The Key to Bodybuilding Progress

If you're anything like me, you're never satisfied with your progress. You think that maybe it should be greater and that the gains should be coming more quickly. Let's talk about making those wishes a reality.

Everybody has a genetically determined rate at which he or she can put on muscle, and some people make progress slower than others. There is also a point at which our bodies can't put on any more muscle. Even so, the following guidelines can help you put on those muscles faster than you ever thought possible.

Be Consistent and Persistent

These are the two biggest secrets of successful bodybuilding. To begin with you've got to work out consistently. Except when I'm sick or when I have a major test to study for, I always train. I see people in the gym that I haven't seen for a while, and I ask them where they've been. Often they say that they missed training, no specific excuse except that they just couldn't make it to the gym. These people will never make progress.

You are given 24 hours a day, and you must put aside the time to train every day or whatever your training regimen calls for. Even when I have several final exams and I need time to study, I often wake up a little early so I have "extra" hours in which to train.

You've also got to persist in your goals. My favorite movies are always the ones in which the underdog rises up from nowhere to emerge victorious; for example, Rocky. I also get inspiration from real people like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Franco Columbu. They never give up, and neither do I.

When I start to feel the burn during a set, I do two or three more reps. As Arnold said in the movie "Pumping Iron," "This is what divides one from being a champion and one from not being a champion."

I see people in the gym who clearly could do another rep but don't and instead try to compensate with extra sets. This won't cut it. You must push your body to grow.

Another thing that relates to being persistent is increasing the weight as often as possible. Don't let your body get too comfortable. If you can get out at least six reps in proper form with a new poundage, the muscle will grow in order to adapt.

Focus on Your Goals

Another point that relates to the above discussion is concentration. Once your mind is committed to a particular goal, your body will find it that much easier to follow through. Before I went home for summer break last May, the guys at my gym in Florida were telling me that I had to get bigger; so I set a goal to put on 15 pounds by the time I came back in late August. This was something that I believed I could achieve, and I said it out loud in front of people at the gym in order to commit myself to it. When I returned to Florida, I was 25 pounds heavier. Some people accused me of using the juice, but the fact is, I merely committed myself mentally to a goal and carried it through to become reality.

Shut Up in the Gym

This is a rule that I often violate. If you rest too long in between sets because you're flapping those gums, the muscle loses its pump and doesn't get the message.

When I train taking no more than 60 seconds' rest between sets, my muscles always pump up nicely and I feel as if I've gotten a thorough workout. When I rest more than 90 seconds between sets, I lose the pump and feel as if I'm starting each set from scratch. So leave the talk for after the workout.

Know Your Body

It's very important to learn about your own body. Personal trainers are great for some people, but I think I make better progress my way. Over the years I have read every bodybuilding book I could get my hands on. I try the various ideas I read about (like training chest and back together or using high reps or low reps for calves) and I tune into my body to see how these particular techniques feel.

A personal trainer gives you a prescribed routine with certain exercises, reps and sets. These movements and combinations may or may not be the ones that will bring you the best results. I try to connect my mind to my body during a workout and feel how such variations as close-stance or wide-stance squats affect a particular part of a muscle.

Maintain Strict Form

Everybody talks about this, but not everybody does it. While I cheat occasionally, it's usually after I've done at least seven strict reps. This is especially important in back training. If, for example, you heave the weight down in an exercise like pulldowns, you will work your lower back and build thickness in your lats, which is not the purpose of lat pulldowns.

The same is true for barbell rows. If you put too much weight on the bar, the stress will be shifted to your lower back and biceps. It's important to use heavy weights, but not if you can't get out at least seven to nine reps in proper form for upper-body exercises or 10 to 12 reps for lower-body movements.

Another point relating to heavy weights and strict form is the possibility of injuries. If you use too much weight and get injured, you can't train and make progress. So be careful not only in the gym, but in your everyday activities as well. If you like riding motorcycles or skiing, take care because a broken ankle will mean no leg work for a while, and that will hold you back.

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