I’ve read countless books, magazines, and online articles about how to build bigger, stronger muscles. They generally recommend heavy compound exercises with lots of rest in-between, eating a clean but high calorie diet, and limiting cardiovascular exercises to reduce the amount of calories you burn.
The compound exercises allow you to tax your muscles in an efficient manner, by targeting many muscles groups at once. Football players, fighters, and Olympic lifters swear by the staples of squats, bench press, and dead lifts. For someone trying to build muscle, you need to fuel your body with good clean energy, and enough extra so that you will add weight. And finally, if you keep your calories down, you won’t have to eat quite as much to gain weight and add muscle and grow.
It all makes perfect and logical sense, except that each winter, I fall into a trap (I see the winter as the perfect time to gain weight as I tend not to be as active during the winter). I try a routine performing compound exercises with plenty of rest in-between and consistently adding weight each week. But during these times, eating the right amount of food is such a chore. When I exercise this way, my body is strained by the heavy weight, but it seems like the activity isn’t enough to increase my appetite.
Contrast this with the workouts I tend to do during the spring and summer, which involve less weight, significantly less rest, and much higher volume (sets x reps). And during this time of year, I tend to add regular cardio. Conventional wisdom states that I would lose weight by making this switch, however, just the opposite happens! My appetite swells, and I end up eating more than enough to make up for the difference in the amount of calories I burn. (Keep in mind, that if I was trying to lose weight, I would probably be able to resist an extra sandwich here and there ).
The best shape I was ever in came following a three month session of the workout program p90x. This is a very intense, varied, and high volume workout program, that also contains a lot of cardio work in addition to weights and yoga. It is intended to help people lose a lot of weight and get into the best shape of their lives. However, I substituted the complimentary diet program with my own version, that took the amount of calories I expected to need, and added 500-1000 per day. Surprisingly, on this workout, I was easily able to eat the extra food, and in fact, by the end of the 90 days, I had gained 15 pounds and was much more toned and in shape than I had ever been!
The lesson I take away from this is not that the lower volume, high weight workouts don’t work — because some people see fantastic results from this type of program. It’s that each person’s body responds a little differently, so it is important to try a lot of different workout methods until you find something that works for you to achieve the results you want.