Bodybuilding Beginners FAQs

Article by KC (Futurecoach04) – Muscletalk Member and Ozzy – Muscletalk Moderator

1. What is the true meaning of Intensity?

Over the years now the word intensity has changed. Although we have many different interpretations of the word now, the true meaning has stood for over a 100 years. Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s Russian coaches described the word intensity as the percentage of their one rep maximum. In weight training do not get the word ‘intensive’ mixed up with the ‘Intensity’. Intensive would best be described as emotional motivation or aggressiveness carried out.

2. Is Weight Training safe for children?

Many times we hear people say that young children should not perform heavy weight training in the fact that it stunt’s their growth. Many scientist have researched this and provided evidence that this theory is not true. The Soviet Union published a book known as ‘The School of Height’ debunking the myths that children should not do heavy weight training. Great Britain published a journal study supporting this, outlining tests they performed on young power lifters showing they had better bone density and their bones where much more durable than that of children not subjected to heavy weight training or any other form of impact loading.

It is also relevant to note that athletes subjected to heavy loading and resistance are relatively free from osteoarthritis in old age and the subjects that were not exposed to heavy loading and resistance show a much greater incidence of osteoarthritis and cartilage fibrillation. Furthermore, there has also never been a documented case that claims weightlifting has stunted the growth of a child. (Bullough et al, 1973; Kempson et al, 1975; Seedhorn & Swann 1985; Seedhorn & Wright 1988; Seedhorn et al, 1977)

3. What is hyperplasia?

Very little is known about hyperplasia. Hyperplasia means the increase in the number of a cell type; hence hyperplasia is the splitting of muscle fibers. Testing done with animals has shown muscle fiber splitting; cats where subjected to heavy resistance training for a prolonged period of time. It has also been noted that many Russian scientist that increases in muscle mass is not only through hypertrophy of muscle fibers (i.e. muscle cells enlarge) but also through an increase in fiber number by means of splitting into smaller sections. It has also been documented that satellite cells, which can activate new cell formation, has been shown to be associated with muscle hyperplasia, through stretching and dynamic exercises. Many people believe that hyperplasia does exist in humans possibly through heavy intensive training sessions, but lack of human testing cannot conclude this. (Gudz 1968,1976;Gonyea 1980; Hether et al, 1991; Tamaki et al, 1992; Antonio & Gonyea 1994)

4. What is a muscle fiber?

Your body contains thousands of muscle fibers. Several fibers are bundled together to make up a fasciculi (or fascicles), which are encased in a sheath called a perimysium. Many groups of fasciculi form the whole muscle, which is then enclosed in another sheath called the epimysium (or fascia). Each fiber has several thousand rod-like structures known as myofibrils, which are a muscle cell. Myofibrils consist of a chain of basic contractile units known as sacromeres. Sacromeres consist of two proteins, myosin and actin filaments. There are also small areas of the myosin filaments that are called cross bridges. These cross bridges are temporary connected to certain parts of the actin filaments that form the basic components for a muscular contraction.

Myosin plays a special role in determining the contractile of the muscle. The myosin heavy chain (MHC) appears in three different is-forms. They are referred to as I, IIa, and IIx forms. They are also located in the muscle fiber that contains them I-I, IIa-IIa, and IIx-IIx. Ia fibers are referred to as slow twitch muscle fibers (or ST/red), whereas IIa and IIx are referred to as fast twitch muscle fibers (or FT/white). Type IIx is the fasting contractile muscle fiber and has a contractile velocity 10 times that of a Ia fiber, where IIa lays between them. I, IIa and IIX fibers also have various other forms. These fibers are known as hybrid fibers, which are more scarce in younger people but rather common in adults.

The differences between person to person vary dramatically according to the individual and training history. It has been reveled that elite track athletes and Olympic-style weightlifters, over 60% FT fibers, have three times the fast twitch muscle fibers then that of a marathon runner, approximately 17% FT, and 50% greater in bodybuilders, 40% FT fibers. Sub-maximal and high explosive weight training has also produced great hypertrophy of FT fibers. The potential for the body to generate high power output in Olympic-style weightlifting movements and other speed movements is determined highly by the proportion of FT fibers.

