The 10 Commandments of Gaining Muscle
Building Muscle is something A LOT of people struggle with.
And as I’ve just finished a pretty successful 6 Month Lean Gain Phase, I figured it was time for me to do a HUGE post on the art of Building Muscle.
If you’re new to building muscle or need a push in the right direction, this ones for you.
Lets get into it, shall we?
#1 — Programming is EVERYTHING
If you want to grow, you have to absolutely nail your choice of programming. Its certainly not a case of just picking a weight up and down, and throwing yourself under a Bench Press hoping for the best. In order to grow muscle over time, your programme needs to take you down the right path.
How do you know what programme to use then? Well, you need to consider these 3 Factors:
- It has to fit your lifestyle
- It must allow for progression
- It needs to contain the right amount of volume for your training age and experience
For me, you cant go wrong by using either an Upper / Lower, or Push / Pull / Legs format. Both programme types are easily adaptable to your training experience, both are simple in their design, and train each muscle group with equal balance.
The important thing however, is that you need to be SELF-AWARE. You need to know who you are, what experience you have with weightlifting, and know your current limits.
So, here are my recommendations for programme choice, depending on your experience levels, or how often you can train:
- BEGINNERS, and Train 2/3 x PW: Upper / Lower Split, OR Push / Pull / Legs
- INTERMEDIATES, and Train 4/5 x PW: Upper / Lower x 2 OR Push/Pull/Legs/Upper/Lower
- ADVANCED, and Train 6 x PW: Push / Pull / Legs x 2
#2 — Compound Lifts Are A Must
Whatever choice of programme you decide to follow, it MUST be built around some or all of the classic Compound Lifts:
- Back Squat
- Bench Press
- Military Press
Why? Well, here’s the reasons:
- Compound Lifts recruit a large amount of muscle groups
- The more muscle groups recruited, the bigger the adaptive response from your Central Nervous System (which enables it to handle more load and tension)
- Compound Lifts allow you to shift bigger amounts of weight. The more weight and tension placed on muscle groups (with correct form), the more your body will have to grow and adapt to cope with that stress.
Include these classic compound lifts in your programme, spend time perfecting your technique and executing the exercise properly, with correct load..and you WILL gain muscle.
#3 — You Need A Deload
Lifting heavy with lots of volume is all fun and games in a muscle gaining phase. But eventually, it takes its toll on you.
With the sheer amount of intensity you’re placing on multiple muscles and joints, at some point the stress becomes too much and you start to feel rundown. Your joints might start to ache, recovery isnt as smooth, you’re not progressing on your lifts, and your Central Nervous System is absolutely fried.
Thats where, a Deload is NEEDED.
A deload is very simply, a one-week period where you reduce the amount of volume and intensity in your training sessions. A deload usually involves:
- Reducing number of sets per exercise by 1
- Not pushing yourself too much on big lifts (EG: only performing 5 reps on Bench Press where you know you can get 7/8 reps)
By performing far less work than usual, you’ll give your body much more time to recover and heal.
Trust me, deloads suck. I really hate not being able to push myself to lift bigger numbers than the week before.
But the way you have to look at it, is that you have to take 1 step back, to go 2 steps forward.
Remember to always listen to your body. If your body is telling you its basically f*cked, TAKE A DELOAD.
#4 — Progressive Overload
One golden nugget of information to always remember, is that building muscle is an adaptive response of the body to cope with ‘stress’ from exercise.
So if you want to keep growing, you have to keep finding new ways to place new stress on the body. How can you do that?
This simply means overloading the muscle with extra intensity that it previously isnt used to (in the form of additional weight or reps).
But when is the right time to use Progressive Overload?
ONLY when you can properly execute an exercise without any slip of form throughout the set. Only then, can you look to overload the muscle with additional weight or reps.
Dont be one of these idiots throwing around extra weight because it looks cool. All it does is lead you to injury and lack of progression.
Build muscle, not your ego.
- Progressive Overload is key to introducing new stimulus to the body
- ONLY overload when you have mastered an exercise with correct form and technique throughout
#5 — Increase Total Volume Over Time
Similar to the last point, increasing your total volume over time is another way of placing more stress on the body, to create that adaptive response which builds muscle.
And just to clue you up on Total Volume.. this basically means sets x reps x weight = total volume. An increase in any of these 3 things, will change your total volume.
And if you want to keep growing, your total volume MUST increase over time. You cant just be stuck doing the same exercises, sets, reps and weight for months on end.
Unless you wanna make ZERO progress, that is.
So how do you increase total volume?
In the last point I spoke about how you should only progress with weight or repetitions when you can properly execute an exercise, and that still applies here. I would always look to increase total volume mainly through an increase in weight and reps, and leave an increase in sets as the last option.
The last thing you want to be doing, is performing 5783 sets per muscle group and spending your entire day in the gym.
- Total Volume = Sets x Weight x Reps
- Mainly opt for increases in TV by increasing weight or reps
- Use increases in Sets sparingly
#6 — Sleep More
Sleep is a MASSIVELY under-valued component of the recovery process. Trust me I know, during my lean gain phase I didnt use it enough, which I’ll explain later.
