The only serious weightlifting injury I’ve ever had happened back in 1996. I had been experimenting with heavy weighted dips (doing this exercise with over 100 lb. attached to a belt). It was great for my ego, but I think it is largely to blame for wearing out all the cartilage in my AC joint (where your clavicle meets the shoulder). My doctors told me it was a pretty common injury among those who lift weights. My only option (other than live in pain) was to surgically remove the bone spur that had developed.
This meant I’d have to lay off the weight training for six weeks or so. I still remember returning to the gym for the first time after the layoff. I was wearing one of my favorite sleeveless workout shirts. Looking in the mirror was depressing–my arms looked like pipe cleaners to me. Needless to say, I probably didn’t look nearly as bad as I thought. Regardless, my arms had clearly lost some of their size.
Fortunately my size and strength returned very quickly. I actually broke some personal strength records within the next year or two.
I’m using this little story to illustrate a concept that is a bodybuilder or strength athlete’s best friend: muscle memory.
Technically this term (as most commonly used) has little to do with strength and size. Muscle memory refers to things your body “remembers” to do after multiple repetitions. My fingers, for example, are effortlessly typing this article without my brain thinking about each individual keystroke.
But many in the iron game have used this term to refer to what I experienced after my injury: gains in strength and size usually come back much more quickly than it originally took to earn them. We’ve kind of adopted “muscle memory” as a term to explain this phenomenon.
I have since learned how this works. It has to do with satellite cells and their role in hypertrophy (muscle growth). Satellite cells are located on the outside of muscle fibers and normally lay dormant. But when a muscle is stressed/damaged through resistance training, they go to work. These cells multiply and go to the site of the damage (keep in mind we are talking about damage at the microscopic level).
Here’s where it gets really interesting: satellite cells “donate” their nuclei to the muscle cells, which its one of the factors that cause it to increase in size (this is one of the main concepts in the MI40X program). Trained muscle cells have more nuclei than untrained muscles, and this change remains even after one stops training. The change, in fact, may be permanent.1
Formerly trained muscles, therefore, are already primed to grow back to their previous levels of size and strength–the additional nuclei are already there in the muscle cells, “waiting” to do their thing.
Muscle memory is real. This is good to know if you need to take some time of due to injury, illness, or any other reason.
1. J Exp Biol. 2016 Jan;219(Pt 2):235-42. doi: 10.1242/jeb.124495. Muscle memory and a new cellular model for muscle atrophy and hypertrophy.
Most guys (especially younger trainees) start going to the gym with one thing in mind: building muscle as quickly as possible. I can relate to this goal–allow me to tell you a little personal history before I go any further:
I’ve been fascinated with strength and muscle since I was a kid. I remember seeing comic book advertisements from Charles Atlas during my elementary school years. I never ordered any of his programs, but the thought of having a lean, powerful physique captivated my imagination.
One of my first (embarrassing) attempts at lifting weights happened when I was about twelve years old. My cousin had begun to mess around with a weight set his parents bough him and invited me to join in. I thought I was strong, but I was unable to bench press whatever amount he put on the barbell (I think it was about 120 lb.). I asked my parents to buy a weight set for me for Christmas (or maybe my birthday) and they agreed. Soon I had my own set of concrete-filled plastic weights and would train sporadically.
My next vivid memory is from my high school years: training with “real” (Olympic-style) barbells and plates for the first time while trying out for the football team. I could barely move the day after that first workout with the team. I wasn’t very strong (being a “late bloomer” physically didn’t help), but that slowly began to change as I kept training. I never became a great football player, but I did develop a passion for building muscle and strength.
Arnold Schwarzenegger became my idol in my college years. I carefully studied both his publications on training and his pictures. He’s still my favorite bodybuilder, but I later realized he wasn’t a realistic role model for someone like me (more on that later).
I kept working out through the 90’s, experimenting with different training techniques (some worked, some didn’t). I spent way too much money on supplements, most of which did absolutely nothing (I tried almost everything the supplement industry produced: prohormones, etc.).
I’ve never competed in bodybuilding–it’s just not one of my goals or priorities in life. But I did end up building a pretty good physique, and regularly train to this day (I’m not in my 40’s).
This article is kind of a collection of things I wish I knew back when I first started training years ago. I didn’t know much about building mass and strength when I first started lifting–I learned through bodybuilding magazines, misguided coaches and other various sources. There was a lot of trial and error involved, and I’m convinced I could have made better gains in less time if I knew then what I know now. I’m hoping these tips will help new trainees avoid the mistakes I made.
