Although many bodybuilders have no desire to compete, we all want to perform well in the gym. Weight training is the catalyst that stimulates the muscle-building process. The better our performance in the gym, the more muscle mass we can expect to pack on over time.
Bolstering your power, strength and performance in the gym provides many other benefits besides the physical ones. Everyone respects and admires the courage and work ethic that’s required to display raw power. When you think of Dorian Yates, what words come to mind? I think of intensity, hard work, discipline, power, strength’someone who’s a true warrior in the gym. There’s no question that the six-time Mr. Olympia remains one of the most respected champions in bodybuilding history.
Stepping up to the challenge to lift heavy weights gives you an undeniable excitement. You develop courage. Your improved performance separates you from the rest of the people who train in your gym. You won’t even begin to settle for lifting lighter weights as so many underachieving lifters do. Striving to improve your performance makes your bodybuilding efforts much more than an aesthetic endeavor. You view every workout as though it were your own personal contest’even if you never plan to enter a bodybuilding competition. Often the people who are too consumed with the appearance of their physiques’but fail to exhibit a hard-training work ethic’become a target of ridicule in the gym. That will never happen to you. Your peers will respect you’just as every IFBB professional bodybuilder respects Dorian Yates.
Training becomes a journey on which you can easily monitor your progress. Improving your performance and working your way up the rack are measurable achievements that enable you to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Continually striving to lift heavy weight constantly strengthens your attitude toward your training’an absolute must if you plan to survive the journey.
Here are my best mental and physical strategies for bolstering power, strength and performance in the gym. One, two or maybe all 10 of them could be just what you’ve been looking for to help you build more muscle in a shorter period of time’and enjoy your time in the gym more. You could discover the techniques that will launch your development into the stratosphere.
1) Make Strength and Power Top Priorities
Regardless of what those who preach everything in moderation try to tell you, lifting big weights will lead to bigger muscles! I firmly believe that heavy, overload training is the cornerstone on which you build dense, high-quality muscle mass. I like to refer to the human body as a sensitive adapting machine. When you lift heavy weights, you cause its adaptive abilities to make the necessary adjustments to handle the burden of heavy weight. In other words, you force your muscle to grow! Your body has no choice’if it wants to survive the trauma you generate.
That’s what’s defined as muscle hypertrophy. The muscles of the human body grow larger and stronger in an effort to cope with the demands being made on it.
I realize that everyone doesn’t share my point of view. I often hear people say things like, ‘Bodybuilding is about working the muscle, not about how much weight you can lift. It’s powerlifters who train to see how much weight they can lift.’
I admit there’s a way to stimulate muscle growth without lifting heavy weights. Heck, you could build awesome arms doing curls with a five-pound dumbbell’as long as you took each set to true, complete absolute failure. That might take you 1,000 reps and 15 minutes per set, but you could do it, I guess. I know I’m not mentally tough enough to concentrate that long.
Heavy training is the most efficient way to build muscle. In other words, it’s how you build the most muscle with the least amount of effort in the shortest period of time.
Why is heavy training so efficient? You reach absolute failure much sooner on each set’and absolute failure, or working every set until you’re so fatigued, you can’t do any more, should be the goal of every set. What’s more, if you reach absolute failure sooner rather than later, you have to focus for a shorter period of time, which increases your chances of using 100 percent of your abilities.
People who experience good muscle gains while lifting light or moderate weights could achieve greater gains if they challenged themselves to lift heavy weights. Before you can lift heavier, however, you need to check yourself. You need to muster some courage. If you don’t believe in the theory that heavy training leads to more
muscle, you won’t be able to put yourself through this sometimes-uncomfortable mental process.
Do you have the courage? Do you want to build more muscle more quickly? The risk of injury always looms. Only you can decide if it’s worth the risk. I’m not here to pass judgment or tell you what to do. If you decide it isn’t worth the risk, all I ask is that you be honest about it. Admit that’s the reason you’re not lifting heavy’not because it isn’t really necessary.
