Increasing numbers of fitness lifestylers are training hard and experiencing the many benefits of a great-looking physique. Such trainees have found that by crafting lean muscle they can also better resist the ravages of time to slow aging, enjoy better health and get more out of life. Such health improvements also lead to better physical performances, whatever the arena. When the body and mind are in top shape, training, and recovery from training, are greatly enhanced. Indeed, for many people fitness is a package deal. High definition muscularity is, for such lifters, pointless if health and performance are not also improved. However, while developing an asymmetrical and proportionately muscular physique can lead to additional positive health outcomes, superior aesthetics do not always equate to health and performance improvements. It is possible to achieve the look of a supremely gifted running back, for example, but lack the cardiovascular fitness needed to circumnavigate a running track without gasping for air or straining a muscle. Unfortunately, many are those who have the muscle but lack the means to properly express it. Also countless in number are those of the ‘mass at all costs’ brigade, whose lack of muscular balance and overburdened joints may encourage injury and chronic pain. Such ‘athletes’ are as likely to become fatigued simply by walking to the store as they are suited to lifting four plates a side on the squat bar.
WHEN THE BODY AND MIND ARE IN TOP SHAPE, TRAINING, AND RECOVERY FROM TRAINING, IS GREATLY ENHANCED.
There comes a time when we must all define our purpose for lifting. A desire simply to ‘get in shape’ is vague and must be properly articulated before we can achieve the complete fitness package. Properly defined, the complete fitness package denotes a high-performance physique that is as functional as it is aesthetically pleasing; a body that can perform a variety of physical tasks for extended periods of time without prematurely tiring or sustaining an injury; whose robust internal health assures, among many other benefits, enhanced immunity as well as the optimal mental functioning. Do these fit your definition of fitness success? Do you wish to have the complete fitness package? To help you achieve superior fitness – both aesthetically and athletically – we have prepared four golden rules that will give you the look, and physical capabilities, to excel in life’s many arenas.
RULE 1: ACHIEVE BALANCE
Here we do not mean the capacity to balance 300lbs on the bench press (though such formidable poundage will surely give you some decent shoulders and pecs). No, the most important prerequisite for athletic performance is balanced muscularity. It just so happens that complete muscular development is also the hallmark of the superior physique. To perform to full capacity there must be no muscular imbalances. Poorly developed spinal erector muscles, for example, may not only limit the amount of weight we can press, curl, squat and deadlift (thus hampering the development of the pecs, shoulders, biceps, legs and back) but also compromise posture and ultimately lead to injury. This is just one muscle group. A relative lack of size and strength in any area will invariably promote injury, limit strength, and detract from the overall aesthetics of one’s physique. Poor hamstring development, as another common example, may force the quads to do overtime at the squat rack thereby increasing the likelihood of a quad tear or, at best, further unequal development from the frontal thigh to the back. Indeed, without sufficient posterior chain development, squatting technique is compromised and excessive strain is placed on other areas, in particular the lower back. One can only lift under such conditions for so long before they are forced to undertake an extended course of physiotherapy. The same holds true for other big lifts such as the deadlift. The abdominals are another often-neglected area. Because many lifters feel their abs receive all the stimulation they need via the heavy basics, specialized ab work is relegated to the pre-contest period (that’s if it’s included at all).
ALSO COUNTLESS IN NUMBER ARE THOSE OF THE ‘MASS AT ALL COSTS’ BRIGADE, WHOSE LACK OF MUSCULAR BALANCE AND OVERBURDENED JOINTS MAY ENCOURAGE INJURY AND CHRONIC PAIN.
The complete development is achieved when all muscles are worked equally. When all muscle groups are in harmonious alignment, we look, feel and perform better. Posture is improved, we walk taller, and we can do more without risking injury. With today’s stringent assessment criteria, those who choose to display a more muscularly well-balanced physique onstage will be justly rewarded. So the first rule for developing the complete fitness package is to get each muscle group as strong and well-developed as possible. Don’t just focus on the showy muscles of the chest, shoulders, lats, arms and quads. Forearms, calves, abs, lower back, rear delts and hamstrings must also regularly be attacked with sufficient intensity.
