Building muscle is something many people train for, especially men and those who play sports like football and hockey. In addition, bodybuilding is all about building more muscle.
While often thought of as the reserve of the male gym goer, more and more women are getting involved in muscle building training as they come to realize that muscle helps burn fat.
The main problem with learning how to gain muscle is that most of the information around comes from genetically gifted bodybuilders and athletes who can build muscle very easily.
The routines and information in typical bodybuilding magazines can be effective, but only for the genetically-gifted few. Just because a particular training program works for the current Mr. Universe does not mean this is how you should attempt to gain muscle.
Chances are that if you train like the guys in the magazines, you’ll end up making little or no progress and that’s if you don’t end up injured.
Another fact to consider is that, for better or worse, in addition to having superior muscle-building genes, professional bodybuilders use anabolic ster*ids to help them achieve their amazing physiques. This is part and parcel of their chosen sport but means that, again, the training routines they use are not necessarily going to work for you.
So, how do you gain muscle?
Firstly, you need to understand that generally, a stronger muscle is a bigger muscle so forget high repetition training and start loading up those barbells and dumbbells.
Traditionally, the accepted repetition range to building muscle has always been 6 to 12. Personally, I believe that the most effective repetition range for building muscle is 6 to 8, especially on compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, leg press, bench press etc.
By developing strength, you will create thicker muscle fibers and a more powerful looking physique.
Isolation exercises, such as calf raises and triceps extensions, are useful but don’t add muscle to your frame as effectively as heavy compound lifts.
By their very nature, you can’t load up an isolation exercise to the same degree you can load up a compound exercise. Which do you think places more tension on your biceps for example, dumbbell curls or weighted chin ups?
By all means use isolation exercises but only after you have worked really hard on some heavy compound lifts. Use the isolation exercises to “finish off” your muscles once the real work has been done. For isolation exercises, use a slightly higher repetition range – say 8 to 12.
In terms of training volume and frequency, you want to train long enough and often enough to stimulate muscle gains without compromising your ability to recover.
This means, for most people, training should last between 45 to 90 minutes and be performed three to four times a week. If you find you aren’t responding to your training, you may well be doing too much.
If this happens to you, drop a few sets from your workouts and also build in an extra rest day or two. Remember, your muscles only grow when you are recovering between workouts.
How you arrange your training week also plays an important role in how to build muscle. It’s not a good idea to do two days of similar exercises back-to-back.
For example, if you train your chest on Monday and your shoulders on Tuesday, you work many of the same muscles on consecutive days. This will limit your performance on the second day and also interfere with your recovery and subsequent muscle growth.
It’s a far better idea to put your muscle groups in a non-competitive order, for example alternating between pushing days and pulling days or, alternatively, upper body days and lower body days.
There are literally dozens of ways to organize your training, all of which will work to one degree or another. It’s simply a matter of finding the system that fits best into your week.
If you have a very active lifestyle you may benefit from less frequent and/or shorter workouts whereas if you are mainly sedentary, you will probably find you can recover from longer and more frequent workouts.
The bottom line is – train hard, heavy and relatively infrequently. Respect your body’s need for rest and recovery and make sure you eat a nutritious diet containing sufficient protein, carbs and fats to fuel your workouts and subsequently build muscle.
While working out with very high volume and overly frequent training sessions may work for the genetically gifted few, the rest of us need to practice a more conservative approach to getting bigger and stronger.
Finally a well written article that is straight forward about the basics of gaining size and strength!
Too many “muscle” articles highlight professional athletes’ training routines as the “way to go”, without ever mentioning the fact that the routines are results of much trial and error and are what works for a certain individual. What works for Jay Cutler may not work for many athletes aspiring to become stronger.
Thank you Michael !
Great article! What I liked is when you spoke about the sets and reps in magazines. Typically meant for gifted genes. My diet is on point. And my gains have gone up. What works for me is 20 sets to failure reps. Also having a push and pull day and leg day in between them.
Finally someone to write quality article on this topic for normal people. Otherwise, they are always the stories of some revved characters, who’s whole life is consists of lifting weights.
An excellent and complete article. Thank You for posting.