How to Build Your Body Without Burning It Out
Endless extreme workouts which may compromise recovery have never been the best training approach for those who are, as well as being drug free - let’s face it, having the “chemical advantage” does confer greater recuperative abilities - not, sad to say, genetically destined for bodybuilding greatness. As a trainer who respects his clients’ unique abilities and limitations, I have found the act of balancing sufficiently intensive workloads without going overboard and either injuring a client or making it untenable for them to continue training is a finely hewn process, but one that is of the utmost importance. As much as I would love to say that the ultra-intense hardcore approach to bodybuilding combined with a “no limits” attitude and a long-held death wish is the best way forward, it is, once one has been in the personal training business for a while, apparent that such thinking is at best outdated, at worst precursory to dangerous training advice.
One top ranked pro bodybuilder who has clearly solved the mass building puzzle. Author David Robson with former Mr. Olympia Dexter Jackson.
What bodybuilding aspirants need most today is sound, realistic training advice amongst which includes the notion of tapering off on intensity levels when necessary and training the body hard, but in line with one’s unique genetic limitations. The intensively militant approach some people take toward their training – it begins to rule their life; they lose balance; they become injured or burned out – can also be applied to that, for bodybuilders, finicky process of eating for fat loss. The dichotomy of competitive versus non-competitive bodybuilding tends to be where much of the misguided thinking concerning how strictly one must train and eat lies. Most people cannot, I repeat cannot, maintain an extremely ripped, competition-ready physique for any longer than a week or two, maximum. An onstage physique - necessarily dehydrated and cut to shreds - may only be maintained in its present state – without water, sufficient calories and rest – for a few hours. But this is exactly the look many young guys want when they first enter a gym. What many people do not realize, however, is the extreme training and dieting needed to get “ripped” and “sliced” beyond belief cannot be applied to those “merely” wanting to get into decent shape while gradually and realistically improving their muscle mass levels over time. One other thing to remember: once a bodybuilding competitor finishes a contest there is often a period during which they pack on a substantial amount of the wrong kind of weight (this is especially apparent during their “off-season” the period throughout which they pack on “mass”).
Dexter Jackson winning the New Zealand 2008 Elite and Pro Bodybuilding Championships.
Such bodybuilders then begin to look more like a Dunkin Donuts representative than a muscle-loaded physique champion. How does this happen? The body, it appears, attempts to compensate for the starvation it has endured while dieting strictly and needlessly trudging through hour upon hour of cardio work and exceedingly hard weights sessions in preparation for the big event. Indeed, the body - upon stepping onstage - is likely to have reached a catabolic state, which can often only be rectified through a surplus of calories and much rest from the rigors of training. The off-season dilemma - what to eat, what not to eat - then ensues and our bodybuilder, unable to achieve a happy medium, finds themselves out of shape, the likely winner of “most abs” rather than “best abs”. Sensible bodybuilders, on the other hand, are aware that to maintain low body fat levels while increasing the body’s propensity for size building requires a more realistic approach, one that demands a less strenuous dietary and cardio regime. Can extreme definition be attained without starvation diets and endless cardio and weight training? Not only can it be done, but it is, for most, an eminently more intelligent approach that will reward them with excellent size gains and a metabolism (the rate at which our bodies burn calories - specifically, for those reading this article, fat calories) that will continually burn excess weight, resulting in a low fat, muscular physique, which can, given the long-range approach taken, be maintained with relative ease. Provided below is a series of strategies that have helped me to achieve for my clients long lasting gains in size and muscular definition. They will help you too as you strive to build muscle sensibly.
Step One: Get Out of Bed and Train!
Natural physique in action: David Robson shows terrific triceps development.
The male sex hormone testosterone is secreted in larger amounts during the early morning period (between 5.00am and 6.00am), thus suggesting that training during or shortly after this timeframe is a good way in which to maximize the anabolic hormone’s muscle building effects. Stoppani and Stiefel (2006), in fact, found, as a result of this very process, that men who trained in the morning were significantly more likely to build lean muscle than those that worked out during evening hours. Since personally scheduling my weight training sessions early in the morning my physique has grown tremendously while my body fat levels have decreased faster than when training at any other time. So, the first step to creating a leaner physique all year ‘round is, it appears, to begin those workouts much earlier. Set the alarm (if so are so inclined to use this method), get your “250 pound three percent body fat MMA champion” physique (not body, but ‘physique’) out of bed and hit the weights before breakfast. You will get the testosterone boost of your life and grow like crazy; you will also no doubt feel more powerful throughout the day with all of that testosterone surging through your veins.
To further kick-start the muscle building process following morning training, be sure to consume directly after such your workout a whey protein shake containing five grams of high quality L-glutamine, five grams of creatine and additional amino acids, and a regular breakfast comprised of complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal and protein such as eggs or chicken around 30 minutes later.
