5 Steps to Building a More Fit & Athletic Body

5 Steps to Building a More Fit & Athletic Body

Admit it.

You don't want to wait for results. Instead, you want to add size as fast as possible, don't you?

It's okay to submit to this desire - you're not alone in the pursuit. Training for aesthetics is part of the equation, but the application of all those #gainz is where many overlook.

For those who will step onto the stage and be judged for their bodies, the pursuit of size at all cost may be warranted.

But for the 5'11, 179 pound guy who clocks 55 hours a week as a mortgage banker and has a family of four and an above-average level of interest in home-restoration, getting huge for the sake of getting huge seems a little pointless.

He desires to put on some muscle, but he also wants to keep his waistline in check. He doesn't want or need to put on so much muscle on that he can't take a Sunday afternoon hike with his family without having to stop for a water-breaks every three minutes. He doesn't want to get embarrassed during his Wednesday night Men's league basketball games because he's slower than molasses.

In other words, this guy wants to put on some quality size but not at the expense of his health or wellness. And for most people seeking to add muscle to their frame, this narrative is also the desire.

If that sounds like you - wanting to put muscle on without turning into a mass of tissue that can't do anything else but look big - then you've come to the right place. Not only can you keep your health and athleticism at the forefront, but we can speed up the time it takes to slap on some muscle onto your frame - a win-win situation for you.

Seeing new and faster gains doesn't always require earth-shattering training programs or ultra-complex diets. Instead, practical, strategic changes that pack maximum effectiveness is the route to faster gains.

Start making the following changes and you'll be able to build muscle faster all while being able to apply it and keep your athletic capacity.

Build a More Fit and Athletic Body

Step 1. Put strength first

The normative approach is to aim all your efforts at gaining "X" pounds of muscle. While this advance has some merit, it's incomplete.

Gaining an arbitrary amount of weight is easy and often it's correlated with more fat gain than you'd prefer.

The second hole in this approach is that aiming to get huge and packing on a ton of weight as the paramount goal will inevitably come at the expense of athleticism. Adding a ton of mass to your frame in a hurry makes you slower and any cardiovascular activity you partake in is increasingly difficult since you're carrying around all that extra weight.

Luckily, there's a simple solution.

Put strength first.

Instead of spending all of your time around getting a wicked pump, shift your approach to spending more time in lower rep ranges. Training for strength in the 1-5 rep range attacks the type II muscle fibers - the ones that have the most capacity for growth - and the ones that have the most influence on your explosive ability on the court or field. Also, training in this way actually adds muscle fibers yielding that dense, hard, look that Olympic weightlifter's showcase.

Training for strength also gives you a tangible goal to measure. Focus on three exercise you'd like to see some progress with: One upper body pull like the chin-up, one upper body push like an incline barbell bench press and one lower-body movements like the front squat or sumo-deadlift.

The reason why it's important that compound lifts are the main dish to your training is two fold:

  1. Training these movements with a strength first mindset allows you to get extremely strong without getting unnecessarily big. This is largely due to training these movements in the 1-5 rep ranges and the type of hypertrophy this produces (myofibrillar).
  2. Big, compound movements induce a more favorable hormonal response in comparison to isolation movements. Research also supports that these movements properly structured in a workout is critical as well. Treat them like the main course of your meal.

Step 2. Don't be an idiot with food

Gaining muscle requires that you eat enough to support the goal. This isn't revolutionary news.

However, I think mainstream fitness media has influenced a lot of aspiring average joe muscle builders that one must eat until they must unbutton their pants at each meal.

Stuffing yourself is not healthy, it backfires with your muscle building goals, and it's damn expensive with little return.

Yes, there are lifters out there who put away 3,500-5,000 calories a day. But they've built up to that - their tolerance for that amount of food didn't come overnight.

Instead, it's probably taken them years to get to that point.

For you and the thousands of other lifters who regularly clock in at around ~2,500 calories a day, you need not to throw a superabundance of additional food down your gullet each day.

Instead, start with a small bump. Think like 200-400 calories added to your daily diet. This doesn't sound like much. But think about this for a second.

In a week, that's anywhere from 1,400-2,800 additional calories. In a month, that's 5,600-11,200 additional calories. It adds up over time.

And that's exactly what you want. By adding a small surplus to your daily diet, you give your body enough extra nutrients to repair and grow back bigger and stronger while keeping bodyfat levels in check.

Without practice, we are naturally atrocious at eyeballing food portions in each direction - underestimating and overestimating.

