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Grant Lofthouse weighs up the tricky issue of lifting weights without gaining too much weight.
First I want point out that if you have gone from no weight training to any form of weight training, you will gain some muscle mass. But don’t think of it as brand new muscle – it’s usually the muscle that you were supposed to originally have.
You’ve probably heard it before, but that’s because it’s a black and blue honest retort to the common fear among females of bulking up: Females do not have the same amount of testosterone (the muscle building hormone) as males.
If you have been to the gym lately and asked a guy how long he has been trying to put on weight, he will probably say ‘forever’. Despite what many people seem to think, muscle building is a hard and gruelling process. Some females believe that they will instantly gain weight just by looking at a dumbbell that weighs more than five kilos. This will not happen. However, I have personally seen some females who have gained too much muscle mass. It’s rare, but I have seen it.
The key to minimising muscle gain is minimising the sum of muscle stress. In practice:
Tip 1: Weight not, weigh not
The secret is to choose strength training rather than weight training. When you strength train, and perform no more than five reps, you are mainly training your central nervous system (CNS). Very little muscle stress will occur when you focus on strength training.
Tip 2: Keep the volume down
Again the greater the volume, the greater the damage to the muscle and therefore the greater the muscle mass (muscle growth, or hypertrophy, depends on trauma to the muscle). Stay between 10 and 20 sets per session.
Tip 3: What goes up doesn’t always come down
This basically means avoid lowering the weight. Lowering the weight causes greater ‘torn down’ muscle. When a muscle gets torn down it reconstructs and repairs itself slightly larger than before.
This doesn’t mean you should throw out the eccentric component of every exercise, because your body doesn’t just work concentrically and we still need to train the eccentric component. But there are some exercises we can use to help avoid unwanted mass:
The Deadlift – possibly one of the most effective exercises for people because it trains so many muscles at once. However it has been known for packing on slabs of muscle. The answer is not to throw out the exercise altogether, but rather to take away the eccentric component by simply dropping the weight at the top of the movement.
Olympic lifting – If you watch Olympic lifters you will notice that they rarely lower the weight. Once they have cleaned or snatched the barbell they will drop the weight, gather it up and perform another rep.
Tip 4: Don’t Train To Failure
Training to failure simply means performing more reps when all the reps are done and adding more weight when all the weight has been lifted. If you cannot complete another rep, set or extra weight on your own, then the set is finished. Do not get help from your training partner.
Tip 5: Don’t Train Like A Bodybuilder
If you don’t want to look like a bodybuilder, then don’t train like one.
Unfortunately much of what we see in the gym, from exercises to machines, has origins in bodybuilding.
Some male fitness icons (Google Arthur Saxon or Eugen Sandow) were super strong but had very little muscle mass because bodybuilding was not popular in their time.
Here is what they didn’t do…
• Perform isolation exercises.
• Split the body into certain days e.g. Monday - chest. Wednesday – back. Friday legs.
• Trained for the pump.
• Perform high intensity training all the time.
• Perform ultra high sets and reps.
Grant Lofthouse is a Melbourne PT and owner of Cardio Haters Gym and cardiohaters.com, a site for fitness enthusiasts with an aversion to cardio.
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