Do you find yourself spending hours at the gym, but not seeming to develop that physique you’re after?
So many people slave away, building their strength and size, but still aren’t happy with what they see in the mirror. While the bodybuilders and fitness models in magazines always look so hard and ripped, they find they have a softer, less emphatic physique.
Now the bad news is some of that will come down to genetics, which, unfortunately, we can’t do anything about.
Don’t get disheartened, though, as there is still plenty we can do to get you where you want to go, and my 5 tips to turn soft muscles into dense, hard ones will be a good first step to push you in the right direction.
Table of Contents
OK, let’s get the elephant in the room dealt with early. You’ve probably heard the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym,” right?
Well, that’s true for any muscle, not just your abs.
No matter how hard you train, if you haven’t got your diet tailored to your needs, you’ll basically be treading water, obtaining very minimal results.
Your diet is what gives your muscles the fuel they need to grow, and in order to do so, there needs to be a surplus of calories. Unfortunately, if you achieve this without using the correct foods, you’ll find yourself putting on almost as much fat as muscle.
Now there’s no magic one size fits all diet, as we all have our own body types. These are broken down into three main categories:
- Ectomorph: Naturally slim and small-framed, will often struggle to put on muscle
- Endomorphs: Larger framed, with quite rounded muscles; will bulk up relatively quickly but have a tendency to gain fat just as easily
- Mesomorphs: The holy grail of body types for bodybuilding; large-framed, can gain muscle easily, and can eat basically anything while gaining barely any fat
Now, these aren’t an exact science, and you may find yourself associating with more than one category. For example, I have the frame of a mesomorph but grow like an endomorph.
“You win some, you lose some,” as they say.
Whatever body type you are, it’s still important to get the correct macronutrient balance in your diet to maximize your potential.
While people seem to understand the necessity for protein in fitness circles, they are often less informed when it comes to fats and carbohydrates.
If I asked 10 lifters to show me their diets, I’d estimate 6-7 wouldn’t be getting enough fats. This is largely due to how people perceive the word.
It’s become vilified, and people, unfortunately, avoid it without understanding what they are doing.
All nutrients have their place, and fat is no different. Your body needs a healthy amount to operate efficiently, particularly when it’s trying to repair muscles. That’s before we even look at the health benefits associated with fats.
Now, on the flip side, carbohydrates are often the area where people over-indulge. This is because it is the most readily available of the three in day to day foods.
Unfortunately, it is also the one that can most rapidly lead to fat gain if you aren’t careful.
It’s especially important to note when you consume carbs.
Mornings and around your workouts are great times, as the energy will be used rapidly. But avoid eating them too close before bed, as they are liable to go unused and get stored as fat.
As a rule of thumb, set a starting point of 20% fats, 40% protein, and 40% carbohydrates and gradually adjust it to suit you.
#2. Train With Heavy, Compound Exercises
Now I’m not bashing isolation exercises or training in slightly higher rep ranges, as both have been proven to aid with hypertrophy.
However, when you are looking to build really dense muscle mass, there’s simply no way around this.
Compound exercises are multi-joint movements, such as deadlifts, squats, etc. These allow you to move substantial amounts of weight due to the number of muscles being used in the lift.
Lifting heavy is essential, as it forces the muscle to work at its absolute limit. It will have to recruit muscle fibers that may otherwise go unused, in order to cope with the strain being placed on it.
When you’re looking for maximum density in your muscles, what better way to achieve it than to build every inch of a muscle, as opposed to just part of it?
Beyond that, compound lifts have the additional benefit of allowing you to train a muscle more frequently than you otherwise would.
For example, your triceps may be the target on arm day, but will also be worked when bench pressing….perfect for squeezing everything you can out of them.
Ready to take your gains to the next level in the gym, converting those soft muscles into dense hard muscles? Then check out our review of Athlean-X’s Max Size program, a hypertrophy routine for huge gains from the best in the industry!
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#3. Reduce Stress
While no one wants to be stressed, when it comes to our physiques, it has an additional downside you may be unaware of.
Stress releases a hormone into the blood called cortisol, which is proven to make the body store fat at a much greater rate. If your physique is one of the reasons you’re stressed, you could end up being trapped in a vicious cycle.
While there is no way to make stress just disappear, it is imperative you do what you can to reduce it.
Thankfully, there are some simple things you can do to try and relieve it. Some of the most effective include:
- Going for walks
- Meditation & mindfulness
- Seeing friends
- Warm baths
- Activities that clear your mind
While these may seem simple and obvious, sometimes those are the most effective options.
When it comes to stress, anything that enables you to relax will minimize it and, in turn, possibly reduce the physique-killing cortisol in your body.
#4. Speed Up Your Metabolism
All of our bodies are different, inside and out. This is why there isn’t a magic formula for everyone to build the same physique.
People of the same build, weight, and age could train the same and eat the same, yet still end up with different results. There are two reasons for this, the first of which is your metabolism.
Metabolism refers to the body’s ability to convert food into energy. For people with a slow metabolism, this often occurs too slowly and leads to unused fuel being stored as fat.
There are a few options that can help to speed up your metabolism. As most people reading this will already be fairly active and engage in resistance training, I’m going to focus on the other two:
- Food: There are certain foods that have been linked to speeding up metabolisms, such as coffee, green tea, and certain spices. However, it must be noted that opinions vary on the effectiveness of these.
- Aerobic Training: If people are split on the previous option, that isn’t the case here. Aerobic training sessions have been repeatedly proven to speed up metabolism by a substantial amount.
So, if you’re worried that your metabolism might be what’s holding you back, maybe try a daily cup of coffee and an aerobic workout 2-3 times per week.
It may not seem like much but could pay great dividends.
#5. Increase Your Testosterone
In the last point, I mentioned two reasons people on an identical regimen may have different results. This is the other.
Testosterone is a hormone found in the human body, most prominently in men, that is the primary component for building muscle.
It’s understandable then, that if you’re lacking in it, you may struggle when it comes to perfecting your physique.
Thankfully, there are again a number of ways we can encourage our bodies to produce more, such as:
- Getting Plenty Of Rest: Testosterone levels have been shown to drop substantially in people suffering from fatigue.
- Don’t Over Train: Muscles can only repair so fast. If you break them down quicker than the body can fix them, you’re destined to wear your testosterone supplies out.
- Stay Hydrated: Dehydration forces the body to try and operate below full efficiency. It will therefore divert other resources away from your muscles to deal with the larger issue.
- Take Vitamin And Mineral Supplements: For the same reason as above. If you want your body to produce elite results, you need to give it the best chance to do so.
In combination with some of the other points in this article, these should go a long way to helping raise your testosterone levels safely and naturally.
This will give you an ideal platform to build from.
When you start asking not about how to just build muscle, but how to make it look a certain way, it means you’re reaching an advanced stage in your training. As such, you know you have to pay much more attention to every detail in your life.
Some of the points in this article will be familiar.
You will undoubtedly know about diet and training heavy but may not be informed on the intricacies of what you need at this point. While you’ll always be learning and adapting when it comes to your physique, the points I’ve made should help give you a solid base to grow from.
Stress levels, metabolism, and testosterone may seem a little less familiar. They’re certainly not as much of an everyday topic but are no less important.
If you are truly dedicated to taking soft muscle and turning it into that hard, dense physique you’ve always wanted, you need to make sure you take all these points on board to allow your body the best chance possible.
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