Tuesday 6 December 2016

Shape Up: The secrets of my success

Damien Maher

Published 11/04/2011 | 05:00

Library Image. Photo: Getty Images
Library Image. Photo: Getty Images

WHEN I was younger, my heroes were those from Marvel and DC comics -- Batman, Superman and the Incredible Hulk. They were barrel chested and had massive peaks to their biceps. At the cinema, Arnold was in the Conan movies, while Rocky was trouncing all his opponents.

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These figures inspired me to get my first set of weights -- a cement block covered in a plastic bag! Each night I would press the cement block, do my push-ups and my abdominal curls in the hope that one day I could emulate my heroes.

The years passed and in spite of my endeavours and enthusiasm, I could never quite obtain a mythical Greek physique

When I first became a fitness instructor I thought -- surely now I can go from scrawny to brawny. But teaching three to four classes a day of aerobically orientated exercises meant that my body was constantly in a state of catabolism.

I was also doing too much outside the gym -- playing soccer and Gaelic at weekends meant that I was overtraining and burning up the fuel I needed to build muscle.

To gain weight in the gym and put on muscle, the key is compound exercises. That's because these utilise two joints and recruit a lot of muscle. Squats, lunges, presses, chins, dips use more muscle and create a bigger hormonal response that releases the growth hormone needed to build muscle.

Free weights are much more effective than machine weights for building muscle. Lifting machine weights may look impressive but the body is guided through a path of motion where the stabilisers don't have to work and there is less fear if you don't lift the weight. Fear is good as it pushes you to work harder and it leads to different hormone releases.

Your goal in training is to create damage to the muscle, which responds by growing thicker, requiring raw materials to rebuild and more fuel to maintain.

The fastest way to gain lean mass and get stronger is to train twice a day. It is something I do consistently for 10 days and then reduce the frequency and volume for the following five days.

Training the same body-parts in the morning and the afternoon but with different exercises ensures a maximum amount of muscle worked.

Muscles need variety and reasons to change. If you are doing the same exercises your body stays the same.

Training is essential but to train hard you have to stay hydrated. Hydration reduces cortisol, a stress hormone that can impact on sleep and recovery and increase body fat.

We release growth hormone needed to build muscle when we sleep so power naps mean that you get a second release of a hormone that has this muscle-building effect.

But there are other parts to the puzzle. You need to give the body the materials it needs to build muscle.

Protein provides the building blocks for bigger muscles. It contains nitrogen, for repair, rebuilds the immune system, detoxifies the liver, gives a calorie-burning effect and provides satisfaction from eating.

I recently read a recommendation of 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight. This is inadequate, as government recommended daily allowances are to prevent disease and not build optimal health. If you play sports, lift weights and exercise intensely you are causing damage to muscle that need more building blocks to repair.

My daily protein intake is about 1.5k-2k per lb body weight. That means an average daily intake of around 300-400g of protein. A quantity of 100g of cooked chicken contains 22g of protein and a 7oz steak 49g of protein. That's a lot of eating so it is necessary to use an alarm clock to remind yourself to eat if necessary.

Australian rugby captain Rocky Elsom told me that during his transition from rugby league to rugby union, he ate until he couldn't, and then he rubbed chilli on his lips, so he would have to eat again to calm it down.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that a shake with a mix of protein and carbohydrates helped increase the number of receptors at cellular level that testosterone, the muscle-building hormone, can bind to.

The caveat is that post-workout carbohydrate quantities are dictated by how lean you are, and the more demanding a workout the more depleted the glycogen or energy within the muscle.

So you see, the pursuit of the body beautiful is not as simplistic as it is often portrayed. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of the time.

I'll leave the last word to Socrates, who said: "What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable."

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