6 Tips To Gain Muscle and Athleticism

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I received an email the other day from a guy who wanted to know my “best tips on gaining muscle but staying athletic”. Well, I have to be honest and say that he’s picked a pretty broad topic that would be hard to answer in a simple email without knowing a lot more about who I was talking to. That being said, one thing I definitely appreciated was that he asked about gaining muscle (good) and staying (or I suppose becoming) athletic (even better).

Look, outside of professional bodybuilding (and there are some exceptions there, too) there is NO reason for a guy to become stiff, slow, and sluggish while building more muscle. Think about it: Muscle mass contributes to strength. Strength is one of the primary contributing factors to power. More strength should, unless you’re doing something very wrong, lead to more power. More power then translates to more athleticism.

Simple, right? And honestly, what dude in his right mind says that he wants to be “less athletic”? None.

Memo to the dudes with the clown pants and gallon water jug: Stiff, slow, and slack-jawed is no way to go through life.

So rather than just give you some of the same old bullshit you see in the muscle and fitness mags about “eating 500 calories over your expenditure”, as if you knew what that was, or “maximizing your time under tension”, as if anyone big (except Dave Tate, and he said he’d never do it again) really does that shit, here are six tips that will get you bigger, stronger, faster, and almost without question sexier (chicks do dig the long ball, and it’s muscle that gets it there).

-Increase your grip strength. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. I can’t think of a single athlete that wouldn’t be better if their grip was stronger. In addition to all of the obvious sport applications, a stronger grip allows you to pick up heavier weight or perform more reps which will build more muscle (duh). Also, a tighter grip will help improve your whole-body tightness, which will translate into a more secure launch-pad and thus bigger bench presses, rows, overhead presses, and pretty much everything else.

Plus, a slack grip is for pussies. And nobody likes pussies.

-Warm up with a jump rope. Ok, the jump rope is not going to get you big. However, one of the primary factors of athleticism is quick and elastic feet, which most people are piss-poor about. The jump rope is a cheap, portable, and effective tool for improving foot speed. Plus, a few minutes jumping rope will get you well-warmed up and ready to get into your Dynamic Warm-up (sign up on the right for a FREE warm-up) to blow your get-big workout up. Plus the jump rope is a lot cooler than slogging your ass on the treadmill.

-Use drop-off sets to build some extra muscle and avoid the belt. If you’re like most lifters (me included) you started using a belt to increase your weights on squats and deadlifts. A side note: If you’re the guy that wears a belt to curl, then go find another blog. Seriously. Don’t apologize, just go.

It’s popular now to hate on belts in the “functional training” world. Unlike a lot of belt haters, as a powerlifter I think it’s a necessary piece of equipment when used properly.

However, the tendency is to overuse the belt. This will quickly translate into a weak midsection. The weak midsection will result in weaker lifts or even the back injury that the belt is supposed to prevent! So the key is to get strong without the belt, only using it for big lifts when you’re overstimulating the body.

Getting used to going belt-less again is a tricky thing. Most guys drop the belt, realize their lifts are going down, freak out, and strap that son-of-a-gun right back on.

Instead, what’s worked for me and several of my clients who’ve been in this situation is to work up in weight using a belt as normal to hit your really heavy stuff. Then drop off to a very submaximal weight (70% seems to work well, but that would depend on your comfort level) and perform a few sets of 5-10 reps without the belt. This serves a couple of functions:

First, it gets you used to supporting some real weight without the belt in a state of fatigue but not with such heavy weight that you should be out of control. If you feel out of control, drop the weight even further and build back up.

Second, it lets us get more rep work in within the hypertrophy range, which will translate into more muscle mass.

-Use extra workouts wisely for recovery and lagging areas. Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell made “extra workouts” popular for a lot of lifters and athletes, but athletes have been using brief, focused, and generally submaximal workouts to hit weak spots, rehab injuries, and promote recovery for a long time. They’re a great tool as long as they’re used properly.

Here’s where people screw it up: As opposed to taking the opportunity to perform a handful of light workouts per week on a lagging area, like the triceps or hamstrings, for example, they decide that every body part is lagging! So now, instead of a couple of light “extra” workouts like a set of 100 band pressdowns and some stretching, they’re trying to perform about ten extra hour-long sessions per week and they get all fucked up.

Have a plan and understand why you’re doing something, people. Extra workouts are like stimulants: When used properly, a little caffeine is a good boost to your workouts. When you start bumping enough coke to make Keith Richards call for an intervention, you end up like Charlie Sheen: Jacked up with no real direction and scaring porn stars.

-Crush the food around your workouts. We all know that when you want to gain muscle you need to eat more. Most people just pile on more food. That’s cool, and it works for some, the gifted bastards. Other people gain a bit of muscle but end up fat as shit. “Fat as shit” has never been synonymous with athleticism.

Instead of just stuffing your face all day, take advantage of heightened nutrient partitioning that comes with exercise. Nutrient partitioning is a fancy way of saying that the food you eat goes where you want it to (muscle) and not to where you don’t (gut). So after a hard strength training session, it’s time to eat like hell. Most people do best with a shake or something light RIGHT after they train because the endorphins and catacholamines associated with exercise reduce hunger, but about an hour later it’s time to put your feedbag on.

-Shut the hell up and put more weight on the bar. Smart training is great. I obviously support it. That includes cycling training loads, movements, and deload weeks. I get it. However, too many people create these programs that require spreadsheets, an Asian accounting firm, and conference calls with Russian nuclear scientists to plan out.

Most of these people squat a high 315 and bench a sloppy 225. Stop with the bullshit.

Shut up. Lift more weight than you did last time with a simple, intelligent program. Get stronger. Get faster. Get more awesome.

For 9 MONTHS of quality programming and far more, check out the Athlete Reborn.

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Comments on 6 Tips To Gain Muscle and Athleticism Leave a Comment

November 10, 2011

Isaac @ 2:39 pm #

Ok, a fair correction: The only people I know who consistently pull off Time Under Tension stuff are devout DC followers. A) Most of them don’t do it as prescribed, because it’s damn hard and it hurts and B) those who do are absolute animals (but not always particularly athletic).

November 12, 2011

Joe Chizek @ 12:06 am #

Wilkins I love the slack jaw comment! Reminds me of a great movie… Oh and some of those people in that movie happen to have had one of the greatest physiques of all time… Great post man!

Isaac @ 12:52 pm #

Big Joe!

That film is a true classic of American culture and that line should be part of normal conversation when necessary.

And you’re right, some of those actors were built, mobile, and hostile! Have you seen clips of Carl Weathers actually training? Beast.

Isaac

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