Here are a few things you need to avoid if you are serious about getting bigger and stronger:
Mistake #1: Spending too much money/time/energy on bodybuilding supplements.
As mentioned, I spent way too much of my hard-earned cash on bodybuilding supplements in my younger days. The vast majority of the stuff I bought didn’t do anything to help me build my physique. That money could have gone into savings or other better uses.
Here’s what you have to understand about the bodybuilding supplement industry: it exists to make money, not muscle. It is a largely unregulated business, and you’ll get ripped off quickly if your believe everything they advertise.
I’m not opposed to supplements, but you need to stick to the basics and don’t be in a hurry to try the latest, greatest products. Wait until multiple studies are done on new formulas before deciding to try or buy. More importantly, don’t expect supplements to make that much difference–your diet and training are going will be much, much more important than any pill or powder you use.
Mistake #2: Copying the Routines of Professional Bodybuilders
Some guys make the mistake of trying to train like professional bodybuilders, using routines they see in magazines. This is not a good idea for several reasons:
1. Genetics: Professional athletes of any kind are going to be genetically gifted, so what works for them may not work for you.
2. Anabolic Steroids: You can’t expect to get the same results as a guy who is taking drugs. His recovery ability will be enhanced beyond what is naturally possible, so following his routine is not advisable.
3. Fictitious Routines: You can’t even be sure that a routine printed in a magazine is the one your favorite competitor actually uses–it’s quite possible that a writer/editor just made it up.
Mistake #3 Poor Nutrition
Can you make gains on a crappy diet? Yes–I built some size and strength with a completely haphazard eating plan during my college years. But if you want to build quality mass in record time you’ll need to put just as much planning into your nutrition as your workouts. Many trainees will spend hours in the gym without putting a fraction of that time/effort into their eating plan. Remember: we are talking about building your body as quickly as humanly possible–that won’t happen with poor nutrition.
How To Build Muscle Fast: The Basics
Now let’s get into the basic things you should be doing if size and strength is your goal. I won’t be sharing every detail, but this overview should get you going in the right direction.
1. Build strength in the basic lifts like deadlift, bench press, squat, etc. These old-school, multi-joint movements will give you a lot of “bang for your buck,” providing a powerful training stimulus to the large muscles (back, thighs, etc.). Get stronger in these movements and you’ll be on your way to building a more massive, powerful physique. It’s fine to spend some time on isolation movements (like curls), but focus most of your time and energy on the big lifts.
2. Stick to the 5-12 rep range. You’ll find that the vast majority of your growth comes from this range of repetitions because it gives you a good balance of volume and intensity. You can experiment with higher/lower reps once you get more advanced, but stay somewhere within this range if you are just starting out. Here’s another tip: you’ll find that somewhere between 30-60 total repetitions per muscle in each workout session should be enough training stimulus for growth.
3. Train each muscle (or muscle group) twice a week. A muscle will typically recover within about 72 hours of being trained. After that you should be able to work it out again. You can get by with less frequent training, but you are missing opportunities for growth (52 opportunities per year).
1. Eat .75 grams to 1 gram of protein per lb. of body weight. This is plenty for building muscle, regardless of what you might read about the insane amounts of protein some bodybuilders supposedly eat. It’s fine if some of this protein comes from supplements (like whey powder), but most of it should come from “real” food: meat, eggs, etc.
2. Eat a calorie surplus–consume more calories than you are using. You’ll probably need to eat at least 17 calories per lb. of body weight in order put on weight. Some may need to eat way more than that. Here’s another tip: you may need to keep an eating journal for a few days to track what you are eating (you may be eating far fewer calories than you think you are).
3. Add extra meals (or shakes) if needed. You may find it difficult to get adequate calories/protein from only three meals a day. Eat an additional meal or drink a protein shake if needed, but don’t get caught up in thinking there is some magical number of meals a day for building muscle. Just eat as many times as you need to properly digest your protein/calorie requirements.
Those are the basics on how to build muscle fast. If you want more information I’d recommend you invest in a quality program to guide you step-by-step. This is one of the best investments you can make for getting started the right way. Vince Delmonte’s No-Nonsense Muscle Building would be a really good investment for beginners or skinny guys who want to get big.