2) Train Only One Bodypart per Workout’for at Least Three Weeks
One of the biggest challenges many beginning and intermediate bodybuilders face is determining the right amount of training for initiating the most muscle growth. Wait a minute. Did I say beginning and intermediate bodybuilders? Almost all bodybuilders, regardless of their level of experience’myself included’are constantly trying to figure out how much training we should do.
Often our enthusiasm and our desire to build our physiques make us want to train as often as we possibly can’especially those stubborn bodyparts. At the same time we read in the muscle magazines about the potential danger of overtraining.
How’s a guy suppose to know when he’s training too much or not often enough? If you’re a person who needs a simple, black-and-white answer, I’m sorry to inform you that there isn’t one.
The so-called right answer is based on your training intensity. If you train with a lot of intensity, then you can be quite a bit more productive in your bodybuilding efforts than those who don’t. The higher your training intensity level, the better.
You probably wouldn’t argue if I told you that training with the utmost intensity is the key to getting the big muscle gains you want. You’ve undoubtedly read about the importance of training intensity dozens of times, right? But what exactly does intensity mean?
Is training hard the same thing as training with intensity? All bodybuilders think they train hard’just ask them. Intensity can be described as giving 100 percent of your mind, body and soul to every repetition, every set, every exercise and every workout.
Intensity means pounding the weights so hard that every set ends in absolute failure. In other words, you have nothing left in reserve’not even a half or quarter rep. Intensity is maintaining that high standard of performance throughout an entire workout.
Intensity can also be defined as constantly striving for a higher level of excellence on every exercise, set and rep you perform, regardless of what you’ve achieved in the past. It’s never being satisfied with your current level of performance or development because deep in your soul you know that you’re capable of at least one more rep, five more pounds or a slight improvement in your form or physique. When you train with that type of passion, awesome muscle growth is inevitable!
No one can tell you when you’re training with high intensity. You have to feel it for yourself. When you reach real intensity, you’ll know it! You’ll feel it! Train only one bodypart a day and train each bodypart only once a week, and you’ll feel the mental benefits immediately: more focus, better concentration and increased intensity. The less you have to focus on, the better you’ll become at focusing on what you’re doing.
It was Paul Delia, president of AST Sports Science, who suggested that I abandon my three-on/one-off training regimen and adopt a new philosophy. Switching to the one-bodypart-once-a-week system launched me on an unbelievable spurt of muscle growth.
My training significantly benefited both physically and mentally. Physically, it exploded to new heights as I became stronger and recovered more completely. More strength and better recovery led to a lot of new muscle.
What was even more amazing was how the training regimen affected me mentally. My intensity went through the roof because I no longer needed to pace myself through long, grueling workouts. I didn’t think I was pacing myself before, mind you, but the truth of the matter is, I was. Training sessions became more like sprints than marathons.
That’s also when I began to develop the confidence to train heavier and heavier. I became more focused as well. I created a do-or-die attitude during every single training session because I knew that workout was my only chance all week long to stimulate a particular muscle group to grow. I knew that I had to train hard and efficiently if I was going to build my physique the way I so badly wanted to.
There are many trainees who still believe that more must be better. They refuse to believe training one bodypart only once a week will lead to significant muscle growth. All I ask is for you to give it a try’if not for its physical benefits then for the mental advantages. When I tried it, I discovered that my new definition of intensity made my old one seem feeble by comparison.
Once you’ve experienced that level of intensity, you’ll use it as your new standard. You’ll never want to go back to the wimpy trainee you used to be. If you do switch back to your old, more frequent training regimen, you won’t do it for long. You won’t be able to match your new and improved level of intensity.
3) Plan Your Entire Workout in Advance’and Set Ambitious Goals
If you want to become stronger and more powerful, you have to define exactly what that means to you. You need to decide what has to happen in order for you to feel as though your performance in the gym has indeed been enhanced. Are you going to shoot for 10 more pounds on your bench press within the next three months or the next three years? Maybe you want to try to add 10 more pounds to your bench press today.
