How to Build Muscle
Ah, sweet, sweet gains.
There’s nothing quite like trimming away the excess fat you gained during your latest bulk to reveal a sculpted body that looks a little bit better than it did the last time you were 8% body fat.
“But how does muscle gain actually happen?”
If you want to gain muscle, you’re going to have to become stronger and force your muscles to do things they’ve never done before.
In the beginning, that’s pretty easy. Your muscles have never really done any of this before, so the first few months will result in some nice adaptations. You’ll be hitting PRs on your lifts pretty much every workout, and after a few months you’ll be lifting double what you were when you started (or more!).
But after these “noob gains” have passed, it becomes a lot more difficult to keep adding muscle. Many people plateau at this point.
If you want to keep adding muscle, you need to train the right way, get stronger, eat in a calorie surplus and get enough protein.
Muscle Gaining Checklist
- Work all of your different muscle groups with compound and isolation exercises.
- Make sure you’re doing some upper body pulling, upper body pushing, lower body pushing and lower body pulling.
- Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that involve many muscles working together. For the above, that’s pull-ups/chin-ups, barbell rows, bench press, military press, squats and deadlifts (there are substitutes for all of these, and you don’t HAVE to do any of them – but it is recommended.)
- Stay consistent with a balanced workout plan that incorporates movements like the above with some isolation work. Don’t hop from program to program.
- Make sure you’re getting stronger over time. That DOES NOT mean you need to hit a new PR every workout, but over weeks and months, the total VOLUME of weight you’re lifting across all of your sets should be going up.
- Keep track of this by logging your lifts on paper, in an app or spreadsheet. Look at what you lifted last time. If you did 3 sets of 8 with 50kg, try to do 2 sets of 8 and one set of 9 with 50kg. I do this until I’m hitting 3 sets of 12, then I move the weight up and go back to 3 sets of 8.
- Track your calories and ensure you’re in a surplus (about 10 – 15% over maintenance).
- Track your macros and ensure you’re getting at least 1.5g of protein for every kg of your bodyweight.
- Sleep well.
- Don’t overwork yourself. Take deloads when your body feels beaten up, or even a whole week off.
“Does muscle soreness mean that muscle building is happening?”
Unfortunately not. If you stay very consistent with your workouts and work all muscles regularly, you will notice that soreness reduces or even goes away completely. You will still gain muscle if you’re doing everything right.
“Should I have a Protein Shake Before, During or After My Workout for Maximum Effect?”
Yes, yes or yes. Or no.
Protein shakes don’t do anything magical. They’re just protein. Eating a can of tuna works just as well as having a protein shake (although it’s not as convenient to have in the gym changing rooms, or whilst walking to work).
The point is, protein shakes are just food. They are just a way to help you hit your protein goal for the day.
They are often a good choice because they’re cheaper than other good sources of protein, and they’re very portable and convenient/easy to make.
And you don’t need to run to the changing room to chug it down within seconds of the last dumbell hitting the floor. It makes no difference, don’t worry about it. Just hit your protein target for the day by getting protein in whatever form works best for you, at whatever times work best for you.
“Do I need to ‘confuse my muscles’ to get the best results?”
No. Your muscles are not sentient. They cannot get confused.
People spread this bullshit because they think soreness = gains. As stated above, it does not.
Moving from program to program and changing up your routines all the time will probably lead to more soreness because you keep introducing new stimulus to your muscles. However, this does not mean they will grow more. You’ll probably have less success than people who stick to the same routine for 6 months or a year. You need to be consistent and stick with something for long enough to actually get significantly better at it. Results take time.
“What supplements do I need to use to build muscle?”
My muscle was all gained without any supplements.
I’m not really counting protein shakes because they’re not really a supplement, they’re just another source of protein – like chicken or tuna. For 2 years I didn’t even use any of them anyway because I was getting enough protein from all of my food.
Take this in:
Supplements are not the answer. They will not help you. Forget the BCAAs, the pre-workouts, leucine, glutamine, whatever else.
If you focus on supplements you are like someone who tries to cut down a tree with a spoon while there’s a nearby collection of saws and axes.
Consistency, effort, focusing on getting stronger, lifting heavier and heavier weights, and EATING ENOUGH CALORIES AND PROTEIN.
These are what build muscle, and it takes years.
“How do I put an extra 20kg on my bench press in a week?”
You can’t. If you’re a beginner, you might manage to do that in a month or so (and more chance if you’re male and your starting weight is heavier).
If you’re not a beginner, then I highly, highly doubt you will add 20kg to your bench press in anything less than a year, and more likely several years.
“Can I gain 20kg of lean mass in months?”
No. Those kind of results take many years of hard work, dedication and consistency.
You need to revise your expectations down.
Go to the supermarket and pick up 20kg of red meat. Now imagine that on you. It’s a massive difference.
If you gain 5kg in your first year (and that’s 5kg of pure muscle, not the fat you’ll almost definitely gain too) you’ll be doing extremely well and people will notice the difference.
“Why am I not gaining any muscle?”
Because at least one of the following applies to you:
- You’re not getting stronger because you don’t focus on progressive overload of weights over time.
- You don’t stay focused on a good program and consistently follow it.
- You’re not eating enough.
- You’re not getting enough protein.
- You have unrealistic expectations about the speed at which changes happen.
Check out this post for a great write up on why you’re not building muscle.
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