David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.
Muscle Building Tips
If you want to make the best possible progress from the work you do in the gym, you need to be following an effective training program. But apart from that, you also need to eat the right diet and take steps to ensure you recover properly as well.
So here are my top 20 muscle building tips to help you to do just that.
1. Beginners/early intermediates should do full body workouts.
By doing full body workouts you will be able to train each muscle group more often, so you will get much faster gains. Train three days per week and focus primarily on increasing your strength on the main compound exercises.
2. Late intermediate/advanced trainees should do a sensible body part split.
If you want to get big and strong, an upper/lower split is the most effective routine to accomplish that. But if you prefer more of a bodybuilding type approach, the push/pull/legs split, or the opposing muscle groups split are both excellent, time-proven methods of training that are certain to give you excellent results. But compound exercises should still be the main focus of your training.
3. You should only train three or four days per week.
If you are doing full body workouts, train three days per week. If you are doing an upper/lower split, train three or four days per week. Or train about four days per week (or use the rotating five day cycle – 2 on, 1 off, 1 on, 1 off) if you are doing the push/pull/legs or opposing muscle groups split. If you train too often you will not have time to recover, and that could compromise, or even halt, your gains.
4. If you train four days per week you should never train more than two days in a row.
You could do Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; or Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; or even Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday – or whatever best fits in with your schedule. But make sure you always have a day off after training two days in a row.
5. Aim to add weight to the bar over time.
Progressive overload is the No. 1 requirement for successful long-term muscle hypertrophy. If you get stronger you will get bigger – as long as you eat a good diet that provides you with a calorie surplus and sufficient protein.
6. Do sets of 5 – 8 reps most of the time.
This is the best rep range for most people to build size, together with a good deal of strength. 2 – 4 work sets of each exercise will usually be enough.
7. Sometimes do lower reps to build more strength.
By working in the 2 – 4 rep range occasionally, you'll build more strength, which will mean you’ll be able to use more weight when you return to doing higher reps. And this will produce a stronger growth stimulus, allowing you to build more muscle.
8. And occasionally do higher reps to build extra size.
Training with lighter weights, for sets of 10 – 15 reps, will enable you to build extra size via sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. And although sarcoplasmic growth is generally regarded as non-functional, if you just want to get big it doesn’t really matter.
Note: the smaller assistance/isolation exercises should always be done with a slightly higher rep range. They just work better that way.
9. To build more strength use heavier weights and take longer rest periods between sets. Or to gain more size use somewhat lighter weights and take shorter rest periods.
For the best of both worlds take medium rest periods (about two minutes).
10. Don’t train to failure very often.
One of the biggest mistakes most people make is training to failure all the time. You should train hard, of course, but rarely to the point of failing to complete a rep. And you should not do those really slow grinding reps either. This is especially important when training with heavier weights for low reps.
11. Always warm up properly first.
Do a general warm-up, consising of something to get your heart pumping, followed by some dynamic mobility work. Then do at least 2 – 3 warm-up sets for each of your big lifts, and 1 – 2 for your smaller lifts.
12. Don’t train for more than an hour at a time.
The ideal workout length is about 45 – 60 minutes. If you train for much longer than this your testosterone and growth hormone levels will drop off, and your cortisol levels will increase. Excess cortisol causes muscle breakdown and fat storage, which is the opposite of what you want.
Some great tips from Matty Fusaro
Diet and Recovery Tips
13. Eat a calorie surplus (from mostly clean sources).
As well as sufficient calories, a good muscle building diet will consist of protein (about 0.8 – 1.0g per pound of bodyweight per day) from meat, fish and eggs, complex carbohydrates from whole grains, potatoes and sweet potatoes, healthy fats and plenty of fruit and vegetables. If you are not gaining weight, eat more!
14. Get your pre and post workout nutrition right.
You need energy to fuel your workouts, and protein to help you recover and rebuild. So eat or drink a good amount of protein and carbohydrates about 1.5 – 2 hours before training and again within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.
15. Use proven muscle building supplements.
Supplements are not essential, but they are very useful. So, start with the basics – whey protein, fish oil and a good multivitamin or greens supplement. Then, later on, when you are starting to see some good progress, you can add in creatine. And a couple of optional extras include beta alanine and essential amino acids.
16. Always get at least 8 – 9 hours sleep per night.
Muscles grow when you are resting and sleeping – not when you are training them. And if you don't get sufficient sleep, your mental focus will suffer, your testosterone and growth hormone levels will be reduced, and you will become more insulin resistant as well.
17. Don’t overdo the cardio.
Jogging is muscle wasting, so keep it to a minimum if you do it at all. To keep yourself fit and lean just do a short high intensity cardio session two or three times per week, either after your workouts or on your off days. You could also take a brisk walk each day if you wish.
18. Drink plenty of fluids – especially water.
Muscle is 75% water, and it's essential to stay well hydrated if you want to gain well. Half an ounce of water per pound of bodyweight per day is the ideal amount to drink if you are training hard.
19. Take a week off occasionally.
Beginners don't need to worry about this, but once you’ve been training for a year or so you should take a week off every 12 – 16 weeks. And once per year it’s a good idea to take a full two weeks off.
20. And have a deload week occasionally too.
Reduce your weights and/or volume for a week after every 6 – 8 weeks of hard training. The more advanced you are the more often you will need to do this.
So those are my top 20 muscle building tips to help you make more progress in less time. Just stick with your program, keeping track of your results and making adjustments as and when required, and you’ll be certain to get the results you are looking for. Best of luck.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.