So, you want to build muscle.
Better yet you want to build more muscle in less time.
What if I told you could do it?
Not in the fitness magazine, completely unrealistic “you can gain 10 lbs of muscle in a week” kind of way.
But in the “if you make sure you’re doing all these things” you’ll see an improvement in your gym performance and ability to build muscle, kind of way.
You know…the kind of way that works.
Good, let’s jump right in.
When trying to build muscle, compound movements should make up the bulk of your workouts for 2 very important reasons;
If you train to failure on a regular basis your recovery needs will skyrocket, and your performance will suffer.
This is because training to failure is very taxing on both your muscles and your central nervous system. Over time this fatigue builds up and your performance suffers as your body struggles to recover from each previous workout.
If you want to build muscle, then you should avoid training to failure. The key is to be mindful of your ability and performance and always aim to leave 1-2 reps in the tank.
Now, this isn’t to say that there won’t be times when you’ll go for a rep and miss it, therefore reaching muscle failure, if this happens that’s ok.
There’s nothing worse than stepping in the gym and not knowing what to do. It’s a sure-fire way to spin your wheels and end up jumping from one programme to the next.
If you’re serious about building muscle, then you need to get yourself a well-structured workout plan and then follow it for at least 3 months. Remember, any plan can work so instead of worrying over which one is best, pick something well-reviewed or well recommend and just get started.
The sooner you get going, the sooner you’ll get the results you want.
Rest and recovery are just as important as training and diet when it comes to building muscle.
This means in the same way you set aside time to prep your diet and complete your workouts, you also need to make time to rest and recover.
This is a 2-step process;
The best way to do this is to create a sleep routine where you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. This gives you the best chance of not only getting enough sleep but good quality sleep too.
Creatine is naturally occurring molecule that’s found in your body (in your cells) and its job is to help fuel intense activity i.e. weightlifting. The reason it’s such an effective supplement is that taking a daily dose of 5g of creatine increases or ‘tops up’ your body’s available stores.
This, in turn, allows you to perform better by increasing strength and muscle mass. In fact, research has shown that regular supplementation with creatine can improve performance by 5 – 10%.
It’s also safe to consume, widely available and relatively inexpensive which makes it a worthwhile supplement when it comes to building muscle and strength.
There’s no point loading up the bar to do 1-inch reps in the hopes you impress the gym bro or hot girl next to you. All this does is cheat you of the progress you could be getting and make you look like a fool who doesn’t know what they are doing.
If you want to get seriously strong and build appreciable amounts of muscle, then you need to leave your ego out of it. This means starting slow and taking the time to really learn how each movement is performed with the correct technique.
It means paying attention to how things feel, being honest with yourself and only increasing the weight when you truly hit your set and rep goals. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is lifting, you shouldn’t care.
This is a battle your fighting with yourself and if you’re going to win you need to prioritise your technique and build yourself a solid foundation off of which you can grow.
To build muscle you need an excess of calories. This is called a calorie surplus and it fuels the muscle-building process as a response to training. However, this calorie surplus doesn’t need to be huge. The days of ‘eat big to get big’ are long behind us now and ‘lean bulking’ is the optimal way to go.
Lean bulking is the process of building muscle whilst gaining the minimum amount of fat so you can stay leaner for longer and ultimately spend less time in a calorie deficit after you’ve built your muscle.
To do a lean bulk you want to create a calorie surplus of 200 – 300 calories over your maintenance. This is enough to promote muscle building whilst also minimising fat gain. To calculate your surplus by taking your body weight in lbs and multiplying by 16.
For example, if you weigh 160lbs you would do 160 x 16 = 2,560 calories. This means 2,560 will be your daily calorie goal.
When it comes to building muscle, this next sentence is key. You can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect anything but the same results.
One of the leading reasons you won’t see progress in the gym is because you’re not applying progressive overload. Progressive overload is the act of putting your body under increasing stimulus over time.
This can be done by;
Perhaps the most effective way is by increasing the weight lifted over time. This means consistently adding weight to the bar every time you hit your set and rep goal. If you’re not adding weight to the bar over time, then you can’t expect to build strength or muscle.
When you start off working out, you’ll be able to increase the weight every session, but as you get stronger and move from a beginner to an intermediate lifter your progress will slow down and maybe you’ll miss a rep or 2.
That’s ok and nothing to worry about, stick with it until you hit your set and rep goal again, then increase the weight and start the process over.
Building muscle is a slow process which means you have to commit to achieving the goal over a period of time, often years.
This means you have to be consistent in your efforts, as it’s not a handful of amazing workouts that will make the difference but hundreds of good or decent workouts that will bring the transformation you desire.
In other words, it’s always better to be consistently imperfect than it is to be inconsistently perfect. You need to stick to your workout schedule week in and week out, even when you can’t be bothered or simply don’t feel like it.
You must find a way to get up off your arse and train anyway, if you don’t, you won’t see results.
Protein is best thought of as the main building block for muscle and is an important part of your diet if you want to gain strength and size. An intake of between 0.7g – 1.1g per pound of body weight is enough to both preserve or build muscle depending on the circumstances. For example;
What I have found particularly effective is to use a bracketed amount of protein to give you some flexibility. This means when trying to build muscle I’ll aim for between 0.7g – 1g of protein per day with the idea that most days I’ll hit about 0.9g per pound of bodyweight.
This gives me the flexibility to eat a little more or little less without feeling like I’ve messed up my diet. Of course, if you feel a stricter, set amount of protein works better for you, then, by all means, do that.
The important thing to remember is to balance your protein needs.
Do you ever see those guys in the gym who seem to do more talking, wandering around and posing than actually working out? Don’t be that guy.
If you want to be able to really make progress in your workouts and the gym to build muscle, then you need to train with focus and intensity. If you don’t, you’ll end up miscounting reps, stretching out your rest times and not giving it your all.
So, instead of being glued to your phone or treating the gym like some sort of social club, put in some headphones, do some visualisation and get focused on you. The gym should be an escape, it should be me time where you can push your limits and test yourself.
Do what you need to do, how you need to do it. Then if you still want to chat do it after you’ve finished your workout.
Building muscle is a journey that requires patience and dedication, it can be a long one but it’s always achievable. However, your quest for lean muscle mass will be made infinitely more difficult if you’re constantly switching training plan or focusing on the wrong things.
To help you maximise your muscle-building potential and squeeze the most out of your time in the gym you want to stick to the 11 tips laid out in this article.