Suggestions provided below are for informational purposes only. Consult a trained health professional or a dietician before beginning a workout program or special diet.
Building muscles and muscle mass is one of the toughest tasks you can attempt. OK, sainthood is probably harder, but not by a lot. Your body is an extremely efficient machine. It retains the amount of muscle mass that is required to comfortably perform your daily routine — no more and no less. Excess bulk takes a lot of energy to maintain — up to 50 calories a day per extra pound of muscle mass you add — and thousands of generations of evolution have taught your body that that’s a waste of perfectly good nuts, berries and animal flesh. So it adds muscle reluctantly, and sheds it willingly when you stop exercising.
Unfortunately, evolution couldn’t have imagined a society in which high-quality protein is plentiful and people judge each other on the basis of quadriceps definition, biceps bulge and pectoral depth.
So if you’re going to step into the weight room to build a body that flaunts the unnatural abundance of these times, there are only two rules you need to know:
Rule #1: Lift heavier weights
“I see people in the gym doing the same thing day in and day out,” says Jose Antonio, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, “Doing any one thing for a prolonged period is a waste of time.” The problem is that once you’ve done the same exercises with the same weights for a period of time — a month or two, say — your body has made all the changes it’s going to make in response to those exercises. In other words, it’s not going to add muscle.
To break this holding pattern and build more muscle mass, Antonio suggests a three-phase approach.
Phase One: Be an organization man (or woman). Organize your workouts into three periods, each lasting a month to six weeks: First, go for rapid muscle growth. Do strength training workouts with progressively heavier weights. That means, on most exercises, do 3 sets of 6 to 10 repetitions, using enough weight so that your muscles are fatigued on the last rep.
Phase Two: Next, do a strength cycle, and do power lifting-type workouts with much heavier weights. (As with all lifting programs, be careful not to overdo it, and always have a spotter when using maximal free weights.) Thoroughly warm up with at least 15 minutes of light cardio exercise and stretching, then do 4 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions of exercises like squats, deadlifts and bench presses.
Phase Three: Do a few weeks of “cutting up,” in which you lift lighter weights — go for 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, and employ supersets (going from one exercise to another without taking a rest in between) and other high-intensity tactics. Add more cardio exercise, and watch your diet more carefully. This doesn’t add new muscle or strength, but it sure lets you see what you’ve spent the previous months building.
Rule #2: Eat the right foods at the right times
Most lifters have a vague idea that they should choke down some protein after a workout. But few realize how important it is to eat protein and carbohydrates before a workout.
“You should have one gram of carbohydrates to each half gram of protein an hour before a workout,” says Susan M. Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of “Power Eating,” who has worked extensively with body builders. “A gram of carbohydrate and a gram of protein each contains 4 calories and, for most people, about 200 to 250 calories total should do it.” Translation: If you work out in the morning, a bowl of All-Bran Cereal with skim milk should do the trick. Later in the day, try a carton of low-fat yogurt.
This combination not only gives you the energy to lift, it also helps repair muscle damage and fully enhances the recovery process following the exercise — all of which contribute to building bigger, buffer muscles.
After exercise (ideally during the first 45 minutes immediately following a workout) you need protein and carbohydrates too, but in a different ratio. Kleiner recommends 4 g of carbohydrate to each gram of protein, and that you eat this as soon as possible after a workout. Try a sandwich with 2 ounces of turkey or other lean meat plus one serving of vegetables and fruit, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a cup of fruit juice and a cup of yogurt, and then eat something similar — same ratio of carbs and protein — a couple of hours later.
Finally, the type of protein you eat matters: Essential amino acids — those found in animal products like dairy, meat, eggs, and fish protein — are better for muscle-building than the vegetable proteins found in beans, rice, and nuts. Kleiner believes dairy protein is the best after exercise because it contains high concentrations of glutamine, an amino acid that seems to prevent infections — something people training hard are more vulnerable to.
