Building, Burning, Babies and Bathwater

TINY PANT-wearing, Ronseal tanned bodybuilders can be quite the ridiculous site. But the truth remains they are the masters of body manipulation. And as such they have much to teach us

A side-affect of this much-deserved mockery is the fact that the body-building epithet of “feel the burn” has become the baby thrown out with the bathwater.

It’s not too controversial to say that most male gym users want to improve their appearance. Key to this aim is the ability to build muscle.                                                

Muscle is built when the muscle cells are put under substantial and prolonged stress so that they are stretched and volumised by an influx of plasma. They subsequently tear and are forced to repair and grow larger as a vastly-oversimplified result.


But a funny thing happens to men when they walk into the gym. Despite the fact that their primary goal is the egocentric desire to look good, as soon as they approach the weights they become consumed by the egocentric desire not looking weak in front of their peers.

Suddenly the initial long-term goal has been jettisoned for the short-term one that unfortunately blocks the primary goal.

Not wanting to look like a Beta or even Theta male, your typical male user will now attempt to use a weight he cannot lift long enough to elicit cellular growth.

In laymans terms he’ll pick a big weight that makes him to look strong. The result being he can now only do four or five reps of his chosen weight which won’t be enough to bring about the increase in muscle size he initially went into the gym for.

Now there’s nothing wrong with training to get strong. In fact I think this should form a significant part of your training goals. But it’s important to remember that when your primary goal is building muscle you should stick to that for a while.



In practical terms this means taking some weight off the bar and really trying to feel that burn.

Remember that the goal of your session is to try and volumise your muscle cells by pushing as much plasma into them, not building strength.

In practical terms accept that you might look a little weak with a significantly smaller amount of weight on the bar and perform higher rep numbers - between 8-20.

Alternatively adjust the speed of your lift. While strength training will primarily use explosive, fast moving reps, muscle building will be slower and more controlled.

Focussing on feeling the muscle do the work

Two easy ways to immediately feel the difference are working on TIME UNDER TENSION and HIGHER REPS.

With Time under tension you will be significantly expanding the amount a time a rep takes. This can be in the form of a slow eccentric part of the lift – the lowering of the bar to the chest in a bench press exercise – or both a slow concentric and eccentric phase, so for our bench press example a slower up and down movement.

With Higher reps you are looking to do 20+ reps. Obviously the weight we are going to be able to use will have to come down and so will your sense of male pride. But for once accept the fact that other men might look at you and think you must struggle to lift your bedsheets in the morning, because you’ll be the ones enjoying the admiring glances on the beach in three months times.