By: Mazhar Nisar
The epitome of a man nowadays more resembles figures like Chris Hemsworth and Bradd Pitt, who aren’t exactly picturesque of Greek sculptures. Hemsworth likes to say he likes his post-2017 body more than that of 2012 and that’s because of his leaner but toned look. According to him working muscle groups functionally and increasing the strength of those muscles rather than muscle size has a more gratifying effect. Yes, there is a distinction between muscle size and muscle strength, and that comes down to biology. See biologically muscle size is restricted to your D.N.A, your muscle grows only to a certain limit which is determined by a protein called “myostatin”. When your muscle reaches a certain limit the myostatin prevents it from increasing any further, so if you were to have lower myostatin levels your muscle could essentially keep on growing. Fun fact, this is why Scandinavian people can grow onto be strongmen since their D.N.A lacks myostatin and their muscles keep on growing. It is important to know this since now it should be easier to identify why certain people can grow muscle mass more easily than others, but if you keep on working out and stick to that strict regimen you’ll eventually optimize your mechanical and metabolic performance.
Now getting to more pragmatic things, people need to work out even if they don’t see instantaneous bulking, however, when someone who has never worked out does start exercising, they’ll instantly notice muscle strength increasing. This is because any sort of muscle stimulation at the start would cause your muscle and strength to grow simultaneously. The phenomenon at work here is called “muscle hypertrophy”, which fundamentally increases the size of your muscles by growing the size of its component cells. One can reach muscle hypertrophy to optimize their muscle growth by doing strength and resistance training. The important concept in strength training is “progressive overload”, basically you progressively increase either the repetitions or the weight itself to reach a limit where your muscles can’t work anymore. Now this is a fine line between your muscles reaching its limit, you don’t want to push this limit or else you could risk several ailments like torn ligaments, pulled muscles, etc. but when you do this right your muscle growth will significantly improve.
As mentioned earlier, Hemsworth likes functional training more than any other sort of exercise. These exercises focus on compound movements, movements that focus on movement patterns that have a function. By doing so you’re enhancing the actual function your muscle performs and thus giving it a more refined look and your body works as a unit rather than individual clunky muscles. Now instead of individually listing exercises, I’ll list them according to their respective muscle groups:
- Legs; even the most basic form of squat could stimulate your hip and upper thigh muscles, moreover you could add weights and variations to exponentially improve the hypertrophy factor. You should also add lunges/walking lunges to the schedule and remember to progressively increase the weights or the reps you perform. Another basic leg exercise that’ll exceptionally increase leg strength is standing calf raises. If you have gym equipment then definitely perform leg curls/extension and if you want to push the boundaries opt for 3 sets of leg press.
- Back; for your back calisthenics can be extraordinarily efficient. Do 6-12 reps and 3-4 sets of pullups, chin-ups, and pushups. As you get more comfortable with each exercise push yourself by trying to do different forms of pushups like diamond pushups, one-handed pushups, and explosive pushups with dumbbells. However, the most important exercise for your back would be the Romanian deadlift, now this requires impeccable form so it’s best if you have a spotter with you and to learn it I’d suggest watching several YouTube videos on it first since words can’t explain the form properly. Fortunately, there’s no reason to fret if you can’t perform a clean deadlift, instead, you can first build up your back strength and form with supermans. You just lie down belly flat on the floor and try to fly like superman by straightening your back and stretching your arms forward.
- Arms and shoulders; now fortunately for you all those pushups and pullups should also be working your muscles and biceps but we’ll also add a couple more to hone in on these areas. For arms, anything basic such as bicep curls, hammer curls, barbell bicep curls, etc. can stimulate those biceps. Unfortunately, some people neglect their triceps, for triceps you can perform dumbbell lying tricep extensions and skull crushers. For lying tricep extensions you just lie on a flat surface with one knee bent on the surface and the second off the surface with your arm extended backward, and you then perform a motion that resembles pulling a chain. You do this for the recommended set pattern or you can do this slowly for 45 seconds to trigger the muscles. During skull crushers, you hold the dumbbell and then take it behind your head and then you perform curls behind your head. For your shoulders, nothing hits better than dumbbell front and lateral raises. For a lighter version, you can also perform barbell shrugs and an Arnold press.
- Chest; despite being one of the hardest areas to define, chest exercises are somewhat basic. You can include dumbbell flies, cable flies (if you have the equipment available), bench presses, inclined dumbbell bench presses, and body dips. Having said that must remember to always have a spotter when performing these exercises since the form is crucial and you can never risk choking under a barbell. If your form during execution is bad it will lead to muscle pains, skeletal pains, nerve shocks, etc. so please remember this.
- Holistic; having done each muscle group every day you should also dedicate one day where you mix all of these exercises and make your body function as one unit. During this day you should ideally perform an amalgamation of these exercises with some added exercises like bear crawls, boxing, Swiss ball hyperextensions, and some CrossFit/high-intensity interval training. This way all your muscle groups will be stimulated as one and they’ll learn to function as a unit in the most efficient way possible.
To end it all off, it is easy to group strength and resistance training as something only “gym jocks” do but in reality, everyone should be doing them, from obese people to even women. Muscles require calories to function so by increasing your muscle mass your inadvertently increasing your metabolic rate and the calories you burn while at rest. Since your muscles now require more energy you keep on burning the calories which you otherwise couldn’t have by only doing cardio. For women, these pieces of training would drastically reduce the chances of arthritis and other skeletal diseases, and instead, it’ll keep you agile and will give your body the ability to keep body deterioration at a minimum. Notwithstanding, anything said here, the fact remains that a person’s diet is still the most important thing; so if you wish to lose weight keep yourself a caloric deficit but if you intend to build strength and muscle try to keep at a caloric surplus and focus more on proteins since muscle components that develop the muscles are amino acids which are components of protein. Ideally, it is suggested you have 2.2 grams of protein per kg and try to at least keep your protein intake at a minimum of 1.6 grams per kg. This is pretty easy to do a couple of boiled eggs in the morning, in the evening have some meat around 200 grams and then you can complete the deficit by consuming two small tubs of Greek yogurt. By having this clean diet and regular exercise you’ll sculpt yourself a body worth flaunting at the beach.
Health and fitness expert / Yoga teacher / Holistic Healer.