Whether you’ve been stuck on a muscle-building plateau or just starting to pack it on, making these changes in your exercise and eating should lead to immediate gains. And don’t worry about your body’s grudge against gaining muscle. Eventually they’ll learn to get along.
– Chris Barnhart, AskMen.com 
Lifting Two Days in a Row is Bad
Unless you vary the muscle groups you’re working on, lifting on consecutive days is not advisable.
“You want to give each muscle group a two-to-three-day recovery period,” explains Katarina Borer, a kinesiology professor at the University of Michigan. “You have to give muscle tissues enough time to rest, repair and get stronger.”
The reason: when you do resistance training, your muscles incur microtraumas, or small tears in the tissue. Your body’s repair systems kick in at this point, sending oxygen and nutrients (like amino acids and proteins) to the damaged tissues.
The recovery process depends on the individual, taking anywhere from six to eight hours for someone who is not lifting much, to 48 to 72 hours for a person lifting a heavier load. “Your arms won’t fall off if you do bicep curls two days in a row,” says Borer, “but it will lead to overtraining stresses and potential scarring on the muscles over time. Your muscles won’t be able to keep up with the repair that’s necessary for strength gains.”
– Darcy Lockman, GymAmerica.com
Stretching in the Weight Room
Here’s a good reason to multitask at the weight room: When weight trainers use the rest periods between sets to stretch the working muscle group, says a new study, they experience a greater strength gain over weight trainers who don’t stretch. “After 10 weeks, the stretching group had a strength gain in their leg curl test that exceeded the nonstretching group by almost four pounds,” says study leader Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., senior fitness director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, where the tests were conducted. “We did a second study and the combined data revealed a 16.5-pound strength gain for the strength training only group while the stretching group had a 19.6-pound increase, an almost 20 percent greater strength gain.”
Westcott conducted a third trial to determine whether it was better to stretch muscles right after each set or to do one longer stretching session at the end of the circuit. While there was no difference in strength gain between the two methods, Westcott recommends the lift-stretch-lift method. “You need to rest anyway so why not do some stretching? It’s the most efficient use of the total time frame.”
But how does flexibility help you flex more muscle? “We know that shortening, or contracting, a muscle builds strength and it seems that muscle lengthening does, too, to some degree,” says Westcott. “When we stretch muscles in close proximity to muscle strengthening it appears to increase the muscle’s receptivity to the strength-building stimulus.”
There are many stretches you can do without getting off the machine: On the seated leg curl machine, for example, leaning forward and holding your toes or ankles will stretch your hamstrings. Others, like triceps stretches, can be done standing between sets. After finishing your reps on the triceps machine, disengage and stretch the triceps by reaching across your chest for the opposite shoulder blade with one hand and gently tugging on your elbow with the other. “With all these stretches, allow the muscle to relax and lengthen for 20 seconds,” recommends Westcott. “You should feel some tautness, but don’t push it to the point where you feel pain.” The bottom line is, he says, don’t just sit there, stretch something.
– Ingrid Ducmanis, FitClick.com 
Workout Form: Thumb Position
When it comes to weight lifting, not paying attention to how you’re holding the bar can not only be dangerous, it may even be holding back your overall results. That’s because maintaining the same exact grip on the bar every single time you lift works your muscles the same exact way, over and over again. “Varying where and how you hold the bar can rechannel your efforts to different fibers within the same muscle group,” says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts. “The end result can leave you with a more thoroughly-worked muscle that has no choice but to grow larger and stronger.” To get more results from your basic routine, keep in mind these finger-altering alternatives from Wescott.
Pull-ups and lat pulldowns
Normal grip: Hands wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from you.
The variation: If you find your biceps tire out before your back muscles, try wrapping your thumbs on the same side as your fingers so that your hands “hook” the bar instead of grab it. This variation makes it harder for the biceps to get involved and can be used with any pulling exercise for the back.
Normal grip: Hands about 12 inches apart, palms down towards the floor.
