Whether you’re out to lose weight, transform your body, get strong, or fit, building muscle will feature in your planning. So without further ado, here are the ground rules of building muscle.
First up, training.
1. Choose heavier weights
Stronger muscles are usually larger and while doing sets of 8 to 12 repetitions are the norm for hypertrophy training, going heavier can trigger a whole new level of muscle growth.
It’s possible to achieve amazing results with 5 sets of 5 reps using heavy weights, and while a workout using this set/rep scheme will never be easy, it will be productive.
2. Work many muscles together
Compound exercises use multiple joints and several muscles at the same time. For example squats, bench presses and pull-ups.
The opposite of compound exercises are isolation exercises which involve single joints and far fewer muscles – cable flyes, triceps kick backs and side lateral raises being good examples.
If you want to gain serious muscle, you need to focus your efforts on the compound exercises. Getting stronger in the squat will do far more for your leg development than lots of leg extensions as compound exercises have a well-known ability to raise your testosterone and growth hormone levels which will result in faster and greater muscle growth.
3. Ramp up intensity
You can train hard or you can train long but you can’t train hard and long. Trying to do so will just leave you tired and may result in overtraining – and certainly less than optimal results.
Overly long workouts result in an increase in catabolic (muscle breakdown) hormone production and a decrease in anabolic (muscle building) hormone production – the opposite of what you want to happen.
Focus on a number of key exercises per muscle group rather than use the kitchen sink approach and try and do them all. Work hard and then go home to eat and rest.
Cardio is important for health but can impede your muscle-building efforts. Not only does it use calories and energy that would be better put to use in building your muscles, cardio can also increase your cortisol levels. If you are gaining too much fat in your effort to bulk up, eat a little less rather than do more cardio.
5. Increase calories
You cannot build a house without bricks and you can’t build muscle without energy. As well as training, you have to increase your calorie intake. You need around 500 calories per day more than your normal maintenance food intake to gain muscle.
Eat plenty or protein, healthy fats and carbs to ensure you have enough energy to build your muscles. If you are training hard but not gaining weight, your diet (or lack of it) is the likely culprit.
6. Eat protein rich foods
To gain muscle, you need protein or, more specifically, amino acids. These substances are basically the building blocks of muscle. Consume protein at every meal and try to get around one gram per pound of bodyweight. This may require some organization and even some supplementation but if you want bigger muscles, this is what you need to do.
7. Consider a Supplement
Although they aren’t miracles, supplements may help you maximize your muscle building efforts. Protein shakes, creatine, amino acids, pre-workout energizers and post-workout recovery shakes may give you an edge if you have all your other training, diet, lifestyle and recovery ducks in a row.
Even the best supplement won’t make up for poor training, lack of sleep or diet practices so get the basics right before worrying about supplements. If you have to choose between spending your money on food or supplements, choose food every time.
8. Don’t overdo training
Ironically, muscles aren’t built in the gym, they are broken down. Hard and heavy training batters your muscles into submission and it is only when you are resting that they rebuild bigger and stronger. For that reason, you need to plan rest as diligently as you plan your workouts.
Train no more than four to five days a week, have two or three complete days off of strenuous activity and cut down on any unnecessary energetic activities while you are trying to gain muscle.
Save your energy for training and then recovering rather than jogging or kicking a soccer ball.
9. Get enough rest
Sleep is when your body goes into overdrive repairing your muscles after your workout. Anabolic hormone levels peak and all the little guys who patch up, repair and build your muscles are hard at it to ensure you are stronger and better built when your next workout rolls around.
Sleep is so important that many top bodybuilders make sure they take frequent naps to maximize their anabolic hormone production. Do your best to get eight hours of quality sleep per night and. If possible, a nap or two will also help.
10. Reduce stress
Stress, be it emotional, physical or financial, results in the production of cortisol. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone and while a little is all but essential, too much cortisol will severely impede your muscle building efforts.
Try and keep a lid on stress by relaxing when you can, eating and sleeping properly, avoiding stressful situations and practicing positive coping strategies such as breathing exercises whenever you feel your stress levels rising.
Building muscle it not an easy process but of you knuckle down and pay your dues in the gym and in the kitchen, you will be rewarded with great results.