If you're not a competitive bodybuilder with a schedule of shows to prepare for, what do you consider to be your bodybuilding season? Think about it for a second. Is your season three months in the summer or four months in the winter? Does it begin in late fall and run for eight
months or in early spring and run for nine? While it's true that most bodybuilders want to train year-round and define bodybuilding as a year-round sport, you just can't train for mass, strength or definition year in and year out without taking a break. You must define a specific
period of time in which you train your body a certain way for a certain physical effect.
This is why periodization, the training method in which you break up scar of training into phases, designing an annual plan for your workouts, is becoming so popular. In my opinion bodybuilding is indeed a year-round activity; but the average bodybuilding season is about three months long. You can schedule two or even three of these seasons during a year, depending on how you design your annual plan, and it's during these seasons-and only these seasons-that you put the major focus of your training on adding the greatest possible amount of muscle mass.
The average natural bodybuilder cannot add mass to his or her frame every month. If you want to reach your goals safely and without frustration, you have to stop thinking that you can keep putting on muscle without taking a break. In a periodization program the training phase during which you optimally increase your mass is called Maximum Mass. The first Maximum Mass phase is usually the third phase of the year, following the Growth Activation and Size and Strength I phases. In Growth Activation you learn to perform the exercises for your particular goal correctly by doing the movements at submaximal loads of about 60 percent of your one-rep maxes for them for 12 to 15 reps per set You progress slowly arid steadily for a month while all the supporting muscles, ligaments and tendons are strengthened, and this method of allowing for complete structural adaptation
significantly decreases your chance of injury while it increases your chance of making gains throughout the year. In the first Size and Strength phase the objective is to bring into play as many muscle fibers as possible through nerve- to- muscle training that involves using maximal weight loads of 80 to 90 percent. This leads to increasing strength levels and makes the muscles look dense and hard. When you use maximal weight loads that enable . you to get only a few reps, your nervous system must fire an increased number of muscle fibers to get the work done. This occurs because there's not enough time for your body to use its fuel systems, so it must activate more muscle through a nerve-to-muscle stimulus. The newly recruited muscle fibers that you call upon in the Size and Strength phase are used in Maximum Mass to create muscle growth.
Since the goal of Maximum Mass involves using the systems of the body that develop muscle mass, your strength gains are not as dramatic as they are during a Size and Strength phase. Maximum Mass phases are generally six weeks long; however, you may string two of them together in your annual plan to create a three- month training season. As indicated above, the objective during this time is to work your muscles in such a way that, when you couple your workouts with the proper diet, you gain the most muscle size possible. Remember that muscular growth is simply a chain of chemical reactions in a particular system of the body that makes a muscle grow when it's forced to react to work.
It's a common belief that six to eight reps is the optimum range to use when you're training for muscle size. This is because muscle size is your body's reaction to the stress of lifting weights with a load that's 65 to 80 percent of your one-rep max for a period of 15 to 20 seconds, which is the time it takes to do six to eight reps. Your body can't count reps, however; it only knows the length of time during which each system in it can operate. In this situation t5 to 20 seconds is the time it takes to use up the available fuel in the working muscles and create the waste product lactic acid.
Your body reacts to the stimulus like a perfect computer. When you lift a weight, it automatically reads how heavy that weight is. This stimulus, or activity, restricts the blood flow as the muscle prepares to work anaerobically to do whatever the brain tells it. Take, for example, an arm curl. For the purpose of illustration let's say that there are too fibers in the arm that can be used. Your body tries to be efficient though. When it reads how much weight you have in your hands, it determines how many fibers will be required to get the job done, and it lets only that number of fibers work. As you begin performing the reps, the muscle begins using adenosine triphosphate, or ATP an intercellular energy source, and creating lactic acid. As you approach the end of the 15 to 20 seconds, the lactic acid surrounds the muscle, causing the sensation we call "the burn." Once this happens, the biceps simply reaches failure and is forced to stop working due to the lactic acid around it.
When you put the weight down, the blood is allowed to flow back into the area, replenishing the fuel and at the same time giving your nervous system a chance to reorganize. The computer detects that something's going on in the biceps, and it sends more blood to the area to help out, determining that now it will need to use 60 fibers. Consequently, the next set will be easier if you use the same weight. Instead, you reprogram the computer, adding more weight and forcing the body to go through the same pattern as before, which brings more blood to the area and enables you to lift more weight, this time using 70 fibers. This pattern of activity is why I stress the importance of taking proper rest intervals between sets. The body will go through this process three or four times before it exhausts itself.
Once you tire out the muscle, the rebuilding starts. The body looks to prepare itself for the next time this will happen, so it calls on its replenishing systems to start working. If the right mix of protein, vitamins and hormones is available, the rebuilding, or overcompensation, takes place. This process takes 48 to 72 hours, and you can't rush it, but the result is that your body will be ready for the next time you work biceps. Because you applied the right system, exhausting the muscle enough but not too much, the chemical reactions that produce increased muscle size, or hypertrophy, can take place.
In the Maximum Mass phases you use the above-described process to make the muscles as large as possible. The process is anaerobic, which means that it works without oxygen, and it takes between 15 and 20 seconds. The number of sets that you can effectively use during a Maximum Mass phase varies from four to five, depending on the rep ranges and your genetic potential. As you prepare for your mass- building periods, remember to start with good foundation phases that are based on sound training principles and organized into a complete yearly plan. That way you'll get the most mass out of your bodybuilding season.