Building lean muscle mass can seem like an uphill struggle – fortunately, our experts have mapped the three steps to getting ripped.
To grow muscle, you need to fatigue your existing muscles thoroughly but safely. And to take advantage of your full potential, you’ll need to develop a strong foundation. ‘The common mistake people make is to go straight into lifting heavy weights with little or no anatomical preparation,’ says personal trainer and HFM expert Jason Anderson.
Sitting around at work may have left you with a deactivated body and bad posture by altering your joint positions, particularly in your spine, knees and shoulders. ‘Correcting joint alignment with a stabilisation phase will ensure you can increase the amount you can lift, year after year, with fewer injuries,’ says Anderson.
A four-week phase of doing lower weights with higher reps (13-20) using exercises that promote joint stability will build your power to blast into Phase 2: the musclebuilding (hypertrophy) phase. Even if you’re already lifting heavy, it’s key to periodise your training (work in stages) to encourage blood flow to muscles. ‘Always working with a rep range of eight to 12 (or a contraction period of 30 seconds) will lead to a disproportionate increase in muscle compared to blood flow. This decreases nutrient and oxygen supply to muscles, which decreases growth and repair,’ says Anderson.
This is also why you should change your workout every four to six weeks. Just repeating moves will strengthen some muscles and leave you with imbalances, pulling your joints out of alignment – maybe even eroding them.
Now you’ve completed three to four weeks of Phase 1 you can move onto Phase 2, where the aim is to pack on new muscle. Your rep range will drop to eight to 12 reps while the weight increases, but it’s the time under tension that’s fatiguing the muscles, rather than the number of reps. So, blast through each set in less than 30 seconds, crossfit-style, and you’ll miss out completely on the musclebuilding effect. Aim to lift the weight explosively, pause at the top for max muscle contraction, then lower slowly for a good eccentric muscle contraction. That’s a four-second process, which, with 10 reps, is 40 seconds under tension.
The workouts are only one part. You also need to create the ideal conditions for your body to grow muscle. You need 1.5-1.8g of protein per kilo of body weight (and sufficient carbs) to put on new muscle, for which supplements are handy but that’s not the whole story. ‘Your body needs to be ready for growth and repair, so avoid lack of sleep, infrequent meals, processed food, and booze,’ says Anderson. This improves digestion so you can fuel muscle growth, reduce the effect of stress on muscle repair systems and improve muscle-building testosterone levels, which suffer if you have high cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
‘The other thing to remember about any hypertrophy programme is it has a six-week expiry date,’ Anderson states. ‘So prepare the body with a stabilisation phase and high reps and you’ll make the most of this window by maximising the amount of weight your body can tolerate and therefore the amount of fatigue you can induce in your muscles.’
Road to ripped
A side effect of building muscle is that you’ve been eating to fuel the process, so you’ve probably added some body fat, too. This is another area where periodisation comes in. You can enter a phase where you consolidate muscle gains by continuing with a new weightlifting workout, but aim to boost your metabolism and burn extra calories with high intensity interval training (HIIT).
Phase 3 will follow your four to six week muscle-building Phase 2. According to Anderson, the emphasis here used to be on diet. ‘Losing body fat and improving definition has historically been about reducing calories, which affected energy levels and subsequent lifting potential. However, we now recognise that acquiring a strong, lean, muscular physique is more about providing the correct environment for muscle growth.’ This means getting the balance right between workouts, rest and recovery, and nutrition. Again, dietary supplements can help with this.
If you get the right balance, there’s no reason why you can’t see constant progress. ‘Periodisation provides a format to achieve consistent progression by allowing you to strengthen weak links in your “armour”, while optimising growth potential by challenging the body with a variety of contraction periods and resistances,’ says Anderson. Pick up the next issue of HFM for the Phase 3 workouts that will see you reach your destination on the Road to Ripped.
Words by Matthew Ray