A question I often get is "do you have to be strong to build muscle?" The simple answer is "no" and here's why...
There's not many that will argue against the fact that a curvy, lean, muscular body is a desired appearance as a result of physical activity. In fact, this is the number one goal of most people who begin and adhere to any fitness program out there. Building muscle doesn't just happen during any sort of physical activity, there is an actual method to the process...and this is where most people fall short or get confused.
There are 2 directions I see most people go when trying to get lean and put on good muscle, they go the extreme "cardio" route or they go the "lift super heavy" route. While these aren't bad tools to use on your way to reaching your goals, neither should be your primary method for achieving that "toned" look (if that's what your after).
Cardio can help shed fat. Fat is usually what is hiding our muscle. So eliminating cardio all together isn't a good decision. Cardio has it's place, but instead of steady state cardio (all the time), incorporate a method that is slightly more effective...I refer to it as "conditioning" or "metabolic conditioning" Metabolic Conditioning typically will use a type(s) of resistance as part of it's protocol. For example, swing a heavy kettlebell for as many reps as possible in 3-5 minutes. Use battle ropes for 30s work/rest intervals. Using some sort of resistance to increase your heart rate will help preserve muscle as well as burn fat in the recovery stages. Typically when using a resistance for "conditioning" you will use something lighter than normal (considering the intensity). So, as you can see, you do not have to be very "strong" in this instance to improve your body composition.
*Conditioning is best done as a "finisher" to a typical resistance training workout, adding it in during the last 10 minutes or so.
Lifting "maximal" or close to maximal loads (super heavy) can and will get you stronger, so if that's your goal, then by all means push those heavy weights. It also comes with a high risk, high reward tag attached. Lifting close to your "max" is great for increasing the neural functions of your body. It teaches us how to control and handle objects/loads that we normally wouldn't handle very well in everyday circumstances...but it also can be the cause of severe injury, which is why it's high risk/reward. As a result of lifting so close to our max loads, very few reps are done overall, the body can only handle so much of this maximal effort before breakdown. Since your total volume (overall reps) are much lower, your muscles don't receive the stimulus they need to "grow", only the stimulus they need to get "stronger"...resulting in much more strength than muscle size (which won't really change the way you look physically).
A better option is to work on sets involving mid-range reps/weights that you can fully control and puts the muscle under tension for longer periods of time. So a normal set of "strength" would be 5x5, and a normal set of "hypertrophy" (mid-range reps/weight) would be 3-4 sets x (8-12 reps). This allows you to control your tempo and isolate the targeted area much more effectively than you would with 5x5 or 8x3. This is not to say you can't get "stronger" with hypertrophy sets, as you can always slightly progress in the weights you use, as long as you reach the necessary rep range with your controlled tempo. Putting an isolated and controlled focus on the targeted muscle helps that muscle to grow, and growing a muscle gives it better shape, and better shape gives you a body that appears lean and "toned." So the main idea is to not lift "heavy" but lift with focus and with a weight that isolates/challenges the targeted muscle. This is most effectively done by doing at least 3-4 different exercises for the same muscle, with set/rep ranges of 3-4 sets and 8-12 reps.
- Stready-State Cardio will burn fat, but also muscle...if your goal is to have lean muscle and look "toned", this is not the method you want to use exclusively.
- Use "Conditioning" instead. Using some sort of resistance to increase your heart rate will help preserve muscle as well as burn fat (mostly in the recovery stages).
- Lifting "super heavy" exclusively will help get you stronger, but very rarely help build a lean, toned body. It's more a neural improvement than a muscle one.
- Hypertrophy is the best method to build muscle and look lean. Sets of 3-4 in the range of 8-12+ reps. Always control the tempo of the weight and make sure you can isolate the targeted muscle.
I get these questions all of the time. What am I supposed to be taking? What supplements do I need? What do you take? If you are going to start anywhere with your supplements, I’d say… start with adding these in to your routine -------> BCAA’s
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)- These serve as the building blocks of muscle protein. Muscle is made up of protein, which is individual amino acids added together (in the easiest, shortest explanation I can give you).
BCAAs are especially helpful for maintaining muscle while on a calorie-deficit diet. If you are a strict calorie-deficit diet, your body is going to naturally, after using up the fuel it had, turn to your muscles and start using all of those hard earned muscles in the gym. Don't waste all of your time building your muscles and body you want just to waste them all away with a poorly fueled body.
Do yourself a favor and take your BCAA’s.
Here’s what we use….
When Do you take it and how much?
Dose: The optimal dose of BCAAs is around 5 - 10 grams. This blend has 5 grams in 2 scoops because it also has an energy blend with green tea extract, so YES, this one has caffeine in it so can also be used as a pre-workout.
You can take this 20 mins before your workout and also use this as a post workout refuel of the muscles and energy.
If you are not one for the caffeine, then I would suggest this BCAA:
The struggle is real when it comes to carbs…but also real confusing. You can read a million different articles telling you, High Carb, Low Carb, Carb Cycle, etc. While these methods may work for some, they won’t work for everyone…but there is a method I figured out that will give you the best bang for your buck when it comes to dealing with carbs…you just have to follow a few simple rules:
One of two things happens when you consume carbs…they either go to the muscle and are stored as energy for future use, or they are broken down and stored as fat. Which one happens depends on a few things. How well does your body “use” carbs and when are you consuming these carbs.
