It’s not the goal of every man in the gym to grow his biceps to sleeve ripping size. That, “I borrowed my little brother’s shirt to look big,” style is not for all of us. Not to say we don’t want some muscular definition; it’s just we like having full range movement in our shoulders. Becoming more Ryan Reynolds, and less like Arnold, takes some knowledge and a bit of discipline, but it is not impossible. Here are some tips to add muscle, endurance and definition with the bulk.
Lift less to reach your goal
Resistance training will build strength. The trick is lifting the correct amount for your goals. For that lean look, focus on muscle endurance. Consider the body of a marathon runner versus a sprinter. Each athlete utilizes strong, well trained muscles to compete, yet their body types are quite different. The big thighs often seen on sprinters come as a result of doing powerful, explosive exercises, designed to move the runner off the line quickly and through to the finish with as much speed as possible. The race, though, lasts only seconds. The marathoner has trained his muscles to endure hours of constant work, trading off power for distance.
Similarly, you want to model your workout routine for endurance. The National Strength and Conditioning Association teaches that muscular endurance can be achieved by doing sets of 12 or more reps, with a weight around 65% of your 1 rep max. That is, if you can squat 200 lbs once, no more, you should perform 12 reps using 130 lbs of resistance. You are trying to exhaust your muscles, but you’re not doing it by loading the bar with plate after plate.
In this program, keep your rest time to a minimum, 30 seconds or less. A quick pace will cause your body to burn more calories while lifting. At first, you might try hitting the gym twice a week, maybe Tuesday and Friday, and work both your upper and lower body. As you adapt to the workout, you’ll need to change the routine. A single plan will only work for so long, no matter what your goals are. When 30 seconds begins to seem like a long rest period add another set. Change the lifts you are doing, and make it to the gym 3 to 4 times per week, focusing on different muscles each day. As your plan evolves, just remember the key items – high reps, short rest and work all major muscle groups at least once per week.
Lose to gain
While we are shaping our body, our focus should not be purely on transforming muscle. Ridding oneself of extra weight also promotes a lean look. Neglecting your body fat will only create a bulkier appearance as you build muscle underneath the flab. Sometimes losing 10 pounds of fat is the quickest way to add 10 pounds of muscle (at least it looks like you’ve added the muscle).
As you gain muscle, your resting metabolic rate is increased, thus allowing you to burn more calories each day, even while at the office. To boost the fat burn even more, you’ll need some cardio. If you have not been for a run in awhile, jog for 30 minutes a couple times a week, until you get your lungs back. Eventually, if you want that really lean, cut appearance, you need 30 minutes of moderate to intense cardio, 4 or 5 times per week. One caution concerning cardio, do not go too long or too hard (TWSS) or you’ll risk burning away your newly acquired muscle.
Finally, you must keep a close eye on your diet. What you are trying to accomplish is a little difficult for your body. It is actually easier to focus just on growing or shrinkage; the combination of the two is a tricky balance. This is why diet is so important. You want to consume just a few less calories than you burn throughout the day. This will allow you lose that extra fat, but still have energy to complete your workouts. Eat too few calories, and not only will you bonk in the middle of lifting, your muscles will not have the substance they require to rebuild themselves and grow stronger. Eat too much, of course, and you won’t be able to fight off the bulk. Beyond calories, the type of food you ingest is important. Focus on lean meats, like chicken, for protein, fruits and veggies for sides and low-glycemic, high fiber carbs like oatmeal. After a hard workout, fill up with non-processed carbs and protein of any, as your body needs it to replenish the fuel you have burned.
Living in the middle is not easy. It requires balance in all parts of life. You can’t just quit eating, or run 10 miles everyday, or focus only on lifting. That would be boring, anyway. So, cowboy up, live with some discipline, and go bag yourself a Scarlett Johansson.