Definitive Guide to Building Muscle
Feb 15, 2019
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The basics of building muscle are pretty easy. It comes down to only two things: consume a caloric surplus and lift heavy things.
Ok, I know it’s a lot more in depth than that, but no matter what kind of program or diet you are on you will gain muscle if you are lifting weights while consuming more calories than you expend. But if you want to optimize your gains, then you have to delve in a little deeper.
Consuming a caloric surplus
The most important aspect of bodybuilding is unquestionably the diet. You don’t necessarily have to eat every 2-3 hours, although when consuming a large surplus more frequent feedings make it easier on your digestive system. If your goal is to build a large amount of muscle, you need to be in a daily caloric surplus of at least 500 calories. You don’t have to bother tracking calories if your goal is to gain unless you are stalling out, just eat anytime you get the sensation of hunger.
Aim for at least 1 gram of protein per lb of bodyweight from an assortment of lean and fatty proteins. Fat intake should not be actively regulated and in addition to fats from animal protein you should incorporate avocados, raw nuts, coconut oil, raw dairy, olive oil, and grass-fed butter or ghee. Carbs will likely make up the largest percentage of macronutrients in your diet if your goal is to build muscle. This ensures you have plenty of fuel for intense workouts, elevated insulin levels that will shuttle more calories and nutrients to your muscle tissues, and the steady supply of glucose ensures the body will not enter a catabolic state and breakdown muscle tissue for energy.
Ideal carb sources would be sweet potatoes and yams, rice, oatmeal, and Ezekial bread (if you tolerate gluten). Make sure to have a carb containing meal before your workout and consider supplementing with an intra-workout drink that contains some carbs and protein. This will allow you to perform longer, more intense workouts with higher amounts of volume ultimately stimulating more growth.
It’s important to not become a glutton in the bulking process. If you are packing on the pounds but much of it is body fat, testosterone and growth hormone levels will be lowered which will inhibit optimal muscle growth. Often when people bulk, they feel free to eat loads of junk food. It is important to ensure healthy gut function and full absorption of nutrients by eating high-quality nutritious food. Chances are you won’t embark on a perpetual bulk that lasts forever. And once you start to cut, you risk losing muscle mass if your gut biome is not healthy and functioning optimally because it will not properly absorb and assimilate the nutrients consumed. For more information on ideal bulking foods check here.
Lift heavy things
Ok so it may be a little more complicated but the gist is this: If you work out your body following the principles of progressive overload your body will respond with muscular growth. Our bodies are amazingly adaptive machines. Whenever you place any physical stress upon your body it will adapt in specific ways.
Running marathons? Your body will start to better utilize oxygen in the blood and adapt muscles for endurance rather than power or strength by converting fast twitch muscle to slow twitch fibers.
Doing yoga five days a week? Your flexibility and joint mobility will adapt to the new extreme ranges of motion from stretching.
Power lifter? Your type one muscle fibers will not be very efficient meaning you will fatigue quickly, but your fast twitch muscle fibers and your recruitment patterns are very well developed leading to strong explosive movements short in duration.
But let’s focus on the adaptive response of hypertrophy and delve a little deeper to find the optimized approach.
There are two kinds of hypertrophy
This is when actual myofibrils are gained which help contract and generate tension in the muscle. The result is a small increase in actual muscle size, but a large increase in muscle density and strength. This could be considered a more functional kind of hypertrophy and is accomplished through heavy explosive lifting with repetitions in the 1-5 range.
This type of hypertrophy results in a larger increase in size but no myofibrils are added. Instead, there is an increase in non-contractile fluid components of the muscle. So they “look” bigger but lack the function that comes from gaining actual myofibrils. This is more prominent when using rep ranges of 10-15 with a moderately heavy weight.
It’s important to train for both when your goal is increasing muscle size. Myofibrillar hypertrophy is vital. Many consider it the foundation of strength. When aiming to gain size, strength should be your first goal. This is going to increase your workload capacity and strengthen your neurological connection to your muscles allowing for more synchronized recruitment of motor units. So not only will you make gains in size from myofibrillar hypertrophy, you will also be able to lift heavier loads in the range that stimulates more sarcoplasmic hypertrophy leading to fuller and larger muscles.
In order to stimulate maximum hypertrophy, each muscle group should be targeted two times per week for the intermediate lifter. When performing a workout, it’s best to start with heavy compound movements to induce myofibrillar hypertrophy and improvements of the central nervous system.Improvements in your CNS will lead to faster recovery and stronger neural connections to your muscles.
As you continue the workout, you should include isolation exercises, repetitions can be increased, and intensity techniques should be integrated. However, until you reach an advanced level, increasing strength should be your priority.
If you are a beginner, you will benefit more from doing a full body workout three times a week based on compound movements only for a few months.
The goal is to be in the most anabolic state possible
When gaining muscle you want to ensure that the majority of your time is spent in an anabolic state promoting muscle growth. Eating a caloric surplus of the ideal foods is the biggest component of this, but there are others as well. You must make sure you have adequate recovery. This refers to taking enough rest between workouts and getting an appropriate amount of quality sleep.
