by Robert Maxwell
Ask a dozen people how to build muscle and they’ll probably give the same answer. Lifting weights. This isn’t strictly true. Training might be essential for gains, but you don’t put on mass at the gym. Not even a little. In fact, you do the opposite – you break muscle down. Growth happens later as your body recovers. Your muscle cells adapt to workout stress by growing larger. The process is called muscular hypertrophy, and it’s what every bodybuilder wants to trigger. But it won’t happen if you don’t give your body what it needs. That’s why you should be just as disciplined outside the gym as in it if you want to maximize growth. Not sure how? Here are the 4 most important habits for building muscle beyond the gym.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
This might seem obvious, but lots of guys fall short here. Late night drinking, partying, or staring at screens – they’re all damaging to your physique. As an adult male you should be getting 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted rest per night. If you’re not, your body isn’t adding muscle as well as it could be. The biggest reason is hormones. As men, we rely on our body’s supply of testosterone to make us masculine. That includes everything from facial hair and sex drive to muscle mass and bone density. Lack of sleep decreases testosterone, making us weaker, softer, and less manly. It also increases cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Neither is good for gains. Bottom line, get enough sleep. Make sure your bed is comfortable, your mind relaxed, and your room cool and dark. You’ll notice a difference.
EAT ENOUGH OF THE RIGHT FOODS
As a strength and fitness coach, I often see two recurring nutrition mistakes. Nearly all my clients start off making one or the other. They either eat too much of the wrong foods or not enough of the right ones. It shows on their physiques. They’re soft and round or well defined but skinny. It’s been said that nutrition is responsible for 60% of your results. In my experience it’s even more. As a former skinny guy who trained like crazy, I can attest to the futility of pumping iron without eating enough. Slim novice lifters trying to bulk up often don’t clue in until they’ve struggled for years without progress. If you’re skinny and want to add muscle, you need to eat A LOT of food. Way more than you think. Boatloads of quality protein, carbs, and fats. If you’re not in a calorie surplus, you’ll never grow. For more details on eating for mass, check out this article.
When you get stressed your body produces cortisol. It has lots of helpful effects, but it’s not great for your physique. Cortisol decreases protein synthesis, your body’s process for building muscle. More stress means more cortisol and less muscle – and that’s just the hormonal effect. Stress also makes you weak, so chances are you won’t lift as much weight or get as strong as you could. Lighter weights mean smaller muscles. Too much stress means your mental game will suffer too, and this has more of an impact than you might think. The mind has tremendous power in the gym, for good or ill. Click here for some stunning examples of the mind’s effect on physical performance. Do your best to manage stress, and your physique will improve. Don’t bring life’s troubles to the gym, and never let anything break your concentration during a workout.
STRETCH BETWEEN WORKOUTS
Nearly everything you do outside the gym affects what you do in it. If you’re not eating enough, you won’t lift heavy weights. If your sleep sucks, so will your workouts. Similarly, your movement patterns outside the gym greatly affect your ability to move under a heavy barbell. Squats, deadlift, overhead press and bench press should be part of every muscle building routine. Doing these movements correctly is a skill learned through repetition. So practice squatting to depth before training legs. Work on hip and knee mobility. Stretch daily. Make bracing your core second nature. Preparing physically for workouts prepares you mentally, too. You’ll lift more weight, get less sore, and decrease risk of injury.