If you’re looking to build more muscle, you’ve come to the right place. Strength training and bodybuilding has a long history and keeps increasing in popularity all over the world. Strength training is also absolutely vital for anyone who even has the slightest interest in their health and longevity.
Building your body doesn’t necessarily mean standing on a stage in small speedos flexing infront of a crowd, although that is a common referral to it, the term also include increasing your muscle tissue and strengthening your body in general.
Whether it be for athletic purposes, medical reasons or just for your own wellbeing or self-esteem it is definitely something absolutely vital to do, as long as its done safe and in a correct manner!
How should I do it then?
What you want to achieve is called Myofibrillar Hypertrophy – which happens when you stimulate your muscles by lifting heavy weights. Trauma is caused to the individual muscle fibers, your body overcompensates and attempts to recover which will increase volume and density of the traumatized myofibrils.
More strength is more muscle. The heavier the weights you lift, the stronger your body becomes, and the bigger your muscles grow. Your muscles increase in size so they can lift heavier weights. This is why strength is size – lift heavy weights and you’ll gain muscle mass naturally.
Most people try to build muscle by swinging around weights in high rep isolation exercises until pumped and sore and call it a day, but this rarely works because you can’t lift heavy enough to trigger muscle growth. Lifters who are already strong or use drugs can build muscle by doing mostly isolation exercises like curls and flies.
Any starters in the gym should focus on compound exercises to build muscle. The best things are the basics when it comes to exercise – Squat, Bench press, Deadlift, Over-head-press and Row. You need to lift heavy and these particular movements allow you to do just that.
How to Build Muscle Naturally
One of the biggest mistakes people do when starting their fitness journey is training like bodybuilders, movie stars and Instagram-celebrities. Many of them use drugs but won’t tell you since they are sponsored by various products and involved in other financial schemes. They rarely built the bulk of their muscle size with the routines they do or promote, that’s why these routines don’t work for most people.
Here’s a list of the things that actually works and you should do:
Focus on strength.
The best bodybuilders that ever existed were strong. They knew more strength is more muscle. Keep increasing the weights in your exercises in low reps and one rep max, you always want to be reaching and surpassing your maximum capacity. Your overall muscle mass will increase because strength is size.
Lift to failure.
In order to achieve maximum muscle stimulation and growth, you need to lift until your muscles reach a point of failure. That is when you’ve pushed it to your absolute max and in best case, performed a few more reps safely. This is where a training partner comes in, to assist you with the last reps where your muscles feel like well done spaghetti.
Lift with control.
Ignore the swelled up cave ape grunting and swinging heavy weights like a tornado. Results comes from TUL (Time Under Load) + HIT (High Intensity). This doesn’t mean fast paced, CrossFit like movements, in fact the opposite. Slowly controlled repetitions with constant load on your muscles avoiding rest and low-resistance positions. Safety first, you don’t want to get injured for long time or possible forever, learn what to do and how to do it! Dealing with heavy weights is something that needs to be taken serious.
Constantly keep adding weight.
Forget about pump and soreness. Instead focus on adding weight on the bar. Try to lift more than last time. You’ll get stronger which will increase your overall muscle mass. If you don’t lift more today than last month or year, you’re not building muscle.
Focus on both movement phases.
When lifting any weight, you’ve got a concentric (hard) and eccentric (easy) phase. For instance, as you lower into a squat, you’re performing an eccentric action. When you return to standing, that’s concentric. You need to treat both equally important. To reach the best balance, try maintaining a 6 second pace during your repetitions: 2 seconds concentric, 2 seconds pause, 2 seconds eccentric.
Do Compound movements.
Focus on exercises that work several muscles at the same time. You’ll stimulate your (CNS) Central Nervous System better and will trigger more muscle growth. The bulk of your routine should consist of heavy Squats, Bench press, Deadlifts, Overhead Presses and Barbell Rows.
Use free weights.
You can lift heavier weights with barbells and dumbbells than any other tools. You also have to balance the weight yourself. Free weights involve more muscles and trigger more growth. Avoid machines. Start light and use proper form to avoid injury.
The more often you train a muscle, the more you trigger it to grow. The more you do an exercise, the quicker your technique improves, and the heavier you can lift. Start squatting, pressing and pulling three times a week instead of only once.
Your muscles need to recover from your workouts to grow stronger and bigger. They can’t recover if you work them hard every day. Even your mind needs a break. Rest at least a day between workouts. Help your muscles recover by getting plenty of food, water and sleep.
Eat more calories.
Your body uses food to fuel workouts, and recover muscles. Your muscles can’t recover and grow if there’s a shortage of food. Most men need around 3000kcal/day to build muscle. Women about 2200-2500, depending on length and other factors. Skinnier people with high metabolisms need even more to gain weight. You can find out your caloric need by calculating your BMR.
Your body uses protein to build new muscle and recover damaged muscle tissue post-workout. Good sources for this is red meat, chicken & fish, eggs and nuts. Skip the hype of protein shakes unless you have serious difficulties eating enough food.
Per month, men can gain about 0.5 – 2.5lbs of lean muscle, and women about 0.25 – 1.25lbs – If they do an effective training program and eat well. You can’t gain muscle faster than this. It takes a year to gain 24lbs of lean muscle and see dramatic change. Consistency is therefore key.
The big six
The essentials of exercise is built around six fundamental movements:
- Squat / Lunge
- Press vertical / horizontal
- Pull vertical / horizontal
- Core rotational / anti-rotational
These are our core movements which your major focus should lie on. For a full body workout program these should be performed safely with as much weights to properly develop our kinetic chain and stimulate our CNS.
