I'm not trying to call you vain, but you are.
I mean when you get down to the heart of it the reason most of us ever stepped foot in the gym in the first place was to look better.
Maybe that meant losing weight for some, gaining muscle for others, or a little of both, but chances are the decision to begin some kind of structured training largely centered around what we didn't want to look like and what we do aspire to look like.
I started what I would call formally training on a regular basis sometime in the summer after sixth grade largely because I had become somewhat self conscious of the fact that I was awkwardly chubby.
Don't get me wrong I was far from out of shape or unathletic, but I wasn't comfortable in my own skin and from my understanding at that age physical training was the way to fix it.
I can still remember getting my first ever issue of Muscle and Fitness.
I bought it because it had this 12 or 16 week program written by Jim Stoppani that promised to build a big chest or something to that effect.
It was this great traditional high volume body building split routine program that incorporated increased training frequency of your chest.
And that was the first ever training program I did and it worked.
I was hooked and largely because I saw changes in my physical physique that moved me closer to what I aspired to look like.
Training for vanity for most of us is what got us started and for the majority is still a large driver for why we train on the regular or at the very least why you might be getting ready to start training regularly.
There isn't anything wrong with that.
In fact it can be quite freeing to admit it, own it, and center your training around that goal and stop trying to push yourself into training methods that are unenjoyable for you and goals that don't inspire you.
Don't get me wrong though. Once you begin your interest will be peaked by other things in the physical preparation world and your motivation will begin to diversify a little and what and how you enjoy training will change throughout your training career.
And you'll come to notice other benefits from training outside of the way it shapes your body that will have you showing up in the gym again and again.
For me my reasons for training evolved from being purely about aesthetic to being about my athletic performance and appearance.
I began to realize that playing collegiate athletics was a realistic possibility and at that period in my life there was nothing better than the thought of getting paid to go to school and play football or baseball.
But still I was a young adolescent male who wanted to be jacked and ripped to, you know, get the girl.
And if you look back at my training logs from that period of my life the programming I wrote and the programs I followed (yes I continued to be a loyal subscriber and purchaser of Muscle and Fitness) largely reflected those two motivations.
I guess I tell you all this because while the world right now is screaming against even the thought of being motivated by changing the way you look and promoting the idea of body acceptance and self love I can't help but feel their is a truth that is being swept under the rug.
Don't get it twisted. I"m all for loving our selves, working through all our emotional shit, and not letting our self worth be determined by some number on a scale or whether or not you can see your abs.
But vanity isn't all bad.
Aspiring to obtain your best physique or training for a better one can be a really great and powerful motivator to stick with good exercise and eating habits for a long time. Long enough for those habits to become part of our identity.
And for most of us that is exactly how this whole damn interest in physical preparation began and to deny that is ridiculous.
Yes it can be taken to far.
Yes it can become an obsession.
Yes you don't want to place your entire self worth on achieving someone else's physique.
But don't feel bad if the only reason or part of the reason you make time for the gym is so that you can looked more jacked for your significant other or feel more confident at the beach this summer.
Embrace that shit.
Visualize what it will be like when you get there and let that vision be part of your motivators for getting to the gym and making better choices.
Okay now that I've convinced you to embrace your inner bro/fit chick let me get to my actual point and that is training for vanity or training for aesthetic comes down to one big rock and that is improving body composition.
That means losing fat and gaining muscle.
The former is going to be largely predicated diet while the latter requires proper diet plus a well designed resistance training program that practices progressive overload.
This goes for both females and males.
If you want to have that lean, hard body that gives you the appearance of somebody who lifts you have to be adding or at the least maintaining muscle mass and losing fat.
Which one you focus on first is completely up to the you, but at some point each one will need to be addressed.
As a true bro I'd like to talk about how we go about adding muscle mass.
Don't tune out hear though if you are a woman and like gaining muscle is only for the dudes.
If you want to have a "toned" and "defined" appearance than you need to put muscle on your frame then lose fat to make that kind of appearance a reality.
Thus are training and programming should reflect our aesthetic-based goals in some way.