In every movement muscle fibers are recruited and fired, depending on velocity, load and duration of the set, determines which fiber is the most dominantly recruited and fired. The first fiber is the Ia, which is more resistant to fatigue and lasts a prolonged period of time. The second is the IIa, which is a fast twitch fiber which lasts an intermediate amount of time. The last fiber to be recruited is the IIx fiber which also has the strongest contractile output. Olympic lifters have a higher firing rate of FT fibers than ST fibers, whereas a bodybuilder has a higher firing rate of ST fibers than FT fibers. The reason for the differences is Olympic lifters train with lower repetition sets, where their resistance is heavier and more explosive then that of a bodybuilder who normally trains with moderately heavy weight slowly to failure. (Andersen et al, 2000; Hakkinen 1985)

5. What is Hypertrophy?

Hypertrophy is the gaining of muscular bulk. There are two causes of hypertrophy and they are:

  • Hyperplasia – discussed earlier
  • The enlargement of cross-sectional areas of certain fibers – sarcoplasmic hypertrophy and myofibrilar hypertrophy

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy – the volume increases of non-contractile proteins and plasma builds up between muscle fibers. Although the cross-sectional area of the muscle increases greatly, the lack of fiber density decrease causes a loss in force production. This form of hypertrophy is more common in bodybuilders.

Myofibrillar hypertrophy – the myofibrils increase in density and increase in individual numbers. Unlike sarcoplasmic hypertrophy the cross-section increases allowing the ability to generate and exert force. This form of hypertrophy is mostly found in elite Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters.

It is not unheard of, but unlikely, that athletes from different sports such as bodybuilding can exert force to that or greater than a power lifter and it is not uncommon to see a powerlifter exhibit muscular bulk as great as that of a bodybuilder, although it is highly doubtful that a bodybuilder could exert a force as great as an elite Olympic weightlifter. Heavy resistance training contributes to both forms of hypertrophy, but the design of the training program and genetic factors play a role in the development of hypertrophy between individuals (Goldspink 1980).

6. How do I lose weight?

Step 1 – Nutrition

Diet is going to be the biggest key to your success. Keeping a strict diet and monitoring intakes will yield the desired effect. For fat loss to remain constant you need to be in a state of calorie deficit. Each one lb of fat carries about 3500 calories so we can use this to measure our intakes. If we aim to reduce fat by say 1 lb a week then the simplistic way is to reduce your diet by 500kcal below daily maintenance.

Going from a bulking diet to a totally restricted diet over night will cause you some serious muscle loss. This is not our goal. Our aim is to maintain our muscle mass so the diet needs to be altered gradually. Now, unless you are competing, there is no need to totally rule out all treats. As I’m sure you will all know, variety is essential in your diet and treats are variety.

When following a bodybuilding cutting diet we first need to evaluate how much body fat to lose. A rough body fat measurement using a method such as calipers is a good way to monitor your progress. By calculating how much you wish to lose and a rough estimate of your body composition, we can judge the balance between diet and cardio.

A rough figure is 1 lb of lean muscle burns 75kcal per day to sustain its mass, where as 1 lb of fat burns only 2kcal per day. You can see why the more muscle you have the easier it is to get and stay lean. As a guide we can use the following kcal/lb to tailor our diets

  • For bulking and adding mass aim to eat 18-20kcal per lb of bodyweight
  • For maintenance you should aim for 14-16kcal per lb of bodyweight
  • For fat loss you should aim for between 10-12kcal per lb of bodyweight

If we take a 200 lb man as our example, going by that equation he should aim for roughly 2000-2400kcal per day.

Each nutrient group provides a different kcal/gram ratio:

  • Protein = 4kcal/g
  • Carbohydrates = 4kcal/g
  • Fat = 9kcal/g
  • Alcohol=7kcal/g

Using this you can reasonably accurately measure your day’s intake. Remember that fats are essential to maintain a healthy body. This doesn’t mean go and eat a burger, but the addition of sources like a teaspoon of rapeseed oil in some orange juice will go a long way to providing good fats.

