What Can We Learn from Body Builders?
Most of us don’t want to be body builders, either for recreation or competition.
However, I venture to say that most of us would like to feel stronger, more capable, and more confident in our physical abilities.
Then there’s the Feds. That would be the CDC and the Surgeon General. Throw in the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association (at last count there are some 29.1 million American with diagnosed Type 2 diabetes, and an estimated 89 million more with prediabetes).
The Feds and national organizations are concerned that we aren’t taking advantage of spending a couple of days a week for an hour or even less, on maintaining our strength. That is all they ask. Just that amount of strength training will impact heart disease and diabetes, along with many other diseases and maladies. Feeling guilty yet?
Meanwhile you have the other end of the spectrum: Body builders. You may be wondering how they get like that. Muscles bulging and body fat in the single digits. These are the people you see on the cover of Muscle and Fitness and other magazines. When you open a mag of this sort, often what you see are endless ads for protein powder, booster drinks, and pills meant to enhance.
A key question.
Maybe a question you are asking is: if protein and other supplements are good for them, is it also good for me? Will it help in my quest to feel stronger? Better yet, could it be a short cut?
Let’s back up for a minute.
Perhaps a more useful question would be, “is it helpful to gather information on what it takes to build tons of muscle and then apply it to our own quest for keeping up with the Surgeon General?”
Does body building have anything to offer the rest of us? And what about the protein thing?
In order to get stronger, we do NOT (repeat, do NOT) have to do anything close to what they do. Feel free to breathe a sigh of relief here.
However, understanding what builds muscle for them can help us to do the same for ourselves.
Here’s what body builders do.
Many of them work their muscles 6 or 7 days a week. That’s just the beginning. They also do 3,4,5, or even 6 sets of each exercise, often TO FAILURE. They lift weight that will bring them to failure after only 6 to 10 times. In order to accomplish this, they do only a few muscle groups per day. They do “split routines”. For example, they may do only chest muscles one day so that the next day they can do the back. And so on. Because they are going mostly all out, REST INTERVALS have to be LONG. At least 2-3 minutes. (You may have witnessed this in the gym. These people seem to rest all the time!)
Do they guzzle protein? Some do, some don’t. Probably most do. Why?
Because protein is THE basic substance of muscle. However, the truth is that how much you need and when to have it is still a matter of controversy and study. Recommendations are all over the map. Usually the amount we need is given in grams per pound (or sometimes kilograms) of body weight. And, it seems that the more active you are, and the more muscle you want (as in body builders), the more beneficial it is to add a bit more protein into your diet. Some experts say that the rest of us probably do not need to increase our protein intake because the diet in America tends to be sufficient, especially if we are not very active.
Which brings me to HOW we (the rest of us) get stronger.
In order to get stronger, most of us only need to lift a weight that is a bit more than we are used to. Lift it 8-12 times, then stop. If you can lift 50 pounds 8-12 times without coming to the end of your capacity, then do that. If lifting 5 pounds is what you can do, then do that. On top of that, you only need to do 1 or 2 sets, twice a week, in order to get stronger.
The idea is to cause your muscle tissue to break down a little in the effort. No need to panic here. There is a sweet spot where your muscle gets micro-tears in it before it wants to quit all together. That is the place where you are tired but lifting is not impossible. Body builders often go to “impossible” in order to get their muscles to break down even more. Then they rest that muscle for up to 6 days before going at it again. You do not need to do this. Stick with the sweet spot.
Caution: if you want to get stronger, you DO need to stick to the sweet spot. IF you are lifting a weight that you can go on and on with, or at least to 20 times in a row, that will not do it for you. In fact, you will be building a different kind of skill. That would be MUSCLE ENDURANCE. Here the muscle tissue is not breaking down enough to give you significant strength gains. Make no mistake. You can get SOME, but not MUCH.
Things we can learn from body builders.
All in all, there are two really big things we can learn from body builders because they are on the extreme end of what many of us are trying to do. Get stronger. We may have different reasons than they do, but the process of getting stronger is based on the same two principles.
- In order to get stronger, we need to lift weights that challenge us. We need to find the sweet spot of being able to lift a weight 8-12 times and feel significantly spent afterwards. When that happens, your muscles get micro tears in them that then repair themselves, making you stronger and more capable afterwards. As mentioned before, you probably only need to increase the protein in your diet slightly if at all to take care of these repairs.
- REST is important! Body builders rest like crazy in between sets and have up to 6 days before they come back to work the same muscle again. That’s because they have taxed their muscles to the limit and so need more repair time. You need to rest your muscles so they can repair as well. Since you are NOT going all out, you do not need an all out rest! 48 hours will do nicely.
So, here’s the really cool thing. Compared to what body builders do, you can do significantly less and still come out ahead. Instead of 3-6 sets of 6-10 repetitions, working most days of the week, you can do 1-2 sets of 8-12. You can work most of your major movers in one workout. Then go for it again in a few days, and Voila! You have made the CDC, AHA, ADA, and the Surgeon General happy. More importantly, if you are consistent with this, you are well on your way to a healthy, strong, body.
All the best,
© 2019-2020 Kristen Carter, Design for Fitness LLC. All rights reserved.
I’m excited to let you know that my new book, The End of Try Try Again, launched on Amazon this month. It’s been a challenging but fun journey to get it completed, and I’m excited to finally share it with others. Click on the image above and take a look! Kristen