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The Point of No Return: Understanding Overtraining and Intensity for Maximum Muscle Mass


It’s truly incredible when one considers the great lengths at which most bodybuilders will go in order to acquire a pound or two more of muscle–particularly natural bodybuilders. Tell them that there is some new African herb that runs down the bark of a forbidden tree in the middle of a lion’s den, and off they go to become a ringleader. It doesn’t matter if it tastes like dung and smells horse manure. If it will grow muscle, then it must be consumed. Digestion at all costs. I literally read of a bodybuilder that became so sick from drinking too much of a supplemental drink that he vomited some of it up and then swallowed it once again. That may sound crazy and disgusting, but it gets much worse than that.

Understand, I’m not pointing fingers. I have swallowed my fair share of supplements and gross drinks. In fact, I have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on supplements–some good and some not so good. I even purchased a couple of low voltage electroshock machines, which were supposed to increase muscle mass through intensive, invulnerable contractions. I will never forget the look on my brother’s face when he walked into my bedroom to find me shaking all over the bed. He laughed until he was blue. The joke, however, was on me. I had to learn the hard way and I did.

That’s not to say that supplements are not important. Quite the contrary, I believe they are an imperative. In fact, I believe that supplements can be the difference between mediocrity and greatness. Supplementation has come a long way and now offers the natural bodybuilder incredible metabolic support. From the natural testosterone enhancers to the glutamine and creatine, we are truly fortunate to have such a plethora of quality products at our disposal.

My passion is helping others to build muscle naturally without making the same mistakes that I once made. I have studied the science of bodybuilding extensively over the years and I have learned how to pack on muscle naturally without the use of anabolic steroids if that is the road you choose. It can be done and the satisfaction is truly unbelievable.

As a Personal Trainer I’m in the gyms every day and never a day goes by without someone asking me how they can pack on the size. At least one or two a week will approach me and ask me if I’m on steroids. While it can get bothersome, I always try to help in some way, while leading them to the truth that they don’t need anabolic enhancement to gain solid muscle–especially with the natural alternatives available (time-realeasing proteins, cell volumizers, growth hormone stimulators and much more). It’s true, the secrets to muscle growth can be allusive with regard to specific nutrients and their timing and partitioning. However, the most important foundational truths are simplistic and basic.

The most important muscle building truth is the one most abused. Most bodybuilders overtrain and do so compulsively. In fact, they can’t help themselves. They go into the gym and spend hours upon hours doing exercise after exercise. I believe some of them should pack lunch and dinner, and maybe even a tent. They can literally spend an entire afternoon working out. Is it worthwhile? If they were making gains and putting on muscle then maybe yes. But the sad reality is that some of them never seem to change. I see them day after day and week after week and they look the same exact way they did a year ago. As a personal trainer and fellow bodybuilder, this can sometimes frustrate me to no end.

If you are working the same body parts over and over again without adequate rest, it’s very likely that you are doing serious damage to your body and losing ground in your quest for muscle. Most people fall into one of two categories: those who don’t train enough and those who train too much. Do you fit into one of these categories? You may come to realize that you actually belong to both of them. What I mean by that is this: the biggest mistake I see people doing is working out endlessly with weights that are not heavy enough to cause the muscular adaptation that leads to growth. In plain English, most train with weights that are far too light to cause any true increase in lean body mass. Instead, they work feverishly to get a pump. Unfortunately, a pump can actually kill your chances at muscle increase. I’ll save that for another article at another time.

Let’s get back to the issue of poundage. If you’re training in the 12-15 rep range all of the time, then in my opinion you will never see the kind of muscle you desire–if any at all. Why? Muscle will grow only as it is forced to adapt to a load greater than it is used to moving. If you’re always lifting in that rep range, you’re probably not challenging your muscles with the necessary overload to force development. You may be moving up a little in weight and still using that rep scheme. But you’re still not challenging your body with the necessary overload that leads to hypertrophic protein synthesis.

In order to stimulate maximum growth you must utilize a heavy, intense, low rep scheme. It is heavy lifting that recruits the white fast twitch fibers which have the greatest potential for growth. However, it’s important to be careful not to lift too much. Lifting too much for too long can lead to overtraining.

Overtraining is pushing your body to a state where the workload is greater than the body’s capacity to recover. It has a profound impact on your nervous system, as well. If your nervous system becomes overtaxed it will result in fatigue, overall muscle weakness and premature muscular contraction. Physiologically you will lower your testosterone levels and hinder your immune system. You will also find that you have a significant decrease in focus and motivation. All of this leads to zero-growth. You are taking the muscle fibers to the point of no return. As they keep trying to repair, you keep stopping the process. Try to keep this image in your mind: overtraining is like picking a scab. If you keep picking the scab, it never heals. If you never let the muscle repair and recover it will never lead to new growth. Don’t pick the scab! Let it heal and it will grow.

Aside from overtraining, intensity is another area where most lack. The reason for the lack of intensity is directly related to the weight that they lift and the mindset that is required to push the body to its limits. If the weight is heavy enough, the intensity will follow. Lift heavy but lift smart. Bodybuilding requires leaving your ego at the door. Forget about what someone else is lifting and focus on your goals and your limitations. Proper form is imperative.

I would make the following recommendations regarding intensity and overtraining. First, choose a weight that you can control for 4-6 reps with strict form. Once you can do 7 reps, it’s time to increase the weight. Do no more than 9-12 total sets per body part–not including warm up sets. Never workout for more than 45 minutes. Once you pass the 45 minute-mark you are entering what I call the point of no return. Testosterone levels drop, cortisol levels increase and it makes for a very catabolic environment. I know this is a hard one but here goes: try to train each body part only once a week–twice only if you’re sure you have fully recovered.

This is also where I should take a moment to talk about the importance of supplementation. Creating an anabolic environment is absolutely one of the most important things a bodybuilder must be sure to focus on. I also believe that the cultivation of an anti-catabolic environment is just as important. This can be achieved with solid replenisihment during the period between workouts using good glycogen loading supplements, along with a quality protein MRP.

Make sure to consume a minimum of 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight a day with 35-45 grams coming in immediately after the workout. Also, be sure to include a minimum of 25-50 grams of complex carbohydrates with your protein. I would also incorporate pre-workout BCAA’s an hour before training.


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