From this we can now measure our intake.

Aim to eat 1.5-2g of protein per lb body weight. For our example man, this is 300-400g of protein. Assuming he consumes 300 grams on an average day, that is 1200 protein calories. He should also eat 1.5g per lb of bodyweight of carbs, which is 300g and another 1200kcal. Fat intake is quite low at 40-50g, which equates to 360-450kcal. So the diet total here is between 2750 and 2850kcal per day. This is below maintenance, so he should lose fat; bearing in mind he will begin to add cardio to the routine.

Depending on the duration of your cutting phase you might want to increase the rate at which you lose fat. To do this carb intake should gradually be reduced. Reducing 25g of carbs per day for 2-3 days and then leveling off will be a nice slow adjustment to the diet and shouldn’t effect your muscle mass that much. It is not recommended going much below 200g of carbs per day though (unless competing and going for a ketogenic diet but that is another article).

Choice of foods is down to you, but as a minimum you should consume at east 50% of your daily protein intake from whole foods. Your ideal carb selection would be whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, potatoes, wholemeal bread, couscous, oats, etc, all of which are good sources of carbs. Fats should be taken from sources like oily fish. Supplementing with CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) may be of some benefit, if you find it difficult to get good fat intake. Remember the key to the diet is variety and clean foods.

When on a calorie-restricted diet you may find yourself becoming hungry a lot of the time. Your biggest tool against this is water. Water is cheap, readily available and, most importantly, calorie-free. Drinking water will provide your digestive system with something and will also aid with the rest of your digestion through transportation of nutrients. Water is the second most important element needed for sustaining life (next to oxygen) so drinking it by the bucket load is nothing but good for you.

Another aspect of your diet should be the consumption of fruit and veg. A minimum of 5 portions a day including green veg. Not only will they help fill you up without adding lots of calories to the diet, but they also contain loads of useful nutrients, which the body needs. They will help with your other bodily functions too.

Timing of meals is important. Small and regular meals are the key, space meals evenly through the day and eat smaller amounts to allow the digestive system a better chance of utilizing the nutrients you are supplying it.

Step 2 – Cardiovascular exercise

Cardio is catabolic and therefore you need to ensure that you don’t over do it nor do it at the wrong time. It has long been said that for optimal fat burning you need to work at a consistent rate of about 60% of your max heart rate (calculated from 220 minus your age in years). This is a good rule of thumb for many and will provide steady progress. However, as with all aspects of weight training, variety is the key and therefore utilizing techniques such as interval training and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) will also have some benefit. Short bursts of high intensity followed by short rest periods should help to create a good environment for fat loss.

Cardio may be best done first thing in the morning when glycogen levels in the muscles are at their lowest. This will mean that exercise will draw from other sources of energy, i.e. fat cells. If first thing is not an option, then a separate day to that of weight training is best, or after a weight training session as your last resort. On days when you have done no previous exercise and it is not early morning then the first 20mins of the cardio session should be considered a warm-up, as your body will burn glycogen from the muscle before attacking other energy sources. It is because of this that 40-50 minute cardio sessions on off days are optimal.

Your cardio exercises should vary too. Try to incorporate as many different forms as possible as this will improve the body’s natural ability to draw energy; 15 minutes on 3 different machines will be more effective than one long run. If you are an early riser then 4-5 days per week is ample for cardio to begin with. Rest is important as your body still needs time to recover so keeping at least 1 or 2 rest days per week is good practice.

Once you have been cutting for some time and you wish to up the cardio then you could begin to do it twice a day, i.e. early morning and after weights, but still have at least one rest day per week and try to remember good nutrition.

When performing cardio first thing in the morning, drink at least 20g of whey in water beforehand. This fast acting protein will help kick start the body out of its catabolic state without replacing blood/muscle glycogen. This will leave your morning cardio sessions effect still for fat loss and will prevent as much muscle loss as possible. After cardio it is a good idea to drink a protein shake again and follow this shortly after (maybe a 30-40 minute time gap) with a full meal consisting of carbs (complex) protein and fat.

