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I am using a workout routine to gain more muscles in the upper body. For many months (5 so far) I've been following a plan which caused a 2cm (almost 1 inch) girth increase in my biceps and forearms but I think I could get more. I am following a healthy diet (lots of protein, vegetables, healthy fats e.t.c.). The plan I'm following says to work out twice a week (Mondays, Thursdays) for about 45 minutes (first 5 minutes is a warm-up). It's a full body workout. 4 sets with 12 reps per each muscle group. And I gained these 2cm but in the mirror I see nothing. My current age is 36.

On the other hand my lower body, especially my legs are extremely well built, full of muscles and almost no fat. And I gained these muscles when I was young (around 15). I didn't follow any diet and no workout plan at all. I was riding a bicycle, about 30-50km a day just for fun, sometimes faster, sometimes at slower pace. I was eating whatever I found in the fridge (and not directly after the ride as I never feel hungry directly after a physical activity). And sometimes I was eating only 2-3 times a day, big meals (not 6-7 small meals like it's recommended nowadays). And I didn't have 2-3 days for muscle regeneration as my workout plan recommends. What's more - my plan says (and many articles on the web) that cardio is bad for muscle gain but... this is actually what I was doing on my bicycle, right? My legs are full of big muscles until today although I don't train them too much now. I built them doing cardio for 1-2 hours everyday on my bike. Maybe the key was in my diet? (I was eating a lot of potatoes and bread during that time).

What's more: my friend is a physical worker and he doesn't go to the gym but he just uses his muscles at work for 8h a day. 5 days a week. No breaks for regeneration, no special diet and his upper body is really well built.

And I can show many more counterexamples like these that contradict the modern workout plans that recommend to avoid cardio, sleep a lot, work out every 2-3 days for 1h max. So is there something wrong about the current recommendations for body building?

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Part 1

There are a lot of questions here, I'll try to answer each of them individually:

What's wrong with [my] workout routines for muscle building?

Taking a look at them, you do the following:

  • You work out twice a week
  • 45 minutes in each workout
  • 4 sets with 12 reps per each muscle group (implying compound exercises).

To me, that is a relatively low level of working out, to actively build muscle and use the protein from your diet you should be working out for 45-60 minutes at least 3 days a week, potentially more (depending on your exercises).

If you can describe your workout in detail I could give you more pointers as to whether it should be working or not (for your goals) and why. You should be working to progressive overload.

Side Note: Your sets-reps are more suited to a Sarcoplasmic style of hypertrophy with high volume which is suited to the bodybuilder style which is as opposed to the powerlifting style linked with myofibrillar hypertrophy. Strength training typically produces a combination of the two different types of hypertrophy: low-rep, high weight causes myofibrillated hypertrophy to dominate whereas several repetitions (generally 8–12 for bodybuilding or 12 or more for muscular endurance) against a less weight leads to more sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. IF your end-game is being able to look good you should aim for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy but if your aim is to be strong, myofibrillated hypertrophy is for you.

Next,

It's a full body workout

This isn't optimal for your specific described situation (your time in the gym is short), even with beginner programmes like starting strength or stronglifts you have a body split on each of the 3 days, e.g. 5x5 instructs Monday/Friday is Squat, Deadlift, Bench; Tues is Squat, Row and Overhead Press.

You should not be doing the same exercises every time you go to the gym because your body will get good at doing those exercises only (again, see principles behind progressive overload).

And I gained these 2cm but in the mirror I see nothing.

2cm is significant! You should be measuring your whole body if you are whipping out the measure though. With your full body workout you would expect your thighs, waist, neck etc. to all increase in size. Biceps are only a small part of it. Next, you are unlikely to see the difference as you see yourself every day. To get a sense of transformation, take a photo every month or so.


Part 2

I can personally relate to your exact story, I did regular cycling in my youth and some martial arts and it would be fair to say that I have a overly developed lower body (my current 1RM squat is 145kg and my bench is 60kg)

As explained by other users, you recover faster in your youth, and your body is full of hormones and is ripe for fast muscle growth. You have more energy as well to be able to recover faster and develop. You also sleep better and for longer which is important in muscle development. However, if you changed your diet and training plan when younger to be bodybuilding orientated you would see a massive difference in your build. As I mentioned before, your body adapts to get good at what you do regularly, if you did a exercise a lot when you were younger then your body will develop to be good at that exercise.