How well your body uses carbs is referred to as “insulin sensitivity” When we consume carbs, the hormone Insulin is the gatekeeper and decides where those carbs go (muscle or fat). If your gatekeeper is working properly, your body will send those carbs to the muscle and use them as your primary fuel for workouts, therefore burning them as energy and replenishing them when finished. (This is best-case scenario) If your Insulin isn’t working properly, your gatekeeper will not know how to send them to the muscle and as a result, they get sent to fat storage. What determines if your gatekeeper is doing his job? The types of carbs you consume, when you consume them on a day-to-day basis and the type/intensity of your training.
Strength training is an anaerobic exercise that requires the use of carbs for muscle energy and performance. So, carbs stored in your muscle will be the first ones used when you perform a strength training type workout. If your muscle stores are already full and you continue to consume carbs throughout the day, they will not need them, therefore they will be sent to fat storage. In order to keep them full at the right times, you treat them like “putting gas in your car.” You aren’t going to refill your car after every little drive you take, only when you take a road trip or the gaslight comes on.
In simple terms, the best time to eat your carbs is when you actually need to… 60-90 minutes before a strength (or high intensity) workout…and/or 60-90 after a strength workout. This is the optimal time for your body to use those carbs properly, efficiently, and refuel for the next workout. You do not “need” them outside this window (general population) and by doing so, you run the risk of increasing belly/body fat.
First off, you all know what you can/should cut out of your diet today. I’m not going to talk about that stuff. If you can’t/don’t cut that stuff out, stop reading because this article will do nothing for you. Carbs are generally broken down to “simple” and “complex”…the difference being how fast your body can use the energy from each type. Simple, your body can breakdown to fuel almost instantly. This is good for intra and post-workout fuel (during and after workout). Complex, your body takes a longer process to break down, therefore the fuel is gradually used up. This is best pre-workout (before workout). The list acceptable for both types is short and easy to follow…
These don’t make the cut:
Cut the sugars, eat real fuel, and watch how your body feels and changes (for the better).
We talked about it above…if you think you are over-consuming or not very efficient at using your carbs, hit the reset button on your body. In other words, eliminate all carbs except your “pre-workout” ones. For those of you counting macros, you should consume about 50g during this meal, and minimal to none the rest of the day. By doing so it allows your body to slowly respond to the small amount of carbs you are giving it (as well as fuel your workout for that day). As they body gets better at using those carbs, it will be more efficient in the future when you increase your total carb count. This also means you need to fuel your body in other ways…and that is by increasing the amount of protein and fats you consume. These will become your primary fuel for all other daily tasks besides workout. This reset should take about 4 weeks on average, some faster and others may take a little longer. Again if you’re counting macros…increase your carb total by about 20-30g per week or as you feel necessary.
Your diet is fairly clean, you exercise consistently...yet, you still feel like your stomach is sticking out all the time. I don't want to jump to conclusion, because truth be told there are several reasons why someone may be experiencing a constant bloated feeling...but in my experience there are a few things you might be able to try to instantly reduce your bloated tummy.
That bloated feeling could be something simple or it could be more complicated. Bloated-ness, like I said, can happen for many reasons...some of the more serious reasons could be hormonal imbalances or food allergies. I would highly recommend getting these two things tested first to make sure they are within normal ranges or that you are clear of allergies. If you tested "normal" for both of these, here are a few secrets that may help you feel and look a little leaner in the belly.
(Again, these are not completely scientifically proven...but they are backed by some studies and from my experience have helped me look and feel better)
1. EAT Sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut is one of, if not THE, best probiotic you can consume. Bad gut bacteria is a major cause of stomach bloating. Sauerkraut neutralizes these bad bacteria and allows for better digestion. Better digestion allows for your body to absorb more nutrients, resulting in less build-up in your belly and a leaner, better feeling stomach. Make sure you choose a Sauerkraut that has live cultures and is refrigerated...eating warm, canned Sauerkraut will not give you the same benefits. EAT WITH SAUSAGE OR CARNE ASADA, PREFERABLY AT DINNER TIME OR AS YOUR LAST MEAL BEFORE BED.
2. Chose your Oils carefully.
Oils are a major contributor to gut inflammation. Some of the worst being oils derived from vegetables. Always be aware of the type of oil you are consuming or cooking with. Cooking with certain oils also can have a negative effect, as the heat changes the structure of the oil...causing it to become more harmful to your gut. Your safest oils to consume at room temperature are OLIVE OIL and AVOCADO OIL. Your safest oils to cook with are PALM OIL or COCONUT OIL. Don't worry about the high fat content (unless you are smothering your pan or food with it). Your belly will begin to thank you for making this simple change!
3. DRINK more Water
I know I know, you hear this all the time...this is no secret! What most people hear, and what most people do, are two completely different things...Do this: divide your body weight by 10...and try drinking 1 cup of water (8oz) x that number. Me: 200lb / 10 = 20...20 x 8oz = 160oz/day. (that's 1.25 gallons per day for me) Flushing your body with water is a great way to eliminate waste that may be contributing to your belly bulge.
4. DRINK lemon water first thing in the morning.
Before you do anything in the morning, wake up and chug a cold glass of lemon water. Lemons are a natural body cleanser and have been proven to clear the digestive tract.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar before bed.
Vinegar is also a great natural cleanser. Again, it's obvious your guy needs cleaning, do it a favor. One shot in your favorite shot glass before bed is all you need.
There you have it, my personal secrets to improving digestion and gut inflammation. Of course, this goes with saying...I'm assuming you have tried to eliminate obvious junk foods from your diet and exercise regularly before implementing these tips into your daily routine.