Building strength requires weight-lifting, a sufficient diet, proper recovery and patience. A lot of patience. And no one knows this better than the UK’s Strongest Man, Adam Bishop. We sat down with Bishop to pick his brain on the biggest muscle-building mistakes people make when trying to build strength.
It can seem counterintuitive, but training less and resting more could lead to the strength gains you want.
“People really underestimate the rest portion of getting stronger,” Bishop said. “You don’t necessarily get stronger in the gym. When you walk out of the gym, you’ll actually be weaker, and you won’t get stronger until your body is able to adapt to the stress that you’ve applied to it.”
For that adaptation to occur, you have to rest, which is why Bishop has three full rest days a week where he lets his muscles recover, helping the process with the MyoPro massage gun.
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“It’s really important to me to have those three rest days, to be able to recover and make sure I’m in prime physical condition ready to train again,” he said. “One of the massive problems I see with people starting out is they’re just trying to train all the time and never get adequate rest.”
The most efficient way to build strength is to focus on full-body, compound lifts, rather than assistance exercises such as single-leg movements and resistance machine work. But Bishop sees the majority of people doing this wrong and making crucial muscle-building mistakes.
“We measure how strong we are based off a squat, a bench press, a deadlift, and maybe an overhead press, and if you’re not actually putting the time in on those movements to get better, then you’re not going to get stronger at them,” he said.
It’s normal to want to add more weight to your barbell and strive for new personal bests, but Bishop says you need to put your ego aside and resist increasing the weight if your technique isn’t on point.
“If your form and technique is off and you’re leaking energy, not only are you not efficient in your lifting but you’re wasting your time in the gym because you’re always battling against your own body,” Bishop said. “Once you get your form perfect, that’s when you can start to ramp up the weights.”
Getting stronger at a movement requires coordination, so nailing technique will allow you to handle more weight and get stronger.
Most people don’t get enough sleep, and it’s a crucial part of building strength. The average person needs at least seven hours of good quality sleep at night, while athletes may need to strive for more. Burning the candle at both ends is one of the most common muscle-building mistakes.
When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re not going to be able to perform at your best in the gym. Plus, sleep is actually when muscle growth hormone is secreted and when the muscle tears that occur in our workouts are repaired. That means it’s while you sleep that you repair and grow muscles, while you sleep you’re getting stronger.
“Good quality sleep has huge benefits not just in the gym, but for your mental wellbeing too,” Bishop said. He’s not wrong. Good sleep is essential for overall wellbeing and will reduce your chances of developing heart disease, diabetes and depression.
Bishop trains seven times a week (twice a day for three days), and his lifestyle and regime are tailored to him. But he says he often sees people trying to replicate his programme, which is a mistake.
“You need to gradually get better and not just jump in and try and do what the professional athletes are doing,” Bishop said, adding that he’s been training for 15 years.
Similarly, he says it’s important people don’t try and replicate his diet — Bishop is currently eating 6,500-7,000 calories a day, and consumes around 120 eggs, 2.5kg of steak, and 2.5kg chicken a week, plus lots of oats and rice.
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