Squatting and lunging for leg strength and balance.
Pressing weights away from you both vertically – up & down, such as over head press and dips, and horizontally such as bench press.
Pulling vertically such as pull/chin-ups & shrugs, and vertically in a rowing motion.
Core exercises should be alternating between rotational motions like the Russian Twist and anti-rotational like Planking Shoulder Taps.
Hinge exercises is where the movement focuses in the hip such as Deadlift and Hip-Thrusters.
Ancillary exercises includes often neglected areas such as calves, hands, fingers and neck to name a few.
Some of these exercises can be combined which will give you even more results from your output. A typical example would be the Squat & Press, where you either with a barbell or dumbbells, perform a Squat with the weights at your shoulders and as you reach standing position you press the weights over your head. This is a very energy consuming exercise, so start small and work your way up in the heavier weights to get a feel for how much you can handle within safe margins.
Strength training recommendations
A program consisting of 3 days per week is more than enough as long as your sessions are effective and with minimal rest and chatting.
I would recommend the following setup:
Monday: Full Body Workout
Wednesday: Full Body Workout
Friday: Full Body Workout
As for length of program, you want to perform at least 15 or more minutes on a good warmup routine, here will some use of machines come in handy, like rowing or cycling.
The strength program itself doesn’t necessarily need to take more than 20 minutes, depending on how efficient you are. Some people stay way too long in the gym which is just a sign that what should be done there isn’t being done.
Add about 10-15 minutes for some cool down time to this to perform some stretching and mobility movement. You want to keep your flexibility and here is a excellent moment to practice that. Static stretching and a variety of Yoga poses will do the job!
You want to measure out your weights to fit within a 5-10 repetition max, where the last 2-3 should only be possible to perform with assistance. You should reach failure already around 8 reps for maximum results. 1-3 sets of this is enough for a quality workout.
High Intensity Training. Theres different kinds of intensity and in the form of strength training it is the TUL – Time Under Load that counts. Heavy weights lifted very slow and controlled within ranges that allow full resistance and workload is key. Using the 6 second protocol to ensure we are loading the muscle enough resistance.
This is as craft to be mastered just like the lifting itself. The partner performing the assistance should be highly focused to give you the proper help, you don’t want someone to lift the weights for you to finish the set. When your muscles starts to fail, you begin to wobble and can’t push it a nanometer further, the partner should only give you the minimal assistance possible for the lifting action to continue and at the same time be hands on and ready for the worst – to grab the weight if things go south.
Range of Motion
There should be no half repetitions. We want to work the whole range of motion in order to maximize the results and assuring premium muscle performance and flexibility. For example, in the Bench Press, the weights should be lowered down to the touch of the chest. The pull/chin-up should start from completely locked out arms and finish with head above the bar, not the common 90 degree bend.
The only exceptions are when avoiding low resistance positions in certain exercises, such as the highest point of Squats or Push-ups where you have straight and locked out legs and arms.
1 correct repetition is better than 10 bad ones. Proper form should always be practiced and prioritized before anything else! Too many people start loading up their joints and lack proper form that eventually will damage your body. When you’re younger you might get away with it temporarily, but its only a matter of time until the lack of technique result in permanent damage. Again, safety!
Magazines and fitness celebrities make their living off constantly coming out with new exercises and programs and preaching that this is the new thing to do to reach your max potential and look just like them.
From the Functional training hype where trainers having you standing on one leg on a medicine ball while they are throwing weights at you, to CrossFit where your only guarantee is to damage yourself with group competition exercising, or simply core-only workouts to specifically burn belly fat… Don’t believe the hype.
Scientifically, you actually don’t need to change your programming at all, however for the sake of not getting tired of doing the exact same things over and over again you can apply certain variation, as long as you don’t try to invent the wheel all over again. Stick to the basics, they have produced and continue to produce the best results, period.
Now of course you may rest, however you want to keep this short and sweet. Get your breath back in control and shake your limbs out for a few seconds. Don’t take long rests, texting or chatting or staring at other gym members. Max 1 minute rest between exercises.
Since you will be moving around some heavy weights, in order to be safe, you need to program smart. Performing the heaviest exercises first. Don’t go through a program full blast to finish off with Over-head presses. Safety first!
Warmup: 10 minutes on rowing machine
- Squat & Press barbell – 2 set – 8 rep max
- Bench Press dumbbells – 2 set – 8 rep max
- Deadlift – 1 set – 1 rep pyramid until max weight
- Pull Ups – 2 set – max rep
- Russian Twist & Shoulder Tap – 1 set each – 30 reps
- Calf Press – 1 set – max rep
Cool down: 10 minutes stretching all major muscles
Squats, lunges, calf press, hamstring curl, Romanian deadlift, Bulgarian split squats
Bench press, push ups, dips, over-head press, tricep press
Pull ups, chin ups, standing row, sitting row, shrugs
Deadlift, single leg deadlift, hip-thrusters, kick-backs, kettlebell swings
Plank, russian twist, bicycles, crunches, oblique lifts, back lifts
Neck curls, brachial hang, finger push ups, wrist rolls
Lets summarize all this into a few simple rules, write down the recipe below and keep it close to you when you start your journey to a stronger and longer life.
The secret sauce:
- Heavy weights
- Minimal resting
- Avoid low-resistance positions
- 5-10 repetitions
- 6 second protocol
- To failure
- Assisted if possible
Trust the science that millions of people have followed and succeeded with in the past and present. Go after it, practice perfection, enjoy the process and have fun – results will come to those who are patient!