The variation: Flip-flopping your grip so that your palms are up changes this move from a pushing exercise into a pulling exercise, and places extra stress on the outer head of the triceps muscle. Since this section of the triceps muscle lies along the outer edge of the upper arm, hitting it can make your upper arms look larger from every angle.
Normal grip: Hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, palms facing your knees and feet.
The variation: Altering the distance between your hands can make the exercise affect more muscle fibers than usual. A wider grip works the outer pectorals whereas a closer grip hits the inner pectorals (plus the triceps). Incorporating all three variations into one workout can help you target your entire chest in one machine.
Barbell biceps curl
Normal grip: Hands shoulder-width apart, palms up.
The variation: Widening your hand distance can make your arms a lot bigger by stressing the fibers along the top of the biceps. To add even more size, leave your hands shoulder-width but reverse your grip 180 degrees so that your palms face down. Curling with this grip strengthens the forearms, your grip and a broad, flat tendon that lies underneath your biceps called the brachialis anticus, which pushes against the biceps as it grows, making your upper arms look ever larger
Normal grip: Hands spaced 6 to 8 inches apart, palms facing down.
The variation: Exchange the short straight handle for the long bar attached to the lat pulldown machine. Grab it with your palms facing down, hands spaced about shoulder-width. This variation develops more width throughout the back while working your posterior deltoids, the rear head of the shoulders that most people neglect.
– Myatt Murphy, FitClick.com 
Four Secrets to a Flat Stomach
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want one.
If your goal is to thin your waistline and have a nice flat stomach, the first thing you need to do is decrease / eliminate the layers of fat that are on top of your abs. The most effective way of flattening your stomach is a combination of strength training (with a extra focus on mid-section), cardiovascular exercise (short, hard workouts), and stable blood sugar (keeps you from adding additional fat and makes it easier for the body to use body fat for fuel).
1. You must do some form of progressive strength training
The primary function of the ab muscle is to flex your torso forward. However, there are also muscles that flex your torso to the side and muscles that rotate your torso. Often times you see people on their ab roller every day doing hundreds of crunches or sit-ups. If you want to effectively strengthen your stomach you need to incorporate the following types of exercises:
- 1-2 forward flexion exercises (crunch, sit-up, etc.)
- 1-2 side flexion exercises (side bends, side crunches, etc.)
- 1-2 rotational exercises (trunk rotations, standing twists, etc.)
The abs, are muscles just like any other and should be worked at most 3 times per week. You also want to make sure you are training them progressively, working them harder each time.
2. Use short, hard cardio workouts to increase metabolism
Cardio workouts are important because they CAN, if done correctly, increase your metabolism for 4-24 hours or more! This means you are less likely to store any excess calories as body fat because they are more likely to be used by your elevated metabolism. Plus, you are more likely to burn off some excess body fat. Below is a sample interval workout that can be done with just about any activity (walking, bicycling, swimming, stair climbing, etc.).Warm up at easy pace 2-5 minutes then:
- Perform 30 seconds of hard work (almost as hard as possible)
- Perform 1 minute of moderate work (recovery time-catch breath)
- Repeat this process 6-10 times à Cool down at an easy pace for 2-5 minutes
3. Stable blood sugar is the key
And most importantly, you must stabilize your blood sugar! This is by far the most important factor when it comes to burning away that excess body fat and keeping it off! To effectively stabilize your blood sugar you must feed your body frequently; like every 2-3 hours. The key is to give your body only what it needs at that time. Your body burns calories 24 hours a day, so, why would you only feed it once or twice a day? Give your body the fuel it needs: vegetables, fruits, nuts, berries, whole grains, and lean proteins (chicken, fish, lean beef, eggs, etc.).
Many people are too hung up on how much fat is in food, or how healthy of a choice it is. Calories are calories and it doesn’t matter where they come from. If there’s extra, where’s it going? Yup, you guessed it: body fat!