I’ve had a chance to look over the Muscle Matrix Solution by Ryan Hughes. I’ll start of this review with a little information about the author.
Hughes first started training when he was a teenager. He was 6’1″ tall and weighed only 135 lb. But he had a passion for training and was able to compete in his first bodybuilding competition at age 19. He would eventually become one of the first IFBB Men’s Physique Pros, an International Fitness Cover Model, and a well-known trainer and fitness professional. He is considered one of America’s top personal trainers and has appeared on nationally syndicated television shows.
Muscle Matrix Solution Program Components (Summary)
Once you make your purchase you will get an email with login information. As you can see (by looking at the screenshot) you begin with a welcome page. The navigation tabs on the top of the page will take you through the rest of the program:
This section includes an overview of the program in video form. Hughes walks you through what the program includes and how to set it up specifically for your needs. Some of the topics he discusses are optimizing hormones (like testosterone), training, diet, and supplementation. He also gets into some motivational issues that will hopefully help inspire you to get started and stick with it.
There are also two downloadable pdf files in this section: 1. Welcome file/e-book, and 2. Cover Model Secrets, which explains some of the final steps bodybuilders/models take to get ready for a photo shoot or contest.
Ryan Hughes explains the workouts in this section (which he calls Matrix Training). His program combines three different styles of training, all of which are proven to be effective individually. The idea is that these training techniques will work together synergistically when combined. The workouts are set up in three different tracks: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Progression is built into the workouts so will improve in the amount of weight you use, the amount of reps you can do, and the amount of time you rest in between sets (you will be able to get by with less rest time as you progress through the program). He goes on to explain the specific set and rep range you’ll be doing.
There’s a downloadable file where you can see the actual workout plan (the specific exercises, set/reps, etc.).
Keep this in mind: the program is set up for you to do brief, intense workouts (about 45 minutes). You won’t be spending all day in the gym, but you will have to train hard–these workouts will not be easy.
Hughes’ nutrition plan is based on three key principles:
1. Flexibility: This doesn’t mean you can eat pizza and ice cream every day. It does mean that you can eat foods like this every once in a while in moderation. In other words, you can follow this lifestyle without having to plan your entire life around a 24/7 strict diet.
2. Meal Timing and Nutrient Combination: You will be guided in eating certain types of foods according to the time of day and/or your training. You will try to eat most of your carbohydrates, for example, in the evening after you train. This advise may sound different that what you’ve heard before, but it does work (based on my personal experience–I eat most of my carbs either after I train or at dinner).
3. Macronutrients: Ryan explains the role of protein, carbohydrates and fats and how you can manipulate your intake of these to build muscle and burn fat.
There is downloadable file you can use to read about these principles.
This section also includes a nutrition calculator. You can use this to customize your eating plan for your specific needs.
The video and the pdf file breaks down Hughes’ recommended supplement protocol. This is one area where I have some disagreements with the author. I personally do not believe any supplement can significantly increase testosterone and nothing he wrote has changed my mind. Instead of getting into details I’d rather just give my standard advice: stick with basic supplements like whey protein powder, (micronized) creatine monohydrate, a multivitamin, and fish oil. Use these basic supplements with reputable brands and you’ll do fine (and you’ll keep more of your hard-earned money).
The Exercise Library:
This is another nice feature of the Muscle Matrix Solution. I always appreciate video demonstrations of exercises and these are well done.
This final video/pdf wraps up the program. Hughes talks about defining your goal(s) that were on your mind when you ordered and implemented this program. He recaps all the program components (training, nutrition, etc.) and encourages you to embrace what you have learned as a lifestyle. He also mentions an insider’s coaching club you can join if you choose to.
This section has the Abdominal Accelerator program available for download. This is a plan for those who want to spend 30 days focusing on maximizing their fat loss. I think this would work really well with or without the supplements mentioned.
I think the Muscle Matrix Solution program is put together very well and will get results if you follow both the training and the nutrition plans. The set and reps Hughes recommends makes sense to me because it is a good mix of strength and hypertrophy (growth) rep ranges. I found the material to be well organized and easy to navigate.
Who would this program benefit? A few types of people come to mind:
*New trainees who want a step-by-step system to guide them on their journey of building muscle and/or losing fat.
*Intermediate or advanced trainees who have reached plateaus in their training and are ready to try some new workout techniques.
*Guys who want to look better–those who want to build a lean, muscular physique and be more self-confident.