Intro

Building muscle is one of the most popular fitness goals that there are. Whether you’re losing weight or trying to build mass, muscle building is probably going to be included in your training programme in some shape or form, and there’s more to it than you may think. These are just a few of the things that you need to be thinking about consistently in your training to make sure you’re doing the right work to see results.

Hypertrophy

Starting with the science behind what muscle growth entails, we need to talk about what actually happens when you build muscle. There is one primary way to grow your muscle, and it is centred around damaging your muscle tissue by overloading with heavy weights, where your body then repairs itself it be bigger and better than it was before to make it easier for you to do it the next time.

The growth of muscle generally revolves around what is called muscle atrophy. Atrophy is essentially the growth of cells that are responding to the stress that you are putting on your body. As your body adapts to deal with different workloads that you are putting on it, your muscles grow to be able to deal with it, and this is the basis of how it works. The cells in your muscles get bigger, making them better at dealing with the heavy weight that you’re making them move, and this is what get’s you the growth you need to be bigger and stronger.

Movements

Woman doing bicep curl

The movements that you need to be using in your weight training have several different kinds of meaning. Once you’ve got to grips with how you need to be performing repetitions of your exercise in set blocks (reps and sets), you need to be able to dissect your exercises. The movements are based around the eccentric motion of your muscle(s) where you are usually lowering or relaxing your body, and the concentric where you are contracting muscles in order to push against whatever resistance you are using. Once you’ve got that all understood, you can move on to the details of your training life.

Frequency

One key thing to think about when you’re looking to build muscle in the best possible way is how often you are going to train them. Your body cannot work non-stop and then still be expected to find the time to heal itself, so what is the best approach for you to take to make the most of your work?
You need to make sure that you’re training each area of your muscle group properly. A full workout looking at one or two specific muscles is usually the best idea, with an adequate rest before you train the same group. It sounds relatively simple, but you’ll actually use a lot of muscles in some exercises without even knowing about it, so it’s always wise to plan your workouts carefully. As long as you are giving 48hours of downtime after working a muscle group, you should be good.

Muscle Pairings

Woman doing a lat pulldown

There are a lot of different ways to train when it comes to trying to build muscle. You need to tailor your workouts to your own specific needs and abilities to make sure you’re getting the right results for you, and it can be hard to know what’s what. There are tonnes of different exercises for every muscle group, and even more variations for each one of those, so choosing the right things to do in the right workout can be a bit of a challenge.

The most common muscle pairings to do in the gym typically are the ones that support one another for a range of different movements. You back and biceps are responsible for most of your pulling motions for example, and your chest triceps and shoulders are responsible for the pushing motions that you might do. This makes them ideal to be trained together, putting the more significant muscle first so that you can fatigue it before the smaller muscle means you can’t work effectively.

Compound Vs Isolation Exercises

Even when you have these pairings, there are different was to hit each muscle group, and it is crucial that you’re choosing the right way to do it. Compound exercises and isolation exercises are typically the most effective categories within strength training, and they serve extremely different purposes.

Compound exercises are the better of the two generally speaking. They offer you a way to generate real, functional strength while hitting multiple different muscle groups at the same time so that you can be sure that you are making the most of your time and your workouts. Isolation exercises, on the other hand, are entirely different. As the name suggests, they focus on just one muscle so that you can get a more specified development. This sounds bad, but it actually means that you can concentrate on your weaker or more under devolved areas and get yourself in the best possible shape you can be.

Rest/recovery

Man relaxing at home

Rest and recovery are actually just as important as the training that you're doing. Most people will just shrug it off, but it is absolutely vital that you know what you need to be doing outside of the gym as well as inside. This will help you to get the best progress that you can be, as well as protecting yourself from injury in the long run. It gives you time to build muscle back to the condition that it needs to be in to perform properly and not cause more damage than good.

Other recovery aspects are also important though, like how rest gives you the time to recover tissue in your ligaments and tendons too and prevent overuse. There is a massive range of issues that you are at risk of from overtraining, as well as from using bad form which is what these issues can lead to, making a vicious circle.

Sleep

Sleeping is another vital pillar of your recovery that you need to be making sure you’re getting enough of. Sleep is when you’ll be getting the growth and recovery in your muscle tissue that you are looking for, so you need to make sure that you are getting enough of it if you want the best results from your hard work. If you have any hope of being able to build muscle, then you need to be getting good quality, regular sleep. Fact.

Nutrition/Diet

Man and woman clean eating together

As well as sleeping though, there are other aspects like your nutrition and your food consumption that will have a dramatic effect on your workouts, as well as your results. If you aren’t eating the right things at the right time, your body will not be able to do what you want it to, and this is where your muscle mass takes a hit. You need to be making sure that you have enough energy before the workout to be able to give it your best efforts, as well as making sure that you have the nutrients afterwards that are going to responsible for the growth and the repairing of the muscle where you’ll see the gains.

