The Top 10 ways to build muscle
For the volume of material that is and has been written about it, you might think that building muscle is a highly complicated process.
Certainly when it comes to trying to eek out the last one percent of performance at a high level it can get quite scientific and complex.
But for most of us it is actually quite simple. Here’s what I believe to be the ten most important rules to follow when trying to build muscle, in no particular order.
1. Learn how to train
Weight training is a skill. Just like you’re much better off taking tennis lessons when you start, the best thing to do is to get some coaching from someone who knows what they are doing.
Learning proper form and good habits will not only put you on track from day 1 but will also drastically reduce the likelihood of you getting injured.
Remember a bad habit takes a lot longer to un-learn than the time it takes to learn it properly in the first place.
2. Train with commitment
It might sound obvious, but make the most of the time you have it the gym. A common misconception about weights and building muscle is that you need to spend huge amounts of time in there.
In reality you should be training to an intensity to mean that you’re pretty spent in one hour. That means focusing on every rep and set and concentrating throughout the whole session.
If you don’t push yourself and focus, you won’t get any results even if you are doing everything to the letter.
3. Be consistent over time
This is probably the MOST important thing. Muscle growth is not a quick process. The body won’t adapt if it doesn’t have the reason to. It will always try to revert to a comfortable state.
This is why there’s not much point in just going hard for 2 hours once a week. You need to constantly remind the muscles why they need to grow and be prepared to lift.
You can’t go everyday because you need time to recover. But 3 times a week should be a minimum if you are serious about building muscle.
For how long? How long is a piece of string? If you want real, lasting results start measuring in years rather than months.
4. Keep trying to get stronger – no high rep pump crap
How many sets, how many reps, rest periods- it’s all irrelevant if you’re not focused on getting stronger.
If you are a natural trainer then strength is the main reason your muscles will grow. It’s true that you can build moe strength by focusing on lower reps but regardless of what rep range you do, you have to make sure that the weight is going up; however slowly.
Put it this way, if you’re bench pressing your bodyweight for 10 reps now and you’re still doing the same thing this time next year the chances are you won’t have developed much.
If benching your bodyweight 10 times is enough for you, then fine, but if you want to get the last out of your potential you need to keep pushing your body to adapt.
Related article: You should train for strength, not muscle
5. Eat enough, but don’t obsess over it
Nutrition is important, and you won’t get very far in terms of building muscle if you don’t eat properly or sufficiently to give your body the most energy or best chance of recovering strongly.
It is equally important to realise however that when it comes to muscle-building eating is only a part of the equation, equal to training hard and recovering well.
The whole ‘eat big to get big’ mantra is bullshit, unless big means fat.
Supplements, steaks and tonnes of sweet potato aren’t going to make you massive, they are merely nutrients that can give you energy and help your muscles recovery after a workout.
After years of this your muscle size limit is going to be reached and determined by your natural testosterone level. Eating more at this point or eating a lot to try and speed up the process won’t make you any bigger, in terms of lean muscle.
You’ll just get fat. Sure, you’ll fill out an XL T-shirt but you’ll probably need a new notch in your belt too.
Eat balanced, healthy meals.
Related article: Why would they lie to you?
6. Eat protein
The basis for muscle marketing is correct: you do need more protein than the average non-trainer if you lift weights and want to build muscle. Protein is essential for cell recovery and repair, both of which you need if you are breaking down your muscle fibres with weight-bearing exercise.
But this doesn’t mean you need to eat anywhere near as much as they say you do.
Concern over adequate protein intake can reach OCD like levels among those who believe the fitness industry hype: I know, because I was like that too.
I’ve been 4 hours without protein! I forgot to pack my post-workout shake to be consumed exactly 11 minutes after my workout! Do I already look smaller to you?
It’s all marketing to shift product. Just make sure you are eating protein with every meal. If you’re not a big eater in the morning and want to take a protein shake, then fine. Just see it for what it is.
Related article: Nutrition: it’s not rocket science
7. Do compound lifts
Out of the thousands, and I mean thousands, of exercises invented for the body you only really need to get good at 5 to build muscle.
Deadlift, squat, benchpress, dips and pull-ups.
I’ve never seen anyone who could dip their bodyweight with added weight for reps who looked weak. I’ve yet to meet the skinny guy who can deep squat 160 kgs for reps.
I’m not saying the other accessory movements are useless, but they should be employed in making the lifts above better by targeting a weak point.
Related article: The best way to build muscle
8. Time under tension
A key aspect of muscle growth comes from muscle damage. The more damage you can cause the more reason for the muscle to adapt.
The negative portion of a lift (when you are lowering the weight rather than pushing it) actually causes more damage than the eccentric (pushing) part.
This is why if you’re looking to build muscle you should control your negatives and emphasis a slow descent.
Control the negative, then push as hard as you can.
An overlooked aspect of building muscle is the importance of stretching. Aside from its obvious benefits stretching after every workout can help the recovery process begin.
Getting flexible also means you can perform lifts more safely by being in a better position as well as having to ability to perform full-range of motion and develop the muscle to its fullest potential (like being flexible enough to deep squat whilst maintaining a flat back)
10. Enjoy it
There are no two ways about it, building muscle is hard. If you stay off the drugs, there is no substitute for all of the above.
It is a physical skill that takes years to develop and become competent, and like anything else worth having it takes commitment to be good at it and have the results to show for it.
If it was as easy as the adverts make out, everyone would be lean, muscular and ripped, right?
The real ‘secret’ to building muscle has nothing to do with science, broscience or routines. It is first learning to enjoy the challenge of training, and competing against yourself.
Once you enjoy it, you make it a priority.
Once it is a priority, it becomes a lifestyle.
Once it is your lifestyle you’re most of the way there: just apply knowledge, time and practice and you’ll get the results you deserve.
Related article: 8 things all fit people do