When you are in an overtrained (or just overstressed) state, cortisol levels start to skyrocket which will limit gains. So it’s important to listen to your body and recognize if you begin to have trouble sleeping, lower energy in the day, or are losing motivation in the gym because these are all signs that your body is in need of more recovery time. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking more is better. Remember working out is catabolic in nature. We want to spend as much time possible in an anabolic state of growth. If you feel the need to have marathon workout sessions lasting 90 minutes or longer, make sure to consume an intra workout drink with some carbohydrates.
Supplements can also aid greatly in your quest for building muscle. Creatine has been the most extensively studied supplement in history and has shown benefits for athletic performance. You need every little edge you can gain, and that extra ATP you are producing for explosive energy will ultimately help you pump out one more rep, and get one step closer to reaching your goals. Creatine is not a miracle drug but when you combine it with the right mentality, you can push yourself past normal limits.
Testosterone is the ultimate anabolic muscle building hormone in our bodies, and if you can increase your levels naturally you will be able to gain muscle and recover at a faster rate. Sheer Strength Testosterone contains ingredients like D-aspartic acid that is one of the few supplements shown to increase free testosterone levels. When you combine a natural supplement like this with the proper diet and training, your test levels will rise and help you pack on the muscle while increasing energy levels and reducing fat.
This is a sample workout program for the beginner- intermediate lifter. Make sure to check out the article “The 7 Best Muscle Building Foods” ADD LINK for the best bulking diet to accompany this program
This set up would follow this pattern:
- Flat Barbell Bench press 3×3
- Military press 3×6
- Dips 2×8
- Incline Dumbbell press 2×10
- Shoulder fly drop sets. Pick a weight you can do for 8-10 reps and go until failure. Immediately after get a lighter weight and go for 10 more, repeat 2-3x
- Skull Crushers 2×12
- Cable Flyes 3×15
- Crunches 3×15
- Hanging Leg raise 3×15
- Squats 5×5
- Barbell rows 3×6
- Pull-ups 3×10
- Stiff leg deadlifts 2×8
- Barbell bicep curl 3×6
- High row 2×12
- Cable curl 2×15
- Walking Lunges 2×15
- Calves 4×12
Remember the important thing is to hit each body part two times a week using a mix of heavy weights with low reps (1-6) and lighter weight with more volume in a higher rep range (8-15). Heavy compound exercises such as presses, squats, and pulls will be the base. As you progress your workout you can move to more isolation exercises. There are a number of different set-ups you could run. It doesn’t have to be an upper/lower split.
Another good option would be to split power and hypertrophy days all together. If you are in the intermediate to advanced category, something like this would work well.
- 1-Upper Power
- 2-Lower Power
- 4- Chest and Shoulder Hypertrophy
- 5-Back and Arms Hypertrophy
- 6- Legs Hypertrophy
Upper power Day:
- Barbell Decline Bench press 5×5
- Barbell Military press 3×6
- Dips 3×6
- Dumbbell Incline press 3×8
- Upright rows 3×8
- Close Grip Bench press 3×10
Isometric core work like planks, etc
Lower Power Day:
- Deadlifts 5×5
- Squats 3×6
- Kettlebell swings 3×10
- Weighted pull ups/pull downs 3×6
- Bent Barbell rows 3×6
- Barbell curls 3×6
- Leg press 3×8
Chest and Shoulder Hypertrophy Day:
- Flat Dumbbell press 4×8
- Dumbbell military press 3×10
- Cable Chest Flyes 3×12
- Lateral shoulder raises 3×15
- Incline Machine Chest press 3×15
- Arnold Press 2×15
- Pec Deck Flyes 3×15
- Shoulder machine press 2×12
- Crunches 3×15
- Hanging Leg raise 3×15
Back and Arms Hypertrophy Day:
- Pull downs/ Pull-ups 3×10
- Low row 3×12
- Ez bar curl 3×10
- High Row 3×15
- Skull Crushers 3×10
- Straight Arm Lat pull 3×15
- Preacher curls 3×12
- Cable tricep extensions 3×15
- Cable curls 2×15
Legs Hypertrophy Day:
- Squats 4×8
- Lunges 3×12
- Stiff Leg deadlifts 3×10
- Leg Curls 3×15
- Leg Extensions 3×15
- Hack Squats 3×15
- Machine Leg press 3×15
- Calf raises 5×15
Consistency is key when trying to make gains in muscle. It takes years to make real quality gains. You must be aware of your body’s changing needs for nutrients and calories as you gain weight and muscle and adjust your intake accordingly. There are a number of different programs that can help you reach your goals. It’s just important to approach it with the right mindset and work out with intensity. Each muscle group should be hit twice a week with an emphasis placed on both kinds of hypertrophy. Lastly, adequate recovery and supplements such as PRODUCT Sheer Strength Testosterone and PRODUCT Sheer Strength Creatine can help you progress faster and reach your goals sooner.
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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