To conclude:

You will never be able to change your body in the speed with which a young person can change their body. Sleep and diet are both very important to shaping your body. Go to the gym 3 times a week and pick a established programme to stick to.

Gaining muscle AND lose fat is not a pleasant or easy experience. Use the principle of cutting/bulking to gain muscle and then lose fat. Working out at a calorie surplus to gain muscle and then working out at a calorie deficit to cut excess fat.

At the end of the day you need to set goals and then exercise in a way that meets them:

  • Want to get a runners body? Go run.
  • Want to look large and bulky and strong? Go powerlifting.
  • Want to have a cyclers legs? Go cycle.

Basically, pick what you want your body to look like and exercise in that way to achieve it.

  • 1
    Thanks JJosaur. So you suggest I should work out a bit more. The reason I've been working only twice a week is that I've read a lot of articles that muscles need time for regeneration and it's 2-4 days depending on the group. Especially in full body workout. But maybe I should change it and go for a body split. I think I am a runner/cycler but my lower body is too well developed compared to my upped body which I want to build so it matches :) And according to your advice I will start measuring more parts of my body and taking pictures. I didn't know that 2cm in 5 months is OK. Thanks again! – Łukasz Szkup Mar 30 '16 at 12:25
  • Yes, remember to track calories and your macros as well as exercising more. You are correct that you need time to regenerate muscles but 1 day is sufficient between workouts provided you sleep enough. Don't shy away from exercises like deadlifts and squats, you will lose weight all over by doing them. Making big muscles bigger is very hard compared to building small muscles in the first place. – Gunge Mar 30 '16 at 13:59
  • "Your sets-reps are more suited to a hypertrophy style with high volume which is not always best for putting on bulk mass. If you want to put on a high volume of muscle mass then you want to greatly increase your weight, reduce reps.." - This is almost completely wrong. Heavier weights for fewer reps are not helpful for building size for most people in most situations. Definition of hypertrophy IS building muscle size, you are contradicting yourself. Also, full body workouts are perfectly fine if done correctly. Categorising them as not optimal is incorrect. – hamza_tm Mar 31 '16 at 14:32
  • Also the recommendations at the end are not wrong, but are likely to be misleading. Many cyclists have very thin legs whereas some have very muscular legs. Some powerlifters are bulky, large and strong whereas some are very ripped and light. There is no "runners body" that you will get if you run a lot. – hamza_tm Mar 31 '16 at 14:35
  • Thanks for your comment, can you cite evidence to support your claims? I agree hypertrophy is defined as "muscle growth" Incorrectly, I referred to the more commonly associated sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which is greater in the muscles of bodybuilders. I will edit my answer to be more specific with my hypertrophy references. – Gunge Mar 31 '16 at 14:36
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There's nothing wrong with what you're doing. The main reason you're not having the same results as when you were 15, is simply because you're not 15 any more.

During the teens, your body is still growing, and whatever training you do, will impact HOW your body grows. In your case, you were bicycling while your body was undergoing huge changes, so it was essentially preparing you for a lifetime of bicycling.

Cardio and muscle growth

There's a saying in the fitness industry; cardio kills gains.

It's kind of a rule of thumb, but it's a half truth at best.

Muscle building is linked to gaining weight, but cardio is linked to losing weight. Of course, there's the "gain muscle, lose fat" deal, which is coveted in the entire industry, but reportedly hard to accomplish. If that's your goal, you should be very specific in your endeavors.

Genetics

Never underestimate the power of genetics. Your friend who doesn't go to the gym is probably simply genetically gifted.

  • 1
    Thanks Alec for your answer. I also suspected that age is the key and you have just confirmed it :) I heard that some people at my age take growth hormone to make their body feel again like it's 15 years old. But I'm not personally interested in such means. I will just accept my age and focus more on my diet, good sleep and exercises. – Łukasz Szkup Mar 30 '16 at 13:45
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Don't forget to change your routine now and then. Our body is really smart. In words of Arnold: "It know all your tricks, it know your routine. And its ready for it. So you must shock the muscle".

The number of reps is not as important as the intensity is. I rather prefer to focus on the technique in order to go all in with the less chance of injury.

Work carefully the technique. The right position of the body at every exercice and prevent your self from future injuries. Don't worry about how many weight can you lift right now. You will become stronger over time.

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