Zahid looked extremely pleased with himself and a little smug as he excitedly described his workout routine. It was quickly followed by the showing off of his triceps from underneath his almost sleeveless t-shirt.
“Hang on!” I said. “Your naked skin certainly has its appeal but as a former fitness and bodybuilding enthusiast, I have to question your format.”
“What do you mean?” asked Zahid with disinterest, resulting from a sense of certitude about his methods.
“Well, you said you did a 100 reps (repetition) of 'biceps curl' with a 5 kg barbell?”
“Yeah! What about that?”
“You know, I could tell you but only if you are genuinely interested and accept that you could be wrong,” I replied.
Zahid was not genuinely interested and almost certainly did not entertain the possibility that he could be wrong. He was much too inebriated in his newly found fondness for wearing skin-tight t-shirts to pay any heed to my advice.
This was a few years ago when my young friend Zahid joined a gym after completing his A-levels. In a way, he was right about not being wrong. Because what I told him was counter intuitive, which is the following: in muscle building you do not repeat the exercises as many times as you can. You repeat only a few times with the maximum amount of weight you can carry.
So, for example, you do not do 100 reps with a 5 kg weight. You pick a weight that you can lift only a few times maximum. Typically, the appropriate number of repetition varies from 6 to 15.
Conventional wisdom says that the more you repeat, the more effective it is. The reason this is not true for bodybuilding is because the goal of bodybuilding is gaining size, not strength. You also achieve some fitness as a result, of course, but that is not the primary goal.
Gaining strength or fitness and gaining muscle are two different goals that need two different approaches. The way to add size to your muscle is by putting stress. If you, like Zahid, find it difficult to believe that lifting weights as many times as possible is not the way to gain bigger muscles then just look at the professionals.
Power-lifters who take part in weight-lifting competitions do not have finely sculpted muscles. And the people in the Mr. Universe contest do not participate in Olympic weight lifting competitions. While some components are naturally common in both kinds of training, there are important differences in how each kind of athlete trains.
The essence of any training program for your body is getting your body to respond to the training. The primary purpose of the bodybuilder is to gain muscle mass. As a result, bodybuilders’ workouts generally consist of a low amount of reps with a high amount of weight. This triggers a response from the body and the body tries to adapt to this specific conditioning by growing larger muscle mass. Bodybuilders also need specific time for rest within their routine. Normally, bodybuilders will never workout everyday, as you need to allow your muscles time to grow by providing resting periods.
Working out to keep fit is different. It requires more frequent exercising. Generally speaking, in building body fitness, less is not more. The aunties and uncles you see frantically walking in the morning are actually doing it right. To lose weight, to fight arthritis, to keep diabetes at bay, you need frequent exercise.
To keep fit you have to build strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility. One of the best ways of managing that is breaking your exercise routine into small chunks. As is often the case, most of us in our busy lives find it hard to devote 45 minutes exclusively for work out. It's better to do two 15 minutes sessions than not doing anything at all.
Reported in prevention.com, exercise physiologist Glenn Gaesser, PhD, in a landmark study conducted at the University of Virginia, asked men and women to complete 15 10-minute exercise routines a week. After just 21 days, the volunteers' aerobic fitness was equal to that of people 10 to 15 years younger. Their strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility were equal to those of people up to 20 years their junior. "It would be useful for people to get out of the all-or-nothing mind-set that unless they exercise for 30 minutes, they're wasting their time," Gaesser said.
At the end of the day, whether you want to gain muscle like a bodybuilder or just have the modest goal of getting out of bed without wincing, you should create and follow a routine that is smart and scientific. Finding a trained professional to guide you in the right direction is always the best way. But if you are in doubt do not hesitate to investigate.