People come up to me all the time at the gym and point out the shredded bodybuilders with lean, defined muscle striations lifting around us. Every conversation always begins with, “I want to look like that.”
It’s good to have aspirations, but they aren’t worth a dime if you don’t know how to achieve them. Achieving starts with understanding how something works.
Muscle Striations are what separate the men from the boys. They get you the ultra-dry, peeled and shredded look. Ever fancied the bodybuilders on the Mr. Olympia stage with their ripped physiques?
Yep. Those are muscle striations.
And getting them isn’t easy; it’s a combination of hard work, strict dedication, dietary manipulations, and advanced supplementation.
Before we dive into how to get striated, let’s talk about muscle tissues.
Skeletal muscles are the muscle tissues that get you the rippling striations you’re looking for. These are also the most abundant muscle type in the body. If it contains bone, cartilage, or skin, it has this muscle type. When we’re talking about muscles you can impact from training, we’re talking about skeletal muscle.
Technically speaking, all skeletal muscles are always striated, to an extent. Skeletal muscle cells are different than the typical body cell you studied in high school biology. Skeletal muscle cells are long like tubes, and even these tubes are made up of smaller tubes called myofibrils.
Within the myofibrils, we can get into myosin, actin, and actin filaments which make up a sarcomere, or one contractile unit of muscle. For our purposes, none of this is important, other than to comprehend that all skeletal muscle fibers are striated.
The right question, then, is not “How do I get striated muscles?” It’s “How do I get my muscles to look more striated.”
This conversation could probably expand into certain bodybuilding posing strategies that will contract muscles in certain ways and allow them to just look a tad more striated. But that doesn’t matter if you’re not pretty darn shredded.
Getting muscle striations, then, is a combination of a number of fat loss techniques. Now, staying this shredded year-round isn’t healthy. That’s why you often don’t see bodybuilders and athletes staying in the “contest shape” throughout the year.
They start their contest prep 8 to 12 weeks prior to the show depending on the shape they’re starting from. So, you need to decide when you want your muscle striations to peak. It could be for a competition, photoshoot, or any other special event.
Once you’ve set an end date, here are the big boxes you need to address to achieve the look you desire:
You can get striated from any condition, but I recommend starting from as lean a state as possible. The time taken to achieve the striation will differ based on your body fat, and if you’re lean, it should take around 8 to 12 weeks to get striated.
On the other hand, if you’re coming out of your bulking phase, it’ll take you substantially more time. If you’re starting here, I’d give yourself about 20 weeks.
If you want to get shredded to the bone, you need to be doing cardio. I prefer HIIT for cardio, but check this post out for 10 of the Best Cardio Methods. For HIIT, start by doing 10 sets alternating between sprinting and walking. Perform 12-second all-out sprints followed by 48 seconds of active rest (your sprints and rest time should add up to a minute).
If your gym has a Stairmaster, make full use of it. You can’t get in better cardio than the Stairmaster.
Stop doing all cardio three days before the event you’re prepping for.
Glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrates. In a normal adult, muscles can store about 250 grams of glycogen in the muscles and 100 grams in the liver in the fed state. When intramuscular glycogen levels are topped off, muscle density is at its peak and muscles are harder and fuller.
Experts believe that glycogen depletion is best achieved using higher rep ranges such as 12-20.
Avoid complete muscle failure during your sets, which can both interfere with and delay glycogen replenishment. Really focus on cutting your glycogen levels in the last week (more on that here).
To have your glycogen and carbs goals in line, you shouldn’t have more than 50 grams of carbs per day during your prep. Doing this will make your insulin levels peak; this is especially important if you’re prepping for a contest. Consider looking at strategies for carb cycling to decide exactly how many carbs you need on each day.
Before starting the prep, rid your body of glycogen and carbs for a full week.
From there, all the carbs that you put in your body will be immediately utilized by your body (due to high insulin levels), which will give your muscles a rounder and fuller appearance.
One thing to keep in mind is the carb load phase should be strategic. Don’t eat all of your carbs in one go: have six to eight meals per day leading up to the contest (totaling about 50 carbs).
It’s OK to make adjustments to this during your final few days. For example, if you’re looking flat, have another simple sugar meal. If you’re holding water, have a protein-only meal. If you’re happy with your conditioning, have a small serving of protein and starchy carbs.
Some guys make the mistake of drastically cutting on water intake in an effort to look dryer and harder. This actually has the opposite effect. Your body ends up holding water since it thinks it’s in a state of dehydration.
You should be drinking your normal amount of water (eight 8-ounce glasses of water, at the very least) leading up to the contest or event and cut the intake by half on the target day. This will help your body to look tighter without the negative effect of water retention.
Start by defining your goals; it’s always helpful to set a timeline for them. Then get to work.
Do all the things mentioned in the article and you will be on your way to the striated physique of your dreams.