After resistance training in the evening it is a good idea to follow this with a high quantity protein shake; 40-60g immediately after the workout and a full meal following this 30-40 mins later. If you are following your weights with cardio then drink a few mouthfuls of your protein shake before the cardio. It is advisable to keep the carb portion small though.

Finally, your last protein shake of the day can be mixed in milk at the start of your cutting phase, but as you get further in you may want to swap this for a water mix and then supplement with a protein shake half way through the night (depends on how serious you are about this; personally I don’t like waking myself, but if you frequent the toilet during the night then keep a ready mixed shake to hand and consume then).

7. How do I avoid lifts that contain a lot of momentum?

This question is very simple to answer: It is impossible to not have momentum while doing any activity.

The mathematical formula for momentum: P = M x V

P is momentum, M is mass and V is velocity. All movements in life have both velocity and mass and thus have momentum. The only time an object does not have momentum is when it is sitting at rest.

Example of Momentum in Bench Press v Power Clean

Bench Press weight – 100kg (220lbs)
Bench Press velocity – 1.5m/s

100kg x 1.5m/s = 150 kg m/s

Power Clean weight – 50kg (110lbs)
Power Clean velocity – 3m/s

50kg x 3m/s = 150 kg m/s

As you can see the same amount of momentum is generated by doing a bench press and a power clean. Many people stereotype the power clean and other Olympic lifts as lifts that rely only on momentum. I find the people that believe this have never tried a power clean, clean and jerk or a snatch before in their life. I think if people would actually perform the movements they would understand that there is nothing easy about the movements and that you do have to apply a great deal of force in order to complete the lift!

8. How come my strength and mass gains have not improved lately?

There are several factors why you could not be gaining the desired amount of muscle or strength, these include:

  • Your body could have adapted to what you are doing. Our body needs stress in order to gain strength or mass. Many people train on the same training program over a prolonged period of time doing the same exercises constantly with the same amount of load. Our body adapts to this, and this is why is it very important that we should change our training program often so our body cannot adapt and ‘incorporates’ new stress to the body, thus allowing us to grow and gain strength.
  • Lack of training: Many people are worried about over training (due to the hype) so they do not train often enough. Motivation could also be a reason; some people just cannot find the desire inside to go to the gym and train on a constant bases.
  • Training too much: Many new lifters just starting can get away with outrageous routines because their body isn’t used to the stress and therefore is increasing its performance. More elite lifters need ample restoration time for recovery of the muscles and the nervous system. Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky, from Penn State University, a world-renowned sports biomechanist and former strength and conditioning consultant for the Soviet Union Olympic team, outlined in his book Science and Practice of Strength Training that when he was training the Soviet Teams he used the following guidelines for recovery time:
Training Load of One Workout Restoration Time (Hours)
Extreme >72
Large 48-72
Substantial 24-48
Medium 12-24
Small <12

9. What is the difference between Absolute Strength and Maximal Strength?

Strength in its simplest terms is defined as: ‘The ability for a muscle or group of muscles to generate muscular force under certain conditions (voluntary and involuntary).’

Maximal strength is the ability to generate muscular force under voluntary conditions with emotional motivation. This form of strength would best be found in competitions such as power lifting.

Absolute strength is the maximum of all maximum strength, which is the ability of muscles to generate force under involuntary conditions. This would be an example of electrical stimulation of the nerves supplying the muscle or muscles.

Many people are inaccurate when saying that their absolute strength is that of a 1rep max. Wrongly, people tend to use the words interchangeably. Absolute strength is an involuntary reaction whereas maximal strength is a voluntary reaction, two completely opposite things (Zatisorsky1995).

10. What are eccentric, concentric and static contractions?

Eccentric muscle contraction is the lengthening of the muscle in a given movement, for example when doing a bicep curl, the downward movement (extension) the bicep is lengthening.

Concentric muscle contraction is the shortening of the muscle in a given movement. Using the bicep curl example, as the bicep lengthens the tricep shortens. This is a good example of how muscles work together in antagonistic pairs to perform a movement.

