For many, building muscle is a lifelong goal. But unfortunately, it is not a lifelong process.
The truth is that most of the muscle one can genetically and naturally build occurs during the first three years of proper training and eating. After that period, a devoted and consistent adherence to a sound plan and a healthy lifestyle are required to even have a shot at gaining a couple of pounds of lean muscle per year.
And for many of us who are less genetically blessed, a solid plan is required just to maintain the gains that were achieved during this initial three-year “building” phase.
Failure to recognize and accept this fact usually leads to extreme and unhealthy measures in an attempt to prove my assertion wrong. Common self-destructive behaviors include:
- Eating excessive amounts of protein. Don’t buy the line of bull that the supplement companies are trying to sell you. More protein does not equal more muscle. As long as you are meeting your minimal daily protein requirement (1/2 gram per pound of bodyweight, you’ll build just as much muscle as your protein-guzzling counterpart while saving yourself money and saving your body extra digestive stress.
- Constantly trying to lift heavier and heavier weights, year after year. Progressive overload (increasing the load from week to week) works great for a beginner or for a short period of time (2-4 weeks) for a more advanced lifter. After that, burn out and injuries are guaranteed to occur.
- Obsessing on lifting while neglecting mobility, flexibility, stability, cardiovascular endurance, coordination, and structural balance. This narrow-minded approach leads to decreases in physical function, chronic pain and injuries. Not to mention, it really is silly to see a muscular and seemingly fit guy get winded from walking up a flight of stairs or be unable to touch his toes.
- Taking steroids. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against hormone replacement therapy when it’s warranted. But taking testosterone when your T levels are normal is a questionable practice — especially when the only motivation is to look a little better on the beach.
- Ingesting the latest muscle building supplements. Put bluntly, these supplements don’t work. They are a waste of money and, quite frankly, could be harmful to your health.
- Consuming too many calories and/or justifying eating crappy foods since the goal is to “gain” anyway. Both of these lead to declines in health, systemic inflammation, and gains in body fat.
There are certainly more obsessive behaviors that desperate muscle builders exhibit, but the ones listed above are the most common. The funny thing is, despite the effort some people put into these extreme habits, they are ultimately fruitless.
In the short-term they may make you feel better psychologically, but in the long-term they are not beneficial or sustainable, and oftentimes are detrimental.
I know this is not the most popular message out there in the fitness world. Many of you might even be very disappointed to read this news. But I can assure you that it’s not all gloom and doom! Everybody can DRAMATICALLY improve his or her body.
Take me for instance. When I first picked up a barbell, I weighed 140 pounds soaking wet. I now walk around at 205 lbs. Granted when I was a buck forty, I was twelve years old and six inches shorter. Certainly, I have grown and my body has matured. But even with all of that, I would probably weigh around 175 without training.
Training and eating properly have allowed me to carry an extra 30 pounds of muscle around. And just like I mentioned above, the majority of that 30 was built during my first three years of proper training and eating.
After that, I made all the mistakes that I’m telling you NOT to make. And what did I get to show for it? I acquired a torn labrum, chronically sore knees, less movement ability, less range of motion, and more fun stuff like that. And what DIDN”T I get? You guessed it: more muscle. Not a single pound.
Fortunately, I smartened up before I was totally destroyed. My training took on a much more balanced approach, and I’m sure I staved off more physical deterioration because of it. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones.
Better warm ups, consistent mobility work, more movement skill training, and less neurotic thoughts about the need to always “go heavier” saved me from suffering the fate of many lifelong meatheads. Most of these guys eventually pay the price in the form of multiple surgeries, chronic pain, inability to move, and more.
Although I haven’t gained any new muscle in years, I have been able to maintain what I have while still making improvements in all the fitness qualities. This has resulted in my feeling better now at forty then I did when I was twenty-eight.
So what’s the take-home message here? It’s simple: train for the love of it. Train to improve your quality of life. Train to improve your function. And yes, train to build lean muscle.
But don’t risk your health and your physical function by engaging in extreme measures that will ultimately be unsuccessful anyway. If you have an obsession to do so, resist the temptation. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Please click the “like” and “tweet” buttons below if you like this post. Thanks, I appreciate it!