up or try youtube) on your first few days use low weights only until you learn to perform every exercise precisely right. That will not just maximize the results may prevent possible injuries. Always remain strict about this.
It is also no shame to work with lower weights, many guys at gym try to workout with high weights to impress others (or for whatever reason) performing them in a very dodgy way. Take some weights off and do it properly, you will win in the long term.
Warm up before, stretching and cardio after. Researchers from Japan found that when subjects did cardio before weights, their GH response to the weight training was blunted by about 1,100% compared to when they lifted first and ended with cardio. Try to do your cardio either after weights or on a different day.
You should however limit your cardio to short and intensive sessions - no more than 30 min. 3 times a week. I myself am a passionate runner, but If I wanted to gain muscle mass I would take a break from long distance running and switch to sprints instead.
Stretching right before weightlifting can actually make you weaker during training. Researchers from the University of Texas (Austin) reported that athletes who stretched after their workouts were more flexible than when they stretched beforehand.
3. REST, SLEEP & NUTRITION
Drink water. Your body is around 70% water; muscle tissue is around 75% water. It should therefore come as no surprise that you need to stay hydrated in order to build muscle. Lack of hydration leads to lack of energy and up to 15% dip in strength. Proper hydration prevents muscle breakdown, improves recovery and digestion which is very important factor when it comes to nutrition. You should drink a lot of water throughout the day and at least 1 litre throughout your workout.
Get enough of sleep. The release of growth hormone reaches its peak during deep sleep Your metabolic rate slows which is perfect for muscle tissue repair and growth Increased blood flow to the muscles
1.7 - 1.8 Grams of Protein per Kilogram of Body Weight. Protein is a major functional and structural component of all our cells. Protein provides the body with 10 to 15% of its energy, and is needed for growth and repair. Proteins are composed of amino acids. There are 22 standard amino acids 9 of which are "essential" that our body can't produce. Essential amino acids therefore need to be consumed as a part of our food, and while our body experiences higher levels of stress they are used up first by our muscles.
Because our muscles are made of protein, getting enough high quality protein in your daily diet is important, because it helps your body repair older cells and produce new cells.
Recommended daily allowance of protein is 0.8 g / kg of body weight. Most studies show that, the RDA for those engaged in strength training should be about 1.7 - 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day.
The quality of protein is determined by presence of essential amino acids and our body's ability to digest it easily. Highest quality protein can be found in: Eggs, Beef, Poultry, Salmon, Soya, Milk.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, there are many great sources of protein but except soya most lack full complexity. You should therefore combine these foods and eat complex meals (e.g except one type of beans combine 3-4).
Slow carbohydrates before. Quick carbs immediately after. There are two types of carbohydrates: complex and simple. Complex carbs provide slow and sustainable energy, simple carbs provide fast energy with quicker peak and drop. When you workout your body needs energy and when you run out of immediate energy it enters catabolic state (resulting into breakdown of your muscles). Eating complex carbs before your training results into more steady supply of energy over the training, while as it's very important to supply your body with simple carbs immediately after.
4. VITAMINS AND SUPPLEMENTS
Antioxidants: Intensive physical workout increases production of free radicals - atoms that cause cell damage. To neutralize them your body produces antioxidants. Antioxidants naturally occur in foods and the most common are: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Beta-carotene, Coenzyme Q. Some of the most antioxidant rich foods are: Berries, Beans, Broccoli, Artichokes, Apples. Here is a more complete list of antioxidant rich food. Ideally, you should start your day with a dose of your favourite multivitamin.
Vitamin B (b-complex): this group of vitamins is quite essential for your workout. Our body needs this group of vitamins for metabolising proteins, fats and especially carbohydrates, which give the body energy to fuel your workouts. Best sources of b-complex: fish, liver, beef, eggs and more (see this list).
Fish Oil: Fish oil contains omega-3 fats that are essential fats (your body needs but can't produce them). These fats offer array of health benefits and they can enhance muscle and joint recovery, aid fat loss and latest research confirmed strength increase.
Tea and Coffee: According to research published by Science Daily post workout coffee with carbohydrates boosts muscle recovery and refuels them by 66%. Both coffee and tea are great sources of antioxidants, and caffeine they contain is very effective fat burner. According to research by scientists from University College London, test subjects who drank 4 cups of black tea per day had 50% lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone with catabolic effects). Keeping this hormone low clears path to greater growth. Preferably drink your tea and coffee in the first half of your day so the caffeine does not interfere with the quality of your sleep.
Other supplements: There are many supplements that stimulate performance and recovery: amino acids are quite recommended for faster recovery, there are joint support supplements you may consider as a beginner and creatine is likely most popular supplement to boost performance but it's better if you stay away from it early on as increased strength may lead to an injury if your body is not used to weight workout and correct techniques yet.
Listen to Music: A study done at the Weider Research Group found that when trained bodybuilders performed a shoulder workout while listening to music on a personal MP3 player, they were able to complete an average of 1-2 more reps per set for all sets of all exercises. So for another source of motivation, create a playlist on your MP3 player of your favourite songs that jack up your adrenaline and bring it to the gym.
Gym: Find a gym with a good energy, avoid fitness centres full of people wasting time and playing with their phones. The right environment will pull you forward - sure, you'll meet some people who look like a genetic experiment went wrong but they are mostly dedicated to what they do which helps the environment - remember you're only there to do your workout. Don't worry if you are the skinniest or most overweight person in the gym - you may not realize it but most people will actually have a respect for you as they know how much willpower it takes to start (unless you waste time and keep machines occupied for too long).
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