Static muscle contractions is muscle action at which the muscle is at a constant length and does not change therefore allowing for no movement to occur.

11. What are Compound and Isolation movements?

A compound movement is a multi-joint movement that works a group of muscles. An isolation movement targets a specific movement and places the majority of the training work on that muscle. Many people argue the fact that its impossible to completely isolate a given muscle, which is correct, but it is not impossible to put the majority of the training stress on one particular muscle. To understand this you must see the eccentric and concentric muscle actions and how muscles work together. Again using the example of the bicep curl (an isolation movement) as the bicep shortens (concentric) the tricep must lengthen (eccentric). Although the majority of the stress is placed on the bicep, the tricep is still being used and thus the bicep is not completely isolated.

List of Compound Movements (not complete)

  • Bench Press
  • Clean and Press
  • Snatch
  • Clean and Jerk
  • Dead lift
  • Squat

List of Isolation Movements (not complete)

  • Bicep curl
  • Tricep extension
  • Hammer curl
  • Leg extension Leg curl

12. What is plyometric training?

Plyometric training is a mechanical shock stimulation forcing the muscle to produce as much tension as possible. This method is characterised by impulsive actions ofinimal duration (lasting period) between the end of the eccentric braking phase and initiation of the concentric acceleration phase. The maximum amount of time it takes the athlete to perform the transition phase of the plyometric (time between eccentric and concentric) should be no longer then 0.15 seconds. If the movement takes too long it redefines itself as an ordinary jumping movement rather then a classical plyometric. In the early 1960’s Dr. Verkhoshansky used a method of training called shock training. Many Western coaches believed that this was the Russian training secret to their dominance. In many Eastern nations they still call it shock training rather than plyometrics, an adoption of the method Verkhoshansky developed. The reason they favor the phrase shock training rather then plyometrics is to recognise the difference between plyometric action and plyometric training. Plyometric Action takes place in every day life, involving running, jumping, striking and other forms of rebounding movements. In many literature texts today plyometrics are referred to as power metrics.

Many people believe the hype that ballistic movements are dangerous, which are mostly forms of Western text that try to support it. Most of the texts that do try to show how ballistic type movements, in this case plyometric training, has dangerous side effects are unproven. Their is no way to actually isolate the effects of plyometrics, as that of other sports which have the ability to compare overall intensity, duration and complexity of loads. Also, to believe that plyometric actions are safe but plyometric training isn’t can only cause some good laughs among sports scientist. In reality joints subjected to heavy impacts, such as plyometric training, are relatively free from osteoarthritis in old age and those subjected to much lower loads experience a greater incidence of osteoarthritis and cartilage damage. How could this be? The joints exposed to such impulsive loads attaching tendons and other tissues become much stronger and durable then those which aren’t exposed to impulsive loading.

Benefits Of Plyometric Training:

  • Increased speed
  • Increased jumping abilities
  • Increased upper body speed
  • Increased upper and lower body reactive abilities
  • Increases variety outside the weight room
  • Increased explosive strength
  • Fun to do

Basic Plyometric Exercises:

Lower Body:

  • Bounding
  • Hurdle hopping
  • Box jumps
  • Single or double leg hopping
  • Tuck jumps
  • Depth jumps

Upper Body:

  • Chest pass
  • Explosive incline push-ups
  • Power drops
  • Incline chest pass
  • Vertical toss-ups

Above is a very short list of plyometric exercises to be aware of. Before the athlete adds certain movements into their training program, they must be aware of what is being demanded of their sport. For example a volleyball player could introduce some box jumping or hopping drills; a discuss thrower who wants to increase throwing distance could do explosive incline push-ups or vertical toss passes.

I would recommend doing Plyometric movements no more then 2 to 3 times per week depending on the movements done. If the athlete does a lot of box- and depth jumps then I would suggest it be performed no more then twice a week. If he/she wants to train a third day with plyometric movements then it wouldn’t hurt to perform some basic bounding drills of low impact. The athlete must also be aware of the fact that with plyometric training it’s not the quantity but the quality that is important. Keep all movements under control and the environment safe.