You won’t develop more power and strength by chance. You must plan for them. Every workout should be outlined in your mind before you begin the session. When you make your plans, set ambitious goals for every workout.
I plan on exhibiting amazing strength during my workouts. Before every training session, when I’m warming up on the stationary bike, I review my training goals. There’s no doubt in my mind that the investment of just a few minutes before I begin training pays dividends far beyond the effort required. Here’s one of my specific goals: I will strive to push myself to a higher level of performance during each workout by lifting more weight, doing more reps, improving my range of motion, improving my form or all of the above.
Now, I realize you’re currently training hard, but training hard is not enough to get the most out of yourself. I once had a training partner who, when we first began working out together, routinely did shoulder presses with 50-pound dumbbells. Within three months he jumped to using 120-pounders! Eventually, he even matched the number of reps that he’d been doing with the lighter dumbbells. At a bodyweight of 175 pounds he’d accomplished quite a feat.
One day I asked him, ‘Did you ever think you’d be able to train that heavily?’ He confidently answered, ‘Yeah, I would have eventually gotten up there.’ From 50-pound dumbbells to 120-pounders?
I’m certainly not clairvoyant, but given the physical and mental training limitations he was under before we started working out together, I seriously doubt that day would ever have come. What reasons did he have to train that heavily? It had never been his goal. No one in his gym even picked up those heavy dumbbells’especially no one of his size and experience. No one was preaching the benefits of heavy training to him. He had no role models in that respect. He didn’t even have a training partner who would help him get the heavy dumbbells into position.
One of my favorite quotes from Stephen Covey, the author of the national best-seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is, ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ Peak performance specialist Anthony Robbins preaches that you must always know your outcome before starting anything you do. Such messages are the cornerstone of virtually every motivational speaker and coach. You stand a better chance of getting what you want out of life if you take the time to figure out exactly what that is.
Be patient with yourself as you strive to improve your strength and performance. Try to make those improvements in smaller increments rather than overwhelming yourself with unrealistic expectations about how soon you can achieve your goals.
Here’s a tip: When setting strength and performance goals, a slight shift in your thinking can help you make massive strides toward achieving them. Instead of choosing a weight that’s based on a goal rep range, try doing just the opposite.
Determine the amount of weight you want to lift, then try to perform a certain number of repetitions. In other words, don’t step up to the weight rack and say to yourself, ‘Well, I’ve gotta get eight reps. That means I’d better use a 50-pound dumbbell to make sure I can do all of them.’
Instead, say to yourself, ‘Damn! I’ve been stuck on these 50-pound dumbbells for a year now! I’m trying 60-pounders today and I’m going to see just how close I can come to eight reps.’ The chances are that you’ll surprise yourself and outperform your expectations; however, you’ll never find out if you never try.
It seems too simple, doesn’t it? As simple as it sounds, though, I urge you to try it. Make no mistake about the fact that your mind leads your body. You’re in control of the quality of your training sessions. Seize the opportunity to create your own destiny. Improved strength, power and performance in the gym are achieved through careful planning and the commitment to follow through on those ambitious plans.
Training Suggestion. Begin the process by writing out your five most important training objectives. Before every workout for the next two months take a minute or two to casually review them before you start training. After two months of following through, add one more training goal to your list every month.
Editor’s note: Skip La Cour’s book Thinking Big is a step-by-step workbook designed to help you use your mind to achieve your physique goals more effectively. To order, send a $25 check or money order to Thinking Big, P. O. Box 1136, Pleasanton, CA 94566. For credit card orders call 1-800-447-0008, ext. 1. For more information about natural bodybuilding visit La Cour’s Mass Machine Web site at www.skiplacour.com. To add your name to his Empowering Information mailing list, call 1-800-655-0986, ext. 6000, or send your name and address via e-mail to [email protected] IM