RULE TWO: TRAIN LIKE AN ATHLETE
To train like an athlete is not to sacrifice muscle. On the contrary, by modifying a workout to include such performance-boosters as ballistic training (plyometrics; controlled explosiveness), post-workout stretching, and sports specific pursuits (like sprinting or boxing), a leaner, more muscular physique can be achieved. Though for pure muscle mass, nothing beats heavy basic compound lifts for lower to moderate reps (typically 6-10), a better performing, healthier and (for many) better looking physique requires an emphasis on variety and volume.
No athlete would forgo flexibility training. Taking a joint through a full range of motion allows one to run faster, jump higher, throw further and perform with greater speed, agility and accuracy. The benefits of proper stretching also allow the lifter to use more weight in a more effective manner. For example, greater quad and hamstring flexibility enables a greater range of motion on the squat and lowers the likelihood of injury (provided flexibility training is done in a separate session; and never directly before hitting the weights). Stretching (done 4-5 times a week, preferably after cardio or weights, with each stretch held for 15-20 seconds) may also promote greater muscle growth by causing the fascial layer surrounding a muscle to expand. It is believed that a fully stretched fascia allows more room for the underlying muscles to grow.
TAKING A JOINT THROUGH A FULL RANGE OF MOTION ALLOWS ONE TO RUN FASTER, JUMP HIGHER, THROW FURTHER AND PERFORM WITH GREATER SPEED, AGILITY AND ACCURACY.
Explosive training is commonly employed by serious athletes to enhance fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment and in turn, speed and power development. Explosive power remains a cornerstone of high-level athletic performance. By exploding on the positive phase of a rep, the muscles are encouraged to generate more force when summoned to perform. The force produced during a ‘drop and catch’ type movement (such as a box jump) exceeds that created during regular weight training. More explosive power is thus created. Olympic lifting and ballistic movements (such as dumbbell punching) where high speed is employed can also build more power and heighten athletic performance. For those seeking the complete fitness package, explosive-type training is a great way to develop speed and power and a leaner more muscular physique. Olympic sprinters have some of the best physical development around. Such athletes combine speed and resistance over short periods to fully stimulate fast twitch muscle development. Fast twitch (or type II) fibers are not only crucial for maximum power and speed but also have the greatest growth potential. You may wish to include an Olympic lift, a plyometrics movement, or 4-5 100-meter sprints (or other such movements) in each of your regular workouts to maximize muscular growth while creating the ultra-defined look of certain elite-level athletes. The key to fast-twitch muscle fiber stimulation (the basis of all good strength/power building programs) is to keep training intensity high and to focus on progressive resistance (increasingly heavier iron).
RULE THREE: NUTRITIONAL CONSISTENCY
Getting the right nutrients on a consistent basis is what sets apart those who have achieved their physical potential from those who continue to struggle in their gym endeavors. A precise intake of performance nutrients consumed consistently is also one of the most difficult parts of the fitness puzzle to get right. Consuming enough carbohydrates to power through a tough workout, but not so many that fat storage is encouraged, can, in itself, be a perplexing task for many. Add in the exact protein requirements for continued muscle protein synthesis and cellular growth (at least 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight per day) and essential fat intake for brain function, cardiovascular health and myriad other benefits and you have complex undertaking that requires significant dedication and keen organizational skills. Of all the variables required for health, performance and physical development, nutrition ranks highest. Without a sufficient caloric intake, one’s best intentions and the heart of a world champion will not save a workout from falling flat. Even with the right amount of training energy, full recovery and muscle growth cannot be achieved without a full array of micronutrients and a hefty complement of a superior protein source.
WITHOUT A SUFFICIENT CALORIC INTAKE, ONE’S BEST INTENTIONS AND THE HEART OF A WORLD CHAMPION WILL NOT SAVE A WORKOUT FROM FALLING FLAT.
Fortunately there are available today many different supplements which provide exact ratios of all the key nutrients needed to train hard and often, recover fully and enjoy excellent health. By reading informative publications like this one, you’ll gain a detailed understanding of exactly which nutrients you need and when to include them. You’ll also get the inside word on the latest performance supplements: which are best and why you need them to optimize your physical progress. It is one thing to have learned such key nutritional insights and quite another to apply them consistently. As difficult as it may at first appear, structuring nutrient intake to achieve the complete fitness package does become easier and easier. Proper preparation is essential. Provided your foods and supplements are ready to go there is no excuse for not getting in your 6-7 daily meals. A final important point to remember: make sure you are well nourished with a generous supply of micronutrients. While whole foods and many performance supplements do provide the raw materials for health, performance and growth, without enough of the vitamins, minerals and various assorted co-factors needed to run our cellular machinery and to turn food into fuel, results will be greatly compromised.
