Thursday, November 16, 2023

No Need to Leave the Gym Exhausted

Hey there folks. Today I want to talk about the sensitive subject of the person who's consistently working out in the gym but not necessarily seeing any significant results. Maybe that describes you. There's nothing worse than putting in the work without seeing any results. As you know, I've talked a lot here about the need to train hard when at the gym as well as the nutritional side of things. But there's another aspect to this problem and I see it all the time at the gym, namely the tendency we have to confuse fatigue with muscular hypertrophy. When you're mainly paying attention to things like getting a pump, or how tired you're feeling, or the fact that your heart rate is up or you're sweating, or the fact you're mentally fatigued or sore for days and days after your workout, you need to realize that none of these things are direct indications of a successful muscle building workout. These things aren't necessarily bad, but they don't automatically translate into muscle growth. Fatigue doesn't equal hypertrophy. What matters is what happens at the level of the specific muscle you're trying to stimulate and the fact that you are overloading that muscle by pushing it close to its maximum strength capacity. In other words, it all comes down to training close enough to muscular failure on a consistent basis without creating excessive fatigue. A very important thing to keep in mind here is that it's perfectly possible to leave the gym feeling exhausted without actually having had a beneficial workout. You can do a very high number of sets with high numbers of reps and still stimulate very little actual muscle growth from it. 

Now, I've had to learn this the hard way. I used to think a "good" workout was one that left me tired, sweaty, and sore when I left the gym. However, these things don't necessarily indicate effective muscle building training. The main point here is to stop using systemic exhaustion as your metric for muscle building success and stop thinking that muscle fatigue in and of itself is equivalent to muscle growth. That's one reason I rest between sets to the point where I feel fresh when I go on to my next set, as the picture below from today's workout illustrates. 

Gains are made by overloading the specific muscles you're working and that means training those muscles sufficiently close to failure before resting. 

So if you want to build muscle, that's what you focus on, not just getting a pump whenever you lift. The key is that (1) you've got a solid program in place, (2) you're lifting with proper form, and (3) you're incrementally adding weight to the bar over time. I would therefore strongly recommend that you never leave the gym in an exhausted state because that means you are probably not getting enough rest between your sets.