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 to burn body-fat? Think again. The key is to discover exactly what your own individual requirements are for building muscle and burning body-fat.
First let me give you a little background on myself 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 comic book characters like G.I. Joe, Superman, Batman, etc. It became a pursuit that pushed me into the fitness profession.
As I grew up I learned 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. This was 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. 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 13 to 22 I trained 5-7 days a week for an hour-and-a-half or more. 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 was taking 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, is that “precise is best.”
This means performing the exact amount of exercise necessary to reach your desired goal based on your individual needs, abilities, and limitations. 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. 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. After further study of nutrition 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 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 will never get the optimal effect from your workouts. It is only when you are working at or near 100% of your physical effort that you recruit the muscle fibers responsible for growth and strength, and trigger the hormonal responses that lead to these gains. This means you must perform your exercises to point of momentary muscular failure, to the point at which despite your greatest effort you cannot move the weight at all.
This provides your muscle with a need to increase size and strength. Only work of the most demanding nature can achieve this. If your muscles are capable of performing a certain number of reps 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, 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 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 emphasizing the principle components, Intensity and Individualism, you will be well on your way to developing your 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-freebody builders, and was the personal trainer for the winner of the 2009 Men’s Fitness Fit-to-Fat competition. Michael has written for a number of health and fitness publications worldwide. Michael’s new book Pure Physique is available at all major bookstores across the United States and Canada and online at Amazon.com.