And one of the best ways to attack adding muscle through our training programs is to increase the volume of our training sessions or week.
Volume in this context being defined as the total number sets times the number of reps performed for each set times the amount of weigh lifted for that set.
For example the total volume of a 4 sets of 8 rep routine on the bench press at 225 pounds is 7200.
I'd like to help out your #gainz by providing you with some strategies to boost the volume in your workouts.
1. Longer Workouts
This is probably the least ideal, practical, or enjoyable ways to go about getting more volume, but if you only want to train a certain number of days per week, have additional competing demands, or perhaps only have access to equipment on certain days then it may be your best option.
Adding volume to your workouts requires you do more sets, more reps, or more weight or a combination of all three and preferably for muscle gain the using more weight option shouldn't be the go to strategy.
This just simply means training is going to take longer.
You are going to spend more time on exercises or body parts and there will be additional intra workout recovery time associated with the added volume.
Schedule out longer blocks of time to be in the gym and start adding sets, reps, and exercises to your routine.
2. Lower to Moderate Frequency Higher Volume Training Split
This is your classic bodybuilding approach although there are a number of ways to put a new age spin on it if that is your thing.
This kind of training split is usually referred to as a body part split and muscle groups can be grouped in a number of different ways.
The main point being that you train more often and thus have more time you can give to each exercise or body part during a training session and thus you can perform more volume with that exercise or body part.
Some of my favorite training splits for this would be:
- Chest/Shoulders/Tri's (Push) | Back/Biceps | Legs - you would cycle through these three days twice in a seven day week with one day of rest.
- Chest/Back | Shoulders/Triceps | Legs | Back/Biceps - you would train each day once a week and rest three days per week.
- Upper Body/Lower Body - you would train four to six times per week alternating between each day.
The split which works best for you is hard to say and is largely dependent on your goals, schedule, and previous training experience, but the best thing to do is start with something and adjust as you learn more.
Just a good old fashioned HIT technique.
It requires a little bit of setup and focus when executed, but there is nothing that brings a pump like a well performed drop set.
The idea here is to get in a bunch of reps on an exercise and provide an overload to the muscle by dropping the weight throughout the set.
It's typically best to start incorporating dropsets as a finisher or as the last set on a given exercise, but you can also do multiple dropsets if you enjoy it and you feel that it's giving you the results you are looking for.
To perform a drop set you simply start with a weight and target rep range. When you lift that weight for the target rep range you decrease your weight by 10% to 20% then perform additional reps to failure, and finally you drop the weight a second time and continue to failure.
You'll enjoy this one.
4. Rest Pause Sets
Another great extended set technique that is especially helpful for getting additional volume at higher intensities (heavier weights) is the rest pause set.
This is basically a set of mini sets.
I know real technical.
The idea is to provide your body with just enough rest that it's ready to produce a high amount of force repeatedly.
You'd pick a weight that you would normally only be able to do 4 to 5 reps than you'd try to perform it for 8 to 10 reps using a rest-pause set.
This means you'd lift the weight for 4 to 5 reps than set the weight down and rest for 15 to 20 seconds then pick the weight back up and lift again for another 4 to 5 reps.
Some people may also refer to these as cluster sets.
Either way they work and you'll dig the effects!
5. Supersets or Pairings
This is about nothing else except efficiency.
Placing exercises back to back in a superset is a way to fit more work into less time and thus get more volume into your workouts.
There are many ways to select exercises for supersets and traditionally it involves selecting non competing movements, but for the sake of gaining muscle one of my favorite ways to pair exercises is to put a compound lift with an isolation exercise that works roughly the same muscles and part of the body.
This would be like pairing a dumbbell bench press with a dumbbell incline fly.
If you've never tried it I'd highly recommend it.
Adding volume to your workouts is about furthering your progress towards being getting jacked, toned, ripped, and defined.
It's a necessary component to train for our more vain goals.
it doesn't have to be everything and it doesn't have to be all the time, but if you are currently in that phase or mindset than ramping up volume is necessary and these are some great ways to get it down.
Happy moving and heavy lifting. Oh and growing!
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training