This is not to say that what you eat is not important because it is, it just doesn’t have that much of an affect when it comes to fat loss. Try to make healthy choices whenever possible, but don’t feel like if you eat a cheeseburger it is guaranteed to be stored as fat.
4. Get the help of a professional
Unfortunately, most people don’t know enough about the human body, nutrition, or effective exercise to meet their health and fitness goals. Ask yourself this one question, “Am I happy with my current progress or condition?” If you’re not, you should consider getting the help of a qualified personal fitness professional. Don’t depend on the information you get from magazines or from your local gym/ health club. A qualified fitness professional can help you achieve your health and fitness goals, and in less time than you would imagine. If you are serious about your health and fitness goals, and you are ready for that flat stomach, I recommend you start implementing the 4 strategies listed in this article. These 4 strategies can help you take control of your metabolism and burn off that excess body fat and having you looking and feeling great!
The New Rules For Getting Ripped
Forget inconvenient diets and three-hour gym sessions. Score the six-pack abs and body you’ve always wanted by following these better, smarter rules.
As easy as the models and athletes in our magazine make being lean and ripped look, we’ve got to be honest, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s hard, it takes time, and it demands an unwavering degree of discipline. In our on-going efforts to assist you in sculpting the body you’ve always wanted, we’ve laid out the gold rules to getting ripped.
Rule #1 – Have a carbohydrate strategy.
We’ve heard it all before, “carbs are the enemy.” Well, not really. Completely slashing your carbohydrate intake will certainly help with dropping the pounds (and fast) but you’ll also be left feeling cranky, tired and lethargic. “Carbs are essential for life as our brain and CNS require them continuously to work properly. Restricting carbs completely will allow for any muscle mass to be metabilized to provide us with energy,” says personal trainer, registered dietician and founder of TRymFitness, Tim McComsey. It all comes down to using them correctly, not cutting them completely. “To get lean, a balance of the right amount of carbs first thing in the morning and after workout is ideal,” he says.
Rule #2 – Eat more fat.
Yeah, we said it. Eat more fat. “Fat doesn’t make you fat, too much food makes you fat,” says McComsey. Consuming more fat in your diet will actually help curb cravings after you’ve reduced your carb intake. “Fats help curb hunger because it takes the body longer to break down, use or store,” he says. Hormones also play a role, especially when it comes to muscle-supporting testosterone. McComsey adds, “fats are needed to create and balance out hormones in our body to function normally.”
Rule #3 – Swap fruit out for veggies.
Fruit is great, it’s full of nutrients and antioxidants to help protect the body, but the downside is that they’re also full of sugars (carbs). How do you not lose out on all the benefits? Swap in veggies for fruit. This strategy allows you to keep the nutrients and antioxidants, but your sugar/carb and total calorie intake will be reduced. One apple has 125 calories and 25 grams of carbs. One large red pepper has 40 calories and 5 grams of carbs. You do the math.
Rule #4 – Ditch cardio for weights and circuits.
Want to get lean, hit the cardio machine. Wrong. “You will not make more muscle this route,” says McComsey. When you do cardio you’re burning calories, but you’re missing the muscle growth stimulation from weight training. “The more muscle that you have, the more calories and fat you’ll be burning,” he says. McComsey recommends hitting the weight room 3-4 days per week with one of the days being a circuit style with a variety of exercises. If you need to do cardio, try one day of 20-minutes of fast-slow intervals.
Rule #5 – Lay off the sauce.
Party boy, are we? If you’re serious about losing weight and getting lean you’d better take the effects of alcohol on the body seriously. “Alcohol causes fat to be stored instead of being used for energy. Essentially, your body will put a hold on the digestion of any food until the liver can excrete the alcohol,” he says. Alcohol also hurts you in two other areas. “It is a diuretic which dehydrates you and reduces energy levels. It also can decrease testosterone in our bodies which is critical for creating muscle,” he adds. Next time you’re planning a guys-night, stick to one or two light beers or a hard liquor with a diet soda mixer.