2005 was a big year for me. I was on Spring break and my Dad got me a week’s pass to go to Gold’s Gym. After the legendary 15-year-old swole fest I saw the reflection of my arm in my Dad’s car mirror and I remember thinking, “Wow, you’re ridiculously swole, maybe you could do that for a career.”
Okay, maybe those weren’t my exact words, but I got hooked quickly. After that I ramped up my training, I hit some high school milestones such as bench pressing 135 for 10 reps, and even had a girl tell me my arms looked big.
This was a long time ago. I would say I started consistently training right around my junior year of high school, so essentially I have over a decade of training and am pretty happy with how I look.
Am I the expert on muscle hypertrophy? No, this is far from true, but I think with my considerable time training and training other people I can logically chime in on the discussion of how to put on muscle while staying lean.
I want to address promises of quick fixes; 16-inch arms off 12-week programs, shredded six packs by cutting out the shredded cheese (not doing that) and setting people up for realistic expectations. Sure, the title is a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is it’s not going quick.
If you want a physique you are going to be proud of, be prepared to put in the work and do the right things. If you do the following, I promise that in ten years you will be in great shape.
Hone Your Technique
The exercises that are going to give you the most bang for your buck require substantial technical demands. The big three lifts, the deadlift, squat, and bench press are going to be your cornerstones to an improved physique.
During a recent conversation with Tony Gentilcore at BU as I was curling slightly more than him, we talked about the percentage of people who correctly deadlift. The percent isn’t high. These are extremely technical lifts with little intricacies that can make the difference between getting stronger or hurting yourself.
Do yourself a favor, hire a coach or find a very experienced friend and master these three lifts. Once you can do this correctly you have a foundation for getting stronger.
Record What You’re Doing and Get Strong
If you can’t bench press 225, squat 315 or deadlift 405 you might not have the physique you want (given a certain body weight such as 160-190lbs). After ten years (likely much sooner), for men, these are all attainable numbers.
After you have your technique down have someone write you a program that safely focuses on improving your strength. If you are tracking what you are doing it is much easier to apply progressive overload to your programs. If you deadlifted 225 for 10 for 4 weeks, it’s time to move to 240. If you bench pressed 135 for 6 reps, it’s time to do it for 8 reps. You need to systematically ensure that you are pushing yourself to the next level when possible.
Introduce Appropriate Exercise Variety
I say “appropriate” because there is no need to get overly complex with your exercise selection. You should be doing compound lifts (along with biceps curls obviously) that help you accumulate adequate volume so you continue to see improvements in your strength and physique.
You can make your resistance training routines more challenging by pairing some exercises together. For example, a great combo for the glutes is the RDL and glute bridge or a trap bar and rear leg elevated squat combo for the quads.
Think about categories of movement; squat, deadlift, push and pull and introduce different variations to each of these movements to ensure that you are hitting every muscle fiber and avoiding stagnation. Here are some examples:
Squat: back squat, front squat, rear leg elevated squat (unilateral example), box squat, and low bar trap bar squat
Deadlift: conventional deadlift, sumo deadlift, Romanian deadlift, deadlift lunge, and trap bar deadlift
Push: bench press, push-up, dumbbell press, incline press, overhead press, push press, half kneeling overhead press
Pull: Pull up, lat pull down, dumbbell row, chest supported row, cable row
If you’re still looking for appropriate routines check out these guides:
It’s Not Easy But You Might as Well Do It
Getting stronger and more fit is not easy, but you might as well it do it. It takes just an hour out of your day four or five times per week. We waste more time than that on a regular basis. If you’re going to exercise you might as well do it right and track your progress to improve.
And if you can stick it out for the long haul you too might be able to make a career out of being professionally “swole.”