During sleep, this is the best window of opportunity for your body to grow and repair. Because other bodily functions and brain power is low, your body can focus more time on repairing broken down muscle tissue, adapting to the stress, and growing as a result.
In particular when you’re gaining muscle, your body and Central Nervous System need even MORE time to recover and adapt effectively.
And if you dont get enough sleep on average, you’ll often feel under-recovered and your gym performance might decrease. I should know, this happened to me a lot these last few months.
Shoot for 8–10 hours on average a night ideally, but do make sure you get about 7 hours a night minimum!
- Your body and CNS need longer recovery than normal to adapt to stress, and grow and repair muscle
- Failure to obtain proper sleep can lead to decreased gym performance, under-recovery and injury risks
- Aim for 8–10 hours of sleep
#7 — Time Under Tension
One issue I come across a lot, is people shifting a weight from Point A to B, without even contracting the muscle through the full range of motion. Without proper contraction, you wont recruit anywhere near the right amount of muscle fibres.
To build muscle, you must first break down existing muscle fibres, and building them back again, only this time stronger and bigger. The more muscle fibres recruited, the better your potential muscle growth will be. So how do we make sure we recruit as many muscle fibres as possible?
Its simple. Time Under Tension.
This is one area of exercise execution that so many people ignore. Many people just rush through each and every rep. But if you want to recruit more muscle fibres, you must make sure the muscle spends LONGER time under tension. The longer you spend under tension, the more blood that circulates within the muscle, thus recruiting more muscle fibres.
Slow. Your. Damn. Reps. Down.
- More time under tension = more muscle fibre recruitment
- More muscle fibre recruitment = more potential muscle growth
#8 — Learn How A Muscle Is Meant To Move
Believe it or not, there are a lot of common exercises that people perform that dont actually work the intended muscle AT ALL. This is why, its so important to understand how a muscle is meant to move.
This will take a bit of accountability from you, to take it upon yourself to learn the movement patterns of certain muscles. Learn how the Pectoral muscles are positioned on the body, and how you are meant to lengthen / contract the muscle. Understand how your Quads and Glutes are meant to move from Point A to B.
Something amazing happens when you learn how a muscle is meant to move.. you suddenly realise what exercises are going to work, and what arent. You then understand what range of motion you require to work the whole muscle, and recruit the most amount of muscle fibres.
Trust me, it opens up your eyes.
#9 — Calories. Calories. Calories.
If you want to grow, you need to eat to grow. Many people complain they simply cant gain any muscle even despite ‘eating lots of food’.. but are you really?
To get you on the right path. You need to know two numbers. Your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure — AKA Daily Calorie Burn), and also your current Calorie Intake
Use a Calorie Calculator such as https://www.iifym.com/tdee-calculator/ to help you figure out your TDEE.
And track your current food intake with an app such as MyFitnessPal, to see if you’re eating enough to gain weight.
If not? Its very simple, you need to eat MORE. My advice would be to make sure your Calorie Intake sits at roughly 200–300kcal above your TDEE, for a slow and consistent weight gain.
- Know your numbers: Figure out your TDEE and current Calorie Intake
- Maintain a Calorie Surplus 200–300kcal above your TDEE for slow, consistent weight gain (with minimal fat gain)
#10 — Protein Intake
One big reason people fail to gain muscle is Protein Intake.. its WAY too low for what they require.
We live in a world where Modern Day Diets are so high-arb and fat orientated, that Protein Intake is often worryingly low in most people.
But as we all (hopefully) know, Protein is the macronutrient which is responsible for Muscle Repair and Growth. It is, the key to the gateway of gains.
If you’re looking to gain muscle, you should be looking at around 1.3–1.5g of Protein per lb of bodyweight. It sounds like a lot, I know. But if you want to grow, it needs to happen!
Although it doesnt matter too much where and how you get your Protein Intake in (as long as the total amount is within 24 hours), its always advisable to go with some form of Protein Intake every 2–3 hours if possible. This habit makes Protein much easier to digest, and with the fact you’ll most likely be having a lot of it, makes it much easier to spread across 5/6 meals than having it all in 2/3 meals. That, and your body generally prefers having Protein in smaller, consistent quantities for recovery and growth purposes.
- Aim for 1.3–1.g of Protein per lb of Bodyweight
- Protein Timing does not completely matter, but is more practical to have on a 2–3 hour basis
So there you have it, those are my 10 Commandments of Building Muscle! Now you are armed with everything you need to know to starting adding muscle to that frame of yours. Building muscle is not easy, and takes a very long time for most people to get the physique they desire. Its very much a long game, but enjoy the damn journey and you’ll be there quicker than you know it!
Now then, what if I told you I have a FREE 4 Week Muscle Building Programme that you can get your hands on?
Complete with Nutrition and Progression Guidelines?
Well its all yours, all you have to do is join my Facebook Group below and you’ll find it in the Files section!
Anyway, thats all from me, hope you enjoyed this one and got something valuable out of it! Drop me a message on my socials below and let me know what you think!
Until next time,
Sam Marriott PT