By: Michael Lipowski
Think it takes five hours of weight training, and six hours of aerobics each week to look lean and muscular? Think starvation diets are the only way you’re going to burn body-fat? If that’s the case then you’re about to get a healthy dose of reality… and you’re gonna love it.
That is unless you’re completely turned off by the idea of discovering exactly what your individual requirements are for building muscle and burning body-fat and prefer to aimlessly follow what others do (who also are not training or eating according to individual needs) and continue to waste precious time in the gym.
If you’re one of those who simply loves to exercise regardless of whether you are making progress or not then much of what I’ll say is likely to fall on deaf ears. However, if you’re primary focus is on looking and feeling your best and you’re willing to take a different approach, maybe even workout less, if it means better results, then keep reading because this advice is intended just for you.
First let me give you a little background on myself so you can understand where I’m coming from and why I believe so strongly in the the advice I’m about to pass along. My fascination with looking like a bodybuilder started at a very young age. I was enamored by the muscles of Lou Ferrigno when he played the Incredible Hulk, as well as the WWF Professional Wrestlers and comic book characters like G.I. Joe, Superman, Batman, etc. Why? I have no idea even to this day. But what I do know is that it became a pursuit that pushed me into the fitness profession.
As I grew up I learned more and more about how most of the bodybuilders I followed in the muscle magazines were utilizing steroids, growth hormone, testosterone and a laundry list of other drugs to look the way they did. … Not for me. Besides, I wasn’t crazy about looking so huge that I’d get categorized as a “freak” and look strange when wearing a suit or getting dressed up. No, I was after that natural bodybuilder/athletic look. The one where you look good no matter what you wear and when the shirt comes off people are stunned at how muscular and defined you are and taken aback by your six-pack abs.
From age thirteen to twenty-two I trained (with never more than a 2-3 week break during the busiest part of the lacrosse season) 5-7 days a week for an hour-and-a-half or more. I was an iron addict and I had a goal. No one could ever say that I didn’t put forth enough effort. Yet I was never able to even come close to achieving the natural bodybuilder look I wanted.
What I was doing wrong is exactly what so many others who aspire for the bodybuilder or fitness model look, do wrong… they take the more is better approach to training. Now, that does not necessarily mean that less is more, though for most “naturals” this is certainly the better of the two approaches. What it does mean, as my friend Brian D. Johnston Director of Education for the International Association of Resistance Trainers, so eloquently put it, “precise is best”. And what we mean by precise is best is, performing the exact amount of exercise necessary to reach your desired goal based on your individual needs, abilities, and limitations. More specifically it refers to how many sets you perform, the length of each set, your frequency of training, your responsiveness to exercise, tolerance to exercise stress, and recovery ability. There is no one-size-fits-all training program or diet; you need to discover what works best for you and run with it.
This is precisely what I did to go from wannabe bodybuilder to bodybuilder. After carefully studying the principle components of exercise-Intensity, Volume, Frequency, Specificity, Overload, Diminishing Returns, and Individualism-I reduced my training to just three half-hour workouts a week and watched my results skyrocket after years of stagnation. Further study of nutrition and I began burning body-fat at a significant pace, to finally reveal all the muscle I had amassed with my new time-efficient training program.
The starting point to developing your own time-efficient training program is, understanding how individual characteristics (i.e., body-type, muscle fiber type and rate-of-fatigue) affect the amount of training you require for optimal muscle stimulation and recovery. Only when you’ve grasped this information can you predictably achieve your best results ever. Until then everything you do is simply a roll of the dice.
While Individualism is the principle component responsible for maximizing your results Intensity is the key to an effective and time-efficient workout, and something you can put into effect immediately. Everything begins and ends with this component. If you are not training with the proper amount of intensity you can rest assured that you will never get the optimal effect from your workouts. The reason being is that only when you are working at or near one-hundred percent of your physical effort do you recruit those muscle fibers responsible for growth and strength as well as trigger the hormonal responses that lead to these gains. This most typically means you must perform your exercises to point of momentary muscular failure, to the point at which despite your greatest physical and mental effort you cannot move the weight at all.
What this essentially does is provide your muscle with a need to increase size and strength. Only work of the most demanding nature can achieve this. Think of it this way, if you’re muscles are capable of performing a certain number of reps of a given exercise before you stop (by your own decision and not because you are physically incapable of doing more) then what reason would they have to develop any further? If your muscles can do all the work that’s being asked of them then there is never a reason to increase in size since doing so would be metabolically more demanding.
After establishing a high-intensity style of performing your exercises you can then begin to accurately determine the number of sets you need per muscle group for optimal muscle stimulation as well as the frequency of these bouts based on your individual characteristics (muscle fiber type, rate-of-fatigue, body-type, responsiveness, tolerance, recovery, etc.). By putting emphasis on the principle components, Intensity and Individualism, you will be well on your way to developing your bodybuilder/fitness model physique in less time than you thought possible.
Michael Lipowski is a certified fitness clinician and the President of the International Association of Resistance Trainers. He is a competitive natural Bodybuilder in the INBF, a consultant to other drug-free body builders, and was the personal trainer for the winner of the 2009 Men’s Fitness Fit-to-Fat competition. Michael is a writer for Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness and has written for a number of other health and fitness publications worldwide. You can purchase Michael’s new book Pure Physique March 1st at bookstores nationwide.