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Muscle Gain: Size, Symmetry and proportion.

Muscle Building Guide for Beginners. Part 1.

Check out the Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | & Part 5

If you haven’t touched weights in your life or never have stuck to a training program for more than two-three weeks then sir, you’re a rank beginner. Funny, how gym rats throw around this term in a derogatory manner for newbies in the gym, when they’re walking around with disproportionate and unsymmetrical physiques with a perpetual crab-pose.

Guess what, they’re subconsciously jealous of your beginner status! Why so? There are plenty reasons for that. They reminiscence over the good ol’ beginner days when they grew linearly from workout to workout, when progress was certain with every new p.r (personal record in a certain lift). They felt that at this rate they’ll be the next myth, the successor to Sergio Olivia.

After 4 months, the growth starts to slow down and after 6 months or so they hit the wall of normalcy. They finally realize those 15-20 pounds were newbie gains and any more is going to come really slowly and non-linearly. Distribution of those 15-20 lbs. on your frame can either give you an aesthetic base to build upon an extraordinary physique or leave you with a typical gym rat look of huge biceps, triceps and rounded lower pectorals. When the stimulus (weight training program) is new, three adaptations of importance happen. First, our muscle fibers learn to recruit new nerves, larger number of neurons fire rapidly in a more synchronized way enabling us to lift heavier weights. This is called neural adaptation/rate-coding of training. I’ll address it with more depth in another article catering to strength gains.

Second, your muscle fibers grow by healing bigger and stronger from the micro-trauma/muscle fiber damage of doing more work (lifting heavier loads more often) than they are used to. Third, the satellite cells which are the precursors of muscle repair & growth, proliferate with new muscle fiber synthesis, especially initially after extensive muscle fiber damage as long as nutrition and rest are plenty.
Think of your newbie status as a fresh canvas on which you can paint a masterpiece or a big block of pristine marble on which you can chisel a Greek god statue. Instead of focusing on isolated muscles, training the whole skeletal structure with compound movements result in quicker, larger and more efficient adaptations in all of the three aforementioned parameters.

Handling free heavy weights like barbells in compound movements recruit largest number of neurons and muscle fibers vis-à-vis letting the machines handle the weight for you. Maintaining your balance and the coordination required between muscles and nervous system to perform compound lifts results in optimum training stimulus for both, muscles and CNS culminating into the largest strength gains.

That’s why Olympic lifters are so strong, they train only the most intricate compound lifts. (Strength is 20-30% neural pathway adaptation, rest is muscle fiber cross sectional area) hate to sound like a broken record but more on this will come later! A man can only do so much at a time. Sorry.
some guy on a machine press. such mechanical monostrosity are found typically in modern gyms god like olympic liften
 klokov training with heavy barbell
 overhead press Overhead machine press vs overhead barbell press. Letting the machine handle the weight for you vs recruiting every muscle fiber and nerve from toe to head while handling it.

The second adaptation of micro-trauma happens extensively when large muscle groups are trained with heavy compound lifts due to two cumulative reasons. First is that you train a larger number of muscle fibers from various muscle groups in a single movement. Second, is the fact that just stabilizing those heavy weights and maintaining proper form while descent (the eccentric part of the lift) tear up your muscles to a larger degree. Many pro bodybuilders swear by eccentric training in which they lower down much more weight than their 1RM (one repetition max) to create extensive muscle damage and by extension growth.

All that muscle damage pays most in the third adaptation of satellite cell proliferation for a beginner. Extensive muscle fiber damage is directly proportional to the proliferation of satellite cells into muscle fibers as myonuclei centers. Addressing satellite cells require an additional article to cover up all the science. Roughly put, more proliferation and myonuclei density mean more growth initially in the beginner phase and larger hypertrophic growth and greater “muscle memory” later when you train as an intermediate lifter.

Conclusion being, whatever muscle groups you trained most as a beginner will respond better to training and will continue to grow exceedingly well in your intermediate training days. So why not train all of the muscle groups and train them hard. Considering how beginners grow on even the worst of programs, imagine the potential and results on a well-structured specialized routine for beginners.

Coming to those gym rats who failed at exploiting the beginner phase optimally, they are usually left with overdeveloped biceps/triceps/pecs/ and lacking lats/traps/forearms/legs/delts and lower back. I’m sure everyone knows what these common muscle group names signify if not here’s a visual representation.
clear anatomy chart of major muslce groups and their widely known names Even when they try to specifically target these lagging muscle groups later, they get disappointing results mainly because there is a limit to how much muscle mass you can carry naturally and while training, the more developed and stronger muscles (from the beginner phase) dominate and bears the majority of the load leaving the “targeted” muscles with feeble training stimulus.

I’m guilty of this, I didn’t know what I was doing and trained heavy on curls and close-grip bench press in my teen years. My arms are the dominant muscle group now. My biceps take the load off my lats when doing bent-over-rows and my triceps take the load off my pecs while benching and overhead pressing. I haven’t trained my arms directly after those initial months and yet they are full and overpowering. I’m fixing it, though, with Olympic lifts and technique modifications.

While designing a workout routine for beginners, I considered the facts that different muscle groups have varied ratios of fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers hence they respond differently to training and all the major lifts have overlapping impetus which can lead to overtraining in certain muscle groups and may leave you fatigued to train other muscle groups properly. All the variables and details are taken care of and you will learn why and how of it in the next part.

Check out the Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | & Part 5
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