You’re not getting enough sleep.
Sleep is a critical component in building muscle, yet is the most commonly overlooked aspect of it. Muscle tissue repairs itself and grows during rest periods, but sleep is more important than waking rest periods.
The best and most effective routines will not make up for a lack of rest, and sleep is the ultimate rest. Growth Hormone is produced and protein synthesis occurs during your sleep cycles. It also assists a lot of other important body functions i.e. The replacement of aging and dead cells and repair of muscle and tissue, lowering of energy consumption and recharging the brain.
Rest is one of the most important principles of exercise and the most commonly overlooked. Whilst sleeping, your body goes into a state of suspended animation and is doing exactly what you’ve been striving for – Builds muscle! Why would you cut this short by not getting enough sleep? All mammals, birds and fish observe a regular state of natural rest. The role of sleep in health and wellness has been intensively studied and still is to this day, restorative theories of sleep describe it as a time of healing and growth for all organisms.
Animal studies have shown that sleep is essential for survival. Animals deprived of sleep in studies, died after a matter of weeks! In humans, metabolic activity in the brain declines considerably after 24 hours of sustained wakefulness. Sleep is required for our nervous systems to work correctly and deep sleep is necessary for the release of growth hormone in children and young adults.
Though a lot of us think we can get by with 4-6 hours sleep, the reality is that although sleep is entirely individualized, the overwhelming majority of us need 7-8 hours to function normally. The quality of this sleep diminishes with age, but the need for it does not. Rest is also extremely important if you’re trying to gain muscle. Sleep is the best training partner you’ll have and depriving yourself of it not only limits your capacity to build, it also stunts your mental focus and co-ordination so your workouts are then less effective.
Our sleep is divided into cycles which consist of non-REM and REM phases. It’s during our non-REM deep sleep phase that we get the biggest human growth hormone spike. In short, HGH is an anabolic agent that promotes muscle recovery and growth among other things. In order to gain muscle, you need to make sure you get the biggest possible release of HGH every night .. how can this be achieved?
Since our HGH is released during the deep sleep phase and the deepest sleep occurs mid-cycle (usually around 2am) – try to make sure you go to bed in the early hours of the night. Their is a greater amount of deep sleep earlier in the cycle, whilst the proportion of REM sleep increases later in the cycle and just before wakening. During our restorative deep sleep phase, our blood pressure drops and breathing becomes deeper and slower. With our brain taking a time-out, there’s more blood to flow into our muscles. Increased nutrient rich blood flow and high HGH levels will drastically improve your ability to build muscle.
Lack of sleep however can quickly decrease the amount of growth hormone that your pituitary gland secretes during your deep sleep and growth hormone deficiency is associated with increased obesity, loss of muscle and reduced exercise capacity.
It is recommended you get 7-9 hours sleep a night. Sleep less than this and your seriously reducing your chances of growth and/or progression in the gym. If muscle gain is your goal, start going to bed earlier!
Not for the faint hearted, rest-pause training can help you through sticking points or simply offer something to break through boredom!
The basic principle is to extend the number of reps you perform with a given weight by taking very small breaks between sets.
There are a few different ways to use this technique, Mike Mahler for example talks of using singles with close to your one rep max and taking around 10-15 secs between reps. This way you can do 6 or more reps with what is normally your 1 rep max. Dante Trudel AKA Doggcrapp or DC, advocates higher reps for a single set (although different rep ranges for each bodypart) and then two rest-pause sets afterwards (approx 30s rest between sets).
However they’re done, they are brutal and only to be attempted if your headstrong about your training. Don’t bother with any isometric training for them, you can’t really increase the weight on a lat raise in the same way you can a military press for example, so won’t get anywhere near the benfit of this type of training.
I personally tried DC training some time ago, but at the time I didn’t feel I was giving it enough effort, so changed to something else. However I do prefer his take on RP (rest-pause) training. For example, on an incline bench press you would be aiming for 11-15RP – Which would look something like a set of 8, 10-15 breaths (approx 30 secs), another 3 reps, 10-15 breaths and finally, another 2 reps – Totalling 13 reps RP. In DC training this is then followed up by a static hold in a mid-point of the given lift to further stress the muscle, then extreme stretching (another long discussion on this one, so not going into it!). If you have the willpower, this is a great way to train to increase both strength and mass, you are aiming to add weight to the bar every workout. If you fall in the lower end of the reps (in this case 11), you would just try to increase reps, if you get higher into the range go for the weight increase.
It’s no big surprise that we all want bigger arms. you ask a hundred guys who train and I can pretty much guarantee 90% of them want bigger guns. However, most people go about it completely the wrong way with endless sets of curls or worse still a whole session in the gym dedicated to arm training. The old saying add 20lbs of muscle to the whole body to add 1 inch on the arms is very true! The best way to increase your arms (drug free) is to get strong on the big compound lifts – Squat/Bench/Deadlift/Press/Rows/Chins etc.
Compound lifts like the squat create an environment inside of your body that encourages muscle growth, they release massive amounts of testosterone and HGH which in turn help to build muscle. Working a small muscle group like the arms on their own just will not produce the same effect. Think about it .. If you are capable of benching over bodyweight for reps your triceps are not going to be small, If you can perform weighted chins for reps your biceps are not going to be small, you see where I’m going with this? Forget the routines advocated by guys pumped full of goodness-knows-what, unless some form of drugs are involved, it is impossible to build big arms with skinny legs! You need to work the body as a whole.
Not only do the big movements use your arms anyway, a weak upper/lower body can’t support the weight when you do want to work on your arms. You will end up rocking around and leaning into the movement negating any effect it may have. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do any curls, but first you want to address your strength on the main lifts – What works your biceps more? a concentration curl with 12kg or a bent-over-row with 100kg? Or full range chin-ups? How about triceps – an overhead extension with 25kg or a bench press of 100kg?
The arms assist just about every movement of the body so dedicating a whole session to them is madness, they get worked every time you go to the gym, as almost all lifts require you to hold the weight. Adding extra lifts to the arms alone is a potential route to overtraining them which again is not going to help with size! And, as previously stated, not enough muscle is being utilised in these sessions to promote the release of the necessary hormones for growth.
Now some of you may be thinking, “but the longhead of the tricep doesn’t get worked with a bench press”, and “the peak of the bicep only gets hit with cable curls” .. Well I’ll go back to what I said previously, I’m not saying you can’t do any isolation work, just remember it is the icing on the cake. Alongside a balanced program of heavy compound upper and lower body work, a couple of sets of isolation here and there can help add size to your arms, but keep your focus on the main lifts, these are where the real growth is going to come from. Again, I refer back to a previous post on chins/dips – Look at a gymnasts arms, usually big and powerful but they don’t do curls! They have a steady diet of compound upper body work – Chin-ups and dips.