Sleep for Muscle: an overlooked aspect of recovery

Want a quick tip for building muscle?  Go to bed!

No supplement can compensate for consistent sleep if you are wanting to to get bigger and stronger.  I wonder how many young trainees overlook this essential aspect of proper recovery while obsessing over which brand of protein powder they should use.

Do you think you are too young to be affected by sleep deprivation?  Think again!

One study took ten young healthy men (mean age of 24 years old) and tested the effects of sleep deprivation.  Hormone levels were first tested during three nights of 10-hour bedtimes (10 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.).  The men then endured eight nights of 5-hour bedtimes. Daytime testosterone levels decreased by 10% to 15% as a result of shortened sleep (the study noted that testosterone only decreases by 1%-2% per year as a natural part of aging).  In other words, a few nights of sleep deprivation will give you the testosterone levels of a much older man.1

I know all of us have to stay up late every once in a while–that’s life.  But don’t make a practice of it if you want maximum results from your training.  Get enough sleep and you’ll make much better gains in the gym.

1. JAMA. 2011 Jun 1;305(21):2173-4.  Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men

Periodization and Strength

Novice trainees normally get a little bit stronger with each session.  They can simply use linear progression in their training–adding a little more weight each week.  This is one of the nice things about being new to the gym–you’ll usually see rapid strength gains due to neurological adaptations.*

But experienced trainees will usually reach a point where this strategy no longer works.  Your strength/size gains will eventually plateau, and it’s time to move on to more intermediate/advanced methods.  In other words, you can’t simply lift the same amount of weight week after week and expect to get stronger.

The central nervous system will eventually get “burned out” from maximum or near-maximum effort training.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I was in my 20’s.  I wanted to break the 300 lb mark with my bench press but I hadn’t made any progress.  I was so concerned that decided to go to my doctor and have my testosterone level checked.  It was normal, so I started looking elsewhere for the solution.

I started researching powerlifting and learning how these athletes train.  I quickly realized that I was doing everything wrong.  Powerlifters cycle their weight and intensity, moving from lower weight/higher reps to higher weight/lower reps over a period of weeks.  This kind of training is known as periodization.  It works with the body’s natural strength cycles.

There are several simple periodization routines in Jason Ferruggia’s Minimalist Training manual.  I’ll show you how it would look:

Phase 1: First 4-6 weeks: Work up to a set of 7 repetitions, rest, then do a set with 90% of the weight you just used.

Phase 2: Next 4-6 weeks: Work up to a set of 5 repetitions, rest, then do a set with 90% of the weight you just used.

Phase 2: Next 4-6 weeks: Work up to a set of 3 repetitions, rest, then do a set with 90% of the weight you just used.

You would follow this kind of pattern for your main lifts (squat, deadlift, etc).  But you’d just stick with higher rep ranges (8-12) for your assistance/isolation moves.  You can click here to read my full review (best 47$ you’ll ever spend).

The legendary powerlifter Ed Coan started his cycles with sets of ten repetitions and worked from there.

Ed Coan, Powerlifting Legend

You can check out this calculator to see Ed’s peaking cycle.

If you’d like to check out a complete training program based on periodization I’d recommend the DUP Method.

*Muscle Gaining Secrets includes a strategy called micro periodization–going from light to heavier weights within the same week.  This is an effective strategy for beginners.



Exercise Ball

I’ve previously mentioned the Ab Wheel, a dirt cheap but effective way to train the abdominal muscles.

There’s another cost effective piece of equipment you can buy and use at home: an exercise ball.  They are versatile, inexpensive and great for training the abs–you can lean back on it and get a great stretch.

I’ve included a link to one that is rated highly on (see below), but you may want to just go to your local retail store and look around. You may also want to check out size recommendations–the one I have linked below is 75cm, but a shorter person may do better with a 65cm (or smaller).

Note: Remember that visible abs come from low body fat, not abdominal training.