Best Bang for the Buck

Ever since I began my bodybuilding journey, I've trained mainly to pump my muscles full of blood and expand them as much as possible. This has been my number one guiding principle when trying to build more muscle tissue. Although I increase the resistance (weight) when I feel it's necessary, I don't believe more weight is the end all be all. I am not denying that heavy weight builds strength—and a stronger muscle is typically going to be a bigger muscle—but my training has mainly focused on the pump. After discussing training methods with other bodybuilders and power lifters, I noticed that their training methods were almost exactly the opposite. Power lifters train against the pump.

So what does the pump have to do with anything? As a bodybuilder, my main concern when training is to build muscle tissue in all of the areas that make me look more aesthetically pleasing, more muscular, and with deeper cuts/separation/striations. Strength is not a category for being the top bodybuilder. You will build a bigger muscle, however, by training it with more resistance. This could mean heavier weight, more reps, or more time-under-tension. Added resistance results in deeper cuts into the muscle fibers, which then causes a pump when blood rushes in to bring in nutrients for recovery and repair. Deep cuts plus the pump equals expanded muscle cell volume.

If you’ve been weight training for a while and can’t seem to pump up the muscle like you have before, try changing up the tempo of your workout. If you typically train very heavy with fewer reps, try the reverse. Here’s a brutal workout for you: pick a moderate weight and hold the contractions for as long as possible. Control every second of the repetition, giving up to 10 seconds per rep, followed by 30 or more reps. This is guaranteed to give you that pump and make you question your toughness. The resistance and time under tension will rip up the muscle fibers so intensely that your body’s only response is to quickly repair it.

The key to success is to train hard, train smart, eat plenty of protein and calories to build muscle, and rest to recover.

Leaving one of these four elements out would be a detriment to being the best bodybuilder you can be. So along with training hard and training smart, you have to rest. Rest is the only way to fully recover. It’s important that you relax, kick the feet up, and sleep as consistently as you train. Getting several hours of sleep at night and possibly a power nap mid-day is best. If you don’t have much time to rest or if you’re looking for faster ways to recover, there are four supplements on the market that can give you the best bang for your buck. I’ve benefitted from them when I was a young, broke, college student just starting out. These tried and true products are micronutrient support (multivitamins), amino acids, creatine, and protein powder.

The healthier that your body is, the better results you will have. Making sure that your organs are functioning properly is key. Even though I make sure to eat plenty of healthful foods that provide micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, I still supplement with a multivitamin daily. I currently use Animal Pak, arguably the best multivitamin on the market for more than three decades.

Amino acids and creatine have been important training supplements for me from day one. I don’t recall a time I haven’t used them in my workout. Amino acids are basically broken down proteins that quickly start the recovery process as you are breaking down your muscle fibers in the gym. So without waiting until the end of your workout, you are already hydrating and repairing damaged muscle tissue for growth. Supplementing creatine during my workout has boosted my strength, endurance, and pumps in the gym. Creatine will help expand the muscle cells, thereby driving in more blood and nutrients. Creatine also activates ATP production, which is considered cellular energy. More ATP will result in an increase in strength and an increase in endurance while training.

As protein and calories are essential to building muscle, supplementing with a protein powder, especially post workout, will quickly help muscle recovery. If it’s difficult for you to consume enough protein through food sources during the day, supplementing with a drink or shake can help make it much easier. When I first started bodybuilding, I had a weak appetite. It felt like I was constantly shoveling food down that I didn’t want to eat. By using a liquid form of protein, I was able to get in enough protein for my body to digest, repair, and recover to build muscle. Nowadays it’s much easier for me to eat food, so I supplement protein powder mainly post workout, or as a snack during the day.

Keep the big picture in mind. Training hard, training smart, eating proper amounts of protein and calories, and resting are all essential to muscle growth. When training for bodybuilding, train for that pump. Push your muscles to expand as far as they will go. Train with enthusiasm. Sometimes lowering the weight and slowing the reps down will make the muscle burn worse. Eat well and, remember, use your supplements wisely.