You may wonder what are the bodybuilding basics, the stuff every lifter should know. But with the amount of information & misinformation available it can become confusing. Well here is a great place to start.
The Warm Up
A warm up is an activity that precedes an exercise session and prepares the body both physiologically and psychologically for the activity to follow. The warm up should be directed towards the muscles and joints that will be used in the main activity, the energy systems that will be utilised and the timing and coordination of the movements to follow. In addition, your warm up should consist of three phases, which are as follows:
- General Phase – the general phase should commence with a low intensity aerobic based modality. The aim is to increase thermoregulation so that light sweating is achieved. Furthermore, a target heart rate of 120-150 beats per minute should be reached. The duration of this phase should be 5 to 10 minutes.
- ROM Phase – the range of movement phase should consist of ROM stretches, which are only held for 2 to 3 seconds, as opposed to static stretches which are conducted in the cool down. The muscles that will be utilised in the main activity should receive ROM stretching. In addition, ROM activities should also be performed, e.g. if you were training quads then you would perform bodyweight squats and lunges in order to take the quads, hamstrings and gluteus through their respective ROM. The duration of this phase should be 3 to 4 minutes.
- Specific Phase – this is where you would perform progressively heavier warm up sets on the actual exercise you are about to perform, prior to reaching your ‘working weight’. This generally is only performed on the first exercise for any given muscle group. The duration of this phase should be 3-4 minutes.
The numerous transient physiological adaptations that occur as a result of a warm up are beyond the scope of this article; however, just keep in the back of your mind that by performing a warm up you are reducing your chance of injury, increasing your maximal strength output and reducing the severity of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Correct Lifting Technique
One of the aims of lifting weights for hypertrophic purposes (bodybuilding) is time under tension. This can be significantly compromised if incorrect lifting technique (poor form) is used. Excessive momentum means gravity is doing most of the work and consequently, depriving your muscles of the adaptations they deserve. To counter this, always use correct form. The muscles and joints should always be taken through their full ROM, unless utilising partial ROM training to overcome a sticking point.
Further to time under tension, the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands) in relation to rep speed implies that if you lift super slowly, your muscles will adapt accordingly so that your ability to sustain tension under a given load will improve. In contrast, if you perform your reps super fast then providing the load (and other variables) are correct, your ability to move a given load over a set distance and time will also improve (power training). What this means is that rep speed should be determined by your goals. Again, for hypertrophic adaptations, and to minimise the chance of injury, a 202 tempo should be utilised. This means 2 seconds to lower the weight (eccentric contraction), 0 means there is no pause between the lowering and lifting phase (peak contraction) and 2 seconds to lift the weight (concentric contraction).
Respiration believe it or not is important. The body will normally look after the breathing component all on its own; however, it is worth detailing how to do it correctly. You should always exhale on the exertion phase (i.e. the lifting phase). For example, if performing a squat, you would exhale when returning to the upright position. This has the effect of increasing intra abdominal pressure, which stabilises the core (reducing the chance of injury) and increasing force output, which means you will actually be able to lift more weight. Never hold your breath whilst lifting.
Machines or Free Weights
As a general rule, beginners should always start out with machines for the first 4 to 6 weeks. Machines have the benefit of the action being guided, they are generally pin loaded, they provide continuous tension throughout the ROM (isokinetic) and the chance of injury is significantly reduced. Machines allow the beginner to learn movement patterns without having to rely on stabilisers and fixators, in addition to facilitating ligament and tendon adaptations. Free weights have increased functionality and can replicate ‘real life’ movement patterns. Additionally, increased coordination is required, fixators and stabilisers are recruited, unilateral training can be performed, sports specific and rehabilitation training can be augmented and greater strength and hypertrophic adaptations are possible. For total development, a combination of free weights and machines should be used.
The body is a creature of habit and is quite resilient to change. Consequently, in order to continually improve, greater stressors and demands need to be imposed. This is best illustrated with the ancient fable of Milo from Crete, who began lifting a small calf on a regular basis until it had matured into a bull. As the calf grew and became heavier, Milo himself grew and became stronger, thus adapting to the progressive stimulus that was imposed upon him. Like Milo, in order get bigger and stronger, you need to continually shock the body by forcing it to adapt to increased demands. This is achieved via progressive overload.
The Cool Down
The best way to reduce the severity of DOMS, and to get your body back into a resting state (homeostasis), is to conduct a cool down. This is best achieved in a similar fashion to the warm up: Select a low intensity aerobic based modality and perform at about 60 percent heart rate reserve for 10 minutes. This should be followed with static stretches, holding each stretch for 15-30 seconds and performing twice each limb. Do not forget to rehydrate and commence the recovery process with sensible nutrition & supplementation.