RULE FOUR: MONITOR BODY COMPOSITION AND BODYWEIGHT
When trainers talk about body composition it’s usually in regard to muscle to fat ratio. While it’s true that having excess fat and not enough muscle can lead to many health problems (not to mention give one the aesthetic dimensions of a bag of potatoes), total bodyweight in relation to height and bone structure must also be considered when developing the complete fitness package. In other words, when striving for athletic performance, superior yet attainable muscular development and optimal health and wellbeing, bodyweight irrespective of bodyfat percentage can also be a problem if not closely monitored. Playing the size game (the pursuit of excessive muscular bodyweight at all costs) can limit performance: running, jumping and otherwise moving with grace, fluidity and great agility is difficult if not impossible when weighing 250lbs at a height of 5’ 7”. Once again, it comes back to balance. If pure bodybuilding is your objective then pile on the muscle and reap the rewards. However, if you wish to have unlimited energy and unburdened joints then a more realistic and achievable bodyweight target must be pursued. Carrying massive amounts of muscle in relation to height and bone structure may not only place significant stress on the joints and internal organs; such weight also comes at a tremendous metabolic cost. A pound of muscle burns 6.5 calories per hour. In heavily muscled individuals this adds up to a massive metabolic effect each day. This is great for fat burning, so muscle is clearly a good thing for this reason alone. However, the body does not consider muscle in the order of 24” arms and 30” thighs to be essential (and this is partly why building it is so difficult). With more muscle, more calories are expended. This means a great deal more calories are needed to retain existing muscle tissue and to support further growth. Longevity studies have consistently shown that an excessive caloric intake can shorten one’s lifespan.1The body needs a lot of food to build impressive amounts of jaw-dropping muscle. However, the process of extracting energy from food can create significant stress on the body. Such stress, over time, can lead to such diseases as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
WHEN TRAINERS TALK ABOUT BODY COMPOSITION IT’S USUALLY IN REGARD TO MUSCLE TO FAT RATIO.
Aside from the potential performance and health costs associated with greater than normal levels of muscle mass, a massively muscular physique of Olympia proportions simply does not appeal to most people. Massive muscles are only of interest to a small subset of the population. Beyond a hardcore following of iron freaks, most people see such pro level size as a major turn off – the more attainable and healthier-looking Men’s Physique look being what most women tend to go for. The same holds true for women with exaggerated muscularity. Most men find overly massive women not intimidating (as some would like to think) but unsightly. Monitoring bodyweight should of course be done also as a means to reigning in burgeoning bodyfat levels. We all know the dangers of excess adipose. Besides deleterious health consequences such as high blood cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and joint pain, obesity can also sap energy and encourage sedentary lifestyles. Debilitating back pain can result from weakened core musculature combined with an expanding waistline. In conjunction with building balanced muscularity the total fitness package may thus largely be achieved via an emphasis on fat loss and with less of an emphasis on extreme levels of muscle mass.
Training for health and performance
While it might come as a surprise to some, training primarily for health and performance (by adhering to the above-listed criteria) can also produce an appreciable amount of well-proportioned muscle. By putting health and functionality first, the complete fitness package can be achieved. In today’s world of ‘bigger is better’ and supersize everything, many trainees place much of their focus on looking and lifting big. However, by lifting more and packing on the pounds in rapid fashion injury, muscle imbalances and freaky muscle at the expense of health and aesthetics can take us further away from fitness and more towards training obsession and various illnesses. Living a fitness lifestyle means achieving balance: balanced nutrition, a balanced physique and a balanced lifestyle which includes full participation in a range of activities. Because health and fitness is a priority does not mean you can’t build an impressive head-turning physique. You can! But it’ll be one you can use as well as display.
- National Institute of Aging. Does How Much you eat Affect How Long you Live. [Online] https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/metabolism-does-stress-really-shorten-your-life/does-how-much-you-eat-affect-how– retrieved on 22.1.17