So, tracking your intake is smart here. Once you find your baseline intake (what you eat on a daily basis in terms of calories), add 200-400 calories to that number.

Monitor your progress. Generally speaking, 0.5 of muscle gain every two weeks is a fair assessment. If it's slower than this, bump your intake up again by 200-400 calories per day.

Step 3. Augment main lifts with accessory work

In order to optimize GH production, we have to channel the inner bodybuilder in you. Research shows that a training in the 70-75% range of your 1RM produces high levels of blood lactate which in return influences a high production of GH. Keeping your rest periods short between sets is also a criteria to lactate training.

This type of training should come after you've consumed your main meal with the big, compound lifts. You can call this your accessory work.

To keep it practical, you can target the muscle groups the support the big lift during your accessory sessions.

On your upper body days, you can hit your arms, shoulders, lats, and upper back.

On your lower body days, you can hit your low back, glutes, abs, quads, and hamstrings.

I suggest you pick two muscle groups to attack after your main lift. Hit them with three to four sets in the 10-25 rep range with second rest between sets. Here's an example.
  • Main move: 5x3 Sumo Deadlift
  • Accessory movement #1: 4 x 12 Reverse hyper
  • Accessory movement #2: 3 x 25 Close stance leg press

Step 4. Don't toss out cardio

Do you avoid cardio or conditioning altogether because you think it'll eat away at your gains and syphon the strength you've built?

To be fair, you've got a case. Training like a marathoner who puts in tons of garbage miles per week can certainly turn you into a saggy, sunken face weakling.

But, cardio work prescribed at the right dose, can assist in your muscle building pursuit. In other words, cardio DOES NOT STEAL YOUR GAINZ.

When you're slaying the iron day in and day out, muscle soreness is going to be in the equation. Your ability to recover as fast as possible is what allow you to train harder, more frequently.

To speed recovery you're relying on two things: How much of the nutrients needed for repair actually get to the muscle and how fast those substances are delivered. These two ingredients rely on increased blood flow the local muscle.

Cardio is the most practical way to induce more blood flow and thus, helps you recover faster.

Start with two to three 20-30 minute sessions a week during your muscle building phase. You'll want to perform these sessions at 65% of max intensity or 120-140 BPM's (a.k.a. zone 2 work).

Step 5. Establish a nighttime routine

Building strength and packing on muscle hinge on two hormones: Testosterone and Growth hormone.

These two are the powerhouse hormones you must be mindful of when you want to go from scrawny to brawny.

Interestingly, these two hormones rely on you getting enough sleep. But the stats show that a lot of people (maybe even you), don't get enough sleep.

And then they wonder why they can't make any gains.

Much your GH production is released during sleep and testosterone falls faster than a gazelle with a lion on its tail when you don't sleep enough.

So, it's easy to see that when you skimp on the shut eye, you're making it really tough on yourself to make any progress with your muscle gains.

We're all used to waking up to that annoying alarm clock, right? It's the thing that tells us to "wake-up." But how come we don't have a trigger(s) or alarm clock for us to go to bed? It's time to do that.

Here is a practical short list of strategies to establish a nightly routine so you can get to bed regularly and get consistent quality sleep:
  • Craft a night time ritual. Maybe it's drinking chamomile tea. Maybe it's taking a warm shower. Find something that triggers relaxation for you. This will train your mind that it's time to "shut-down."
  • Keep your room cool. Warm temperatures will wake you up throughout the night disrupting sleep. Somewhere in the 65-70 degree range should do the job.
  • Plan tomorrow in two minutes. Pencil out your to-do list for the following day so you don't ruminate over things that must get done when you hop into bed. You can be rest peacefully knowing that you can reference your to-do list and not have to worry about remembering what must get done the next day.

Wrapping Up

The gains can be yours.

With the handful of strategies you're now equipped with, you can build the body you want without sacrificing function.

Build your training around the big lifts supported by accessory work, bump up your intake reasonably, keep cardio in your game-plan, and establish a nightly routine.

By doing so, you'll be taking the straightest path to the body you want.
"Androgen Receptor Content Following Heavy Resistance Exercise in Men. - PubMed - NCBI."National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
"Hormonal and Growth Factor Responses to Heavy Resistance Exercise Protocols. - PubMed - NCBI." National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
"JAMA Network | JAMA | Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men." JAMA Network | JAMA | Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
"Metabolic Responses During Hydraulic Resistance Exercise. - PubMed - NCBI." National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Previous article The Hip Thrust – Good or Bad?