So you’re new to resistance training and you want to know how you can maximise your gains and promote muscle synthesis. Or perhaps you are on a weight loss journey and want to maximise your fat burning capabilities and boost your metabolism by building on your lean muscle mass. Whatever your reason may be for wanting to start, the science behind the process can be overwhelming to say the least. So before we take you into a multifaceted world of macronutrients, micronutrients and more acronyms than you can process, we’re here to offer a beginners guide to resistance training whatever your goals of level of fitness may be.
Let’s begin with some key principles of resistance training
When it comes to building muscle mass, resistance training is non negotiable because you simply cannot build muscle whilst enjoying a leisurely walk. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t always require gym equipment either. Resistance training involves any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance with the aim of increasing strength, tone, mass or endurance. This is where the fun part comes into the equation. This external resistance can be a set of dumbbells or it can be your own body. Heck it can even be a water bottle filled with sand or a rubber exercise band. As long as there is resistance, the equipment you use is up to you.
For the beginner, there are two words which you will need to know before you get started – rep and set. A rep or repetition is a single exercise such as a squat whereas a set is the number of times you repeat your exercised sequentially. According to the American College of Sport Medicine, it is recommended that you complete 8-12 reps per set for optimal muscle growth. Your number of sets should increase as your strength and endurance increases.
Resistance training also relies on the overload principle. This means lifting increasingly heavier weights or increasing the volume of your workout over a period of time. Good things never came out of comfort zones and the same can be said of building muscle. If you remain in a weight’s range that feels comfortable, don’t expect those biceps to grow. Gradually increase the amount of weight you are lifting. If you are new to the gym or to lifting weights always be sure to speak to a personal trainer first and learn proper form.
Still not sure where to begin?
Why not begin with compound exercises, which target several muscle groups at once. If you choose six exercises from the list below, you can aim to repeat each one 8 times, completing the entire repertoire 3 times (making it 3 sets). You can aim to add a repetition to each exercise every second day until you make your way to 12 repetitions and 4 sets. When this is complete, you can try adding weights into certain exercises such as your squats or increasing the load of your weights for the others.
Mix it up every few days
If you are really looking to maximise your gains then mix up your repertoire at the gym. Mix up the amounts of reps you complete during your sessions as well as the weights lifted. Try combining heavier weights with lower reps and lighter weights with more reps.
Watch the amount of cardio you are doing
When it comes to building lean muscle mass, one of the biggest mistakes you can make it overcommitting to your cardio. As an example, if you commit to running every morning, you will burn fat and start to see a more lean physique however the results will stagnate unless you incorporate resistance training into the mix. One of the best ways to ensure you continue to increase your muscle mass while burning fat is focus on HIIT sessions rather than just cardio.
High Intensity Interval Training uses a combination of cardio and strength training in short bursts of exercise, which get the heart racing while still working the muscles. An example of this may be a circuit training class in which you may break up weight lifting sessions with quick bursts of running.
Watch your protein intake
Now we hate to state the obvious, but eating more protein is crucial for muscle growth. As the building block of all tissue, protein helps give you energy, aids in the muscle recovery process and will help maximise your results. But your body doesn't just need protein to boost your exercise results. Your body in fact requires protein for everything from healthy skin, hair and nails to carrying out day-to-day functioning such as producing hormones. For muscle synthesis to take place your body must have an adequate intake of protein both throughout the day and when you exercise. This is because your muscles must be able to process and store protein quicker than your body depletes existing protein stores when training.
According to studies, we should be consuming between 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kilo of body weight throughout the day. To really maximise your body resistance training however, you should be consuming between 20 - 25grams of protein powder within 30 minutes to an hour of completing your session.
When we say eat more, we are not suggesting that you have a burger every couple of hours and blow up your calorie intake. We are however saying that you should be consuming wholesome, nutrient rich food every couple of hours to ensure that you are not experiencing a calorie deficit. Studies suggest that if you are looking to build lean muscle mass, you should be eating every 3 hours. Not eating limits the rate at which your body replenishes and builds new proteins. Do remember to balance your macronutrients, consuming rich sources of protein as well as carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Fill up on amino acids before your gym session
A study carried out by the University of Texas found that lifters who consumed amino acids and carbohydrates prior to their workout increased their muscle synthesis more than lifters who drank the same shake after exercising. The drinks used in the study contained 6 grams of BCAA amino acids and 35 grams of carbohydrates. BCAAs offer the perfect pre workout option as they are absorbed by the body faster than regular food and can be consumed anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour before a gym session. BCAAs can also in fact be consumed during your training session and deliver a concentrated amount of amino acids because these particular amino acids bypass the liver and go straight to your muscles when consumed.