For certain movements such as depth- or box jumps, I would suggest 1-2 sets of 4-6 reps. The number of exercises be preformed can range from 1-3. For all bounding and hopping movements, the suggested amount would be 20-40m in length. The athlete can have 2-4 trips performed on each movement.

13. How are Olympic Lifts of benefit to strength training athletes?

In the Olympic games, weightlifting competitions consist of two lifts. The clean and jerk and the snatch. The clean and jerk, also referred to as c&j, is taking a barbell from the ground to above you head in two movements combined. First the weight is cleaned to the shoulders then the lifter drops under the weight and jerks it overhead.

The Snatch is a lift taken above the head just like the clean and jerk, but in one motion. The barbell starts on the floor and the lifter takes a much wider grip on the barbell then proceeds to take the barbell from the ground above head like an overhead squat. Then the lifter will then stand up with the weight above head.

The benefits of Olympic lifts are outlined in the book The Weightlifting Encyclopedia by Drechsler. The examples he has given about the benefits of doing Olympic lifts are:

  1. The mere practice of the (Olympic) lifts [the snatch and the clean & jerk as well as related lifting techniques] teaches an athlete how to explode.
  2. The practice of proper technique in the Olympic lifts, teaches an athlete to apply force with his or her muscle groups in the proper sequences.
  3. In mastering the Olympic lifts, the athlete learns how to accelerate objects under varying degrees of resistance.
  4. The athlete learns to receive force from another moving body effectively and becomes conditioned to accept such forces.
  5. The athlete learns to move effectively from an eccentric contraction to a concentric one.
  6. The actual movements performed while executing the Olympic lifts are among the most common and fundamental in sports.
  7. Practicing the Olympic lifts trains an athlete’s explosive capabilities, and the lifts themselves measure the effectiveness of the athlete in generating explosive power to a greater degree than most other exercises they can practice.
  8. The Olympic lifts are simply fun to do

It has also been well documented the amazing vertical jump these Olympic lifters have. This is incredible once you think that these guys don’t jump but can out jump the pro basketball players in the NBA. In the Mexico City Olympic Games Dr. Yessis did a field test with the Olympic lifters competing and the Olympic sprinters and jumpers. There were two tests, the 25m sprint and the vertical jump. It was documented that Olympic lifter’s out sprinted the Olympic sprinters in the 25m and out jumped the Olympic jumpers in the vertical jump! This is quite a feat for men 250-300lbs.

Olympic lifts have also been used to aid rehabilitation of people from injury. This is incredible when you consider the view most people have that Olympic lifting is dangerous, discussed later in this article.

14. What are GPP and SPP?

Athlete’s can incorporate GPP and SPP as ways of getting out of the weight room and doing certain things that have a greater carry over in the true world we live in. GPP is General Physical Preparation, whereas SPP is Specialized Physical Preparation. Both GPP and SPP are involved in low intensity work. Both can be used for overall conditioning and help to improve overall skills in a sport. Where the work would be done to help improve a certain sport it would be more associated with SPP. Both GPP and SPP can also help speed up recovery time and help balance and coordination. Both methods allow for people to leave the walls of the training room and go out and use our strength like man did years ago.

15. How are Kettlebells different to Dumbbells?

Kettlebells are shaped much different then a dumbbell. I am sure everybody reading this knows what a dumbbell is shaped like. A kettlebell is a large ball of iron or steel with a thick handle attached to it. I guess you could say it looks more or so like a cannon ball with a handle. Kettlebells have been used for years, dating back to the days of the early strongman in the late 1700s. Many people believe they can accomplish the same objectives using dumbbells as a kettlebells and that the only difference is shape. You can ask Josh Henkin, a well-respected strength coach in the USA, about the differences. The shape has a lot to do with the difference between them; the shape of the kettlebell makes it harder to maneuver and the leverage is much different. The thickness of the handle of the kettlebell also allows for the grip to be worked as well. If you are interested in buying a kettlebell they can be found on the Internet, just search for them! One training session with the ‘Ball of Hell’ should make you a believer in them.

References and Work Cited:

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