Have you ever heard a bodybuilder say, “You need to work your legs to build your arms”? While there is in fact quite a lot of truth to this advice, it also hints at a solution to break through training plateaus and pack on muscle when you’re a hard gainer. This article explains how to use exercise to anabolically “prime” your body to boost workout gains and offer a natural alternative to the use of dangerous and illegal steroids.
Exercise and adaptation responses
Most serious bodybuilders and exercisers will have experienced the frustration of training plateaus – that is the more they work out, the harder it is to make gains in muscle size and strength. Why is this? To put it very simply, the reason is that the once wide window of adaptation when beginning a workout routine for the first time has now shrunk several fold.
Weights and exercise intensities that used to stimulate muscle size and strength no longer have the same effect. Under natural (non-steroid/drug enhanced) development conditions, the human body places restrictions on adaptation to ensure survival and balance or homeostasis.
It would appear that the solution to this problem would be to increase the body’s anabolic hormone response to allow for further adapation however, the “natural regulation” process frustrates many bodybuilders and causes many to look to steroids for a solution.
Exercise and the anabolic hormone response
In an earlier article on our website we discussed the interaction of bodybuilding-type exercises and the hormonal responses associated with them. Anabolic steroids we explained are responsible not only for “building up” and enlarging various types of tissue such as muscle and bone but also for directly increasing strength, which indirectly leads to further gains in muscle size. In the same article, we mentioned that anabolic hormone response can be manipulated with exercise.
According to the NSCA – the world’s leading authority on strength and conditioning, manipulating one or a combination of the following factors can naturally boost testosterone levels:
· Exercises that use large muscle groups
· Exercises that use heavy resistance (85-95% 1RM)
· Moderate to high exercise volume (multiple exercises/sets)
· Short rest periods between exercises (How does this type of exercise create a more anabolic environment in the body?
The following are some of the suspected mechanisms leading to the increased anabolic state:
· Since control of anabolic hormone release is directly dependent on the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (the link between the hypothalamus and pituitary gland), it is possible that intense physical exercise/stress itself may stimulate increased concentrations either directly or indirectly
· Fluid shifts from the blood into the cells during intense exercise may concentrate hormone levels with no actual increase in secretion levels
· Venous pooling of blood (muscle “pump”) in the exercised muscle may increase hormone concentrations by reducing clearance and degradation in organs like the liver. It is also suspected that retention of blood in the veins of the exercised muscle may increase the time of exposure and the likelihood of the hormone binding with its specific receptor in muscle tissue
· Sarcolemmas (membranes surrounding muscles) of involved muscles are mechanically sensitized (stretched) from force generation stress and made more permeable to available anabolic hormones and growth factors
What is the suggested protocol for using exercise as an anabolic primer?
A good way for a bodybuilder to take advantage of the body’s natural anabolic priming system is to perform a combined upper and lower body routine. In other words, upper and lower body exercises are performed in the same workout session.
This type of routine can, for example be performed 2 – 3 times per week to separate any upper/lower body split programs. On the split days, you can still choose to perform just the “priming exercises” before exercising the arms and back for example.
The hormone “spike ” induced from the exercising of the large muscles of the legs early in the routine creates a greatly boosted anabolic environment for exercising the smaller, less powerful muscles of the upper body like the chest and arms. Increases in testosterone will also boost strength levels via increased motor nerve activity which will in turn, allow for more exercise-induced muscle damage and muscle growth (ideal for “hard arm size gainers”).
So to anabolically prime your body, try performing the following:
Begin your weightlifting session with 3 – 4 sets of deadlifts or squats at 85 – 95% of your 1 RM (if you don’t know your 1 RM, aim for 2 – 6 repetitions)
· Rest no longer than 60 seconds between sets
· Perform your traditional combined upper body/lower body routine or split routine as normal
· Drink a carbohydrate and protein mix drink during and after your routine as this has shown to boost IGF-I levels
In closing, this article has briefly explained the concept of “anabolic priming” using exercise. It is suggested that you experiment with other exercises that will have the same effect as squats and deadlifts to avoid boredom and ensure a varied training stimulus and sufficient anabolic response.