Step Two: Limit Time Between Sets
A further way to significantly boost training intensity without extending session time and pressing and pulling so much weight that blood pores from your ears is to limit time between sets to no more than one-and-a-half minutes, even for compound movements (if additional rest is needed take this between exercises, not sets). Actually, one minute between sets has an even greater impact on creating the conditions necessary for both muscle growth and, ultimately, fat loss: by compounding training intensity in this fashion the body will reach its endurance limits much faster to signal the muscular overload needed to stimulate growth, and workout sessions can be shortened thus allowing greater time for recovery outside of the gym. Another major step forward for year ‘round size and shape improvements.
Step Three: Use Cardio Wisely
You have seen the type: flabby, yet skinny, running until they can run no more. Bottom line: use cardio as a tool to enhance fat loss not as a major component of this process. If cardio is overemphasized – as often it is by people who stride the treadmill for hours on end, efforts which will be hampered by the misguided assumption that duration of exercise corresponds to amount of fat lost – you will lose muscle. Muscle lost creates a lower metabolic rate; a lower metabolic rate means less fat burned at rest; less fat burned at rest means ‘goodbye lean physique.’ The key with cardio, as I have found, is to closely monitor your progress to determine whether you are continuing to build muscle while stripping fat. If so, great, but if you feel your strength/muscle gains are being compromised, reduce cardio activity until you find the perfect level needed to reach your goals. Remember, as bodybuilders/fitness enthusiasts it is important to place your health above all else. Excessive training is not only likely to overstress your body and negate your health and well-being, but also might have the reverse effect for which it was originally intended and may prevent fat loss. Short, sharp sessions that do not overly tax the muscles, yet stimulate them enough so as to create adaptation and further growth, are far and away the better strategy compared with endless workouts which often do more harm than good.
Step Four: Stay Hydrated
An unhealthy internal physical state created through and then exacerbated by an insufficient intake of clean water will thwart the fat burning process. For oxygen to work its magic as it influences aerobic metabolism, to burn fat, we must first have a massive team of fully functioning cells at the ready: to effectively and efficiently carry oxygen across the alveolar junction to the lungs where it becomes an integral part of the aerobic, and thus fat burning, process, our internal chemistry must be on point. Given each of our cells is comprised of around 75 percent water it is for health purposes not only desirable, but crucial that we keep them fully hydrated. Further, by drinking enough pure clean water each day we are better able to hasten the waste removal process while preventing further waste from building up; this also helps us to lose fat. Do not under any circumstances underestimate the dire and indisputable importance of staying hydrated when aiming to burn body fat. You were warned.
Mass developed through sensible training methods: author David Robson at 180 pounds, five percent body fat.
Step Five: Eat More Healthy Fats
One of the biggest steps we can take to ensure we burn body fat consistently is to – and this is a paradox for many - include healthy fats in our daily diet. A diet rich in unsaturated fats derived from foods such as fatty fish (cold water varieties such as salmon), nuts, avocados, olive oil and seeds not only will help boost testosterone levels, thus indirectly causing the body to burn fat through increased muscle mass, but also will ensure our various metabolic functions run as they should. And the better-functioning and more efficient our bodies are the easier it will be to burn body fat through – here’s that term again - an increased metabolic rate. Components found in healthy fats can provide numerous benefits including the reduction of post-training inflammation, improved joint health and enhanced overall health and well-being. Fish oils, in particular, decrease body fat by driving down insulin levels. An anabolic hormone necessary for muscle growth and nutrient delivery to the muscle cells, insulin, when secreted in excess, can have its dangers: when we produce too much it, it tells your body to store more fat instead of burning unwanted weight as fuel. Researchers Couet, Delarue, Ritz, Antoine & Lamisse (1997) (1) published a study in the International Journal of Obesity, which showed that those who supplemented their diet with omega-3 (an important essential fatty acid) - because of its role on moderating insulin levels among other factors - increased the number of fat calories burned per day by up to 26 percent. In fact, if excessive levels of insulin are rapidly released into the bloodstream, carbohydrates (if eaten in excess) are eventually converted into body fat. Maintaining a diet comprised of 10 to 15 percent healthy fats from a range of sources may not only help to reduce excessive insulin levels, but also help to optimize health to ensure our metabolism fires on all cylinders.
There we have it people: train hard, but not too hard, eat well, but don’t, under most circumstances, diet too strictly, and above all else maintain a healthy life balance. By doing so your body will grow faster and you will feel better. Keep everything in its correct perspective, enjoy your training and the results will come.
1. Couet, C., Delarue, J., Ritz, P., Antoine, J-M., & Lamisse, F. (1997). Effect of dietary fish oil on body fat mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. International Journal of Obesity, 21, 637-643
2. Stoppani., J & Stiefel, S. Test drive: dramatically boost your testosterone levels and muscle gains with this six-week training, nutrition and supplement program. Flex Magazine, Jan 2006.
Based in Hamilton, New Zealand, David Robson is a professional freelance writer, book author and respected personal trainer and health and fitness expert. With his solid scientific and academic credentials he has helped thousands of people achieve their health and fitness goals through both his written works and professional guidance. More about David
Your health and fitness goals can be achieved with the right instruction and support that David Robson's Balance Online Training provides.