The best way that you can do this is to make sure that your muscle glycogen is as good as it could be before your workout by eating a healthy mix of foods and ensuring that you are hitting a good level of carbohydrates at the right times before your workout. You need to be getting protein and healthy fats afterwards for your recovery. A general calorie surplus is what you really need if you want to build muscle so that your body has enough to sustain itself and rebuild the extra size. It does make sense if you think about it. Just ensure that it is the right kind of calories that you’re eating rather than just anything you can get your hands on.

Set Styles

So, once you’ve managed to get to grips with all of that stuff, it’s time to get a bit more specific with what you’re doing. Strength training is massively well researched, with new techniques to get the best workout coming out constantly, so you need to be able to know some of the proven, effective, ways that you should be using for yourself. Most of them involve just different sequences of weights or slight variations, which may even disagree entirely with what you think you should be doing, but everything is worth a try if it will help you out in the long run.

The mainly used set styles are the classic 5x5 or 8-12x4 sets. These are the basics of what you need to be doing to make sure that you have used the right weights to overload correctly and build muscle, but still be able to keep your technique in good shape and not risk any injuries. They’re definitely solid sets.

Supersets

Man doing a bench press

Other than these though, there’s space for some more intensive variations. Supersets are another popular to-go-to exercising method. They are basically just a combination of two exercises hitting two different muscle groups, where you perform one, do not rest, and then perform the other immediately. This is an incredibly intensive and time-saving way to exercise that could give you the shock you need.

Drop Sets

Hand picking up a dumbbell from the rack

Drop sets, on the other hand, do exactly the opposite. They revolve around you using a higher weight than you usually would for a small number of reps or even to failure if that is the method you’re going for to hit your muscles as hard as you possibly can. Instead of sticking with the same weight throughout, you begin to move down the rack, using lower and lower weights every set you do until there’s no point in doing it anymore. This type of exercise will cause you to do a lot more sets than you usually would be able to, forcing you to build muscle. It will make sure that you cannot possibly take any more and will get the growth and repair that they need to get their biggest progression.

Variations

 

Variations can go further than your set styles too. When you look at different ways that you can vary your repetitions, you open a whole new world of possibilities that you can try to include in your training. These little changes can really make the difference and stop your body from getting too used to the stress you’re putting on it which is often the cause of plateaus. You will not believe how common that is, and how useful these can be to you.

Negative

Man holding woman's hands as she lifts weights

When you need a new way to kick things up a notch, negative sets are and an amazing avenue to go down. They aren’t as common as other styles, but they are proven to be effective and be a serious game changer. You just need to make sure that you’re using them properly and don’t just rely on them. Variation is key. The idea of them is to perform a rep with a higher weight than you usually can with assisted equipment or even a spotter. When you can do this safely, you perform the rep as normal but with an incredibly slow eccentric movement. This forces you to keep the contraction for longer and really overload the muscle, causing you to build muscle.

Plyometrics

Another type of exercising you can do is to focus on different types of muscle instead of different muscle groups. Plyometrics are an awesome example of how you can do this. They are focused on using intensive and very hard-working complex movements that are used most for performance-based exercises such as sprinting or jumping. You have to use a powerful, explosive movement, and do it a lot of times. The increased impact of these movements when done in the right way result in you having a huge increase in the short twitch muscle fibres and give you a new type of growth.

Tracking Progress

Woman flexing

When it comes to tracking your progress from your weight training, things do get slightly more complicated than they do from a lot of other exercise styles. There are, as with everything else, multiple routes that you can take to do it, but there are a few that tend to stand out from the crowd when checking out how you've actually been able to build muscle.

Weights

The most common method you can use to track your progress well is to look at the weights that you’re using for your exercises in comparison to previous results. It’s always a good idea to track your performance and use benchmarks to see how far you’ve come in any given time, providing you’ve trained enough. It helps you to look at your strengths and weaknesses too so that you can decide where you need to put in the extra work!

Pictures

Other methods are possible too, such as before and after pictures over a few months to see the physical changes that you have made to yourself. This, of course, is less tangible, but it can still be a really good way to build up your motivation and see how much your hard work is paying off. If pictures don’t cut it, you can even actually measure different areas of your body to track your growth rather than your strength too. Measuring the circumference of your chest, for example, is a great way to do it, as well as most other muscles when contracted. The choice is yours.

Conclusion

To sum up, there’s too much to sum up. Weight training is a massively diverse and everchanging topic where there is very rarely a right or wrong answer, and it does all come down to everyone as individuals. Only you can find out what is good and bad for your training methods. As long as you are keeping yourself safe, training correctly, resting well and putting in the work, you’ll build muscle over time. If things get challenging, it can be a good idea to consult someone like a P.T. or medical professional to help you get over any challenges you are facing. Happy training!

 

 


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If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.