Let me start by telling you a little bit about myself, I’m Online Personal Trainer who specialises in in fast tracking body transformations, I work with people with a moderate fitness level and I help take them from zero to hero in the quickest possible way. I don’t work with athletes, so if you’re an athlete looking to take things to the next level, this is likely not for you, if you’re a beginner or intermediate then keep reading, this is definitely for you!
If you’re anything like me you might have spent/wasted years trying to find that one thing that was going to transform your physique, maybe it was a supplement, a training split or maybe even a cool new way you perform a bicep curl, you tried everything and only seen partial gains. You might have even approached the biggest guy in the gym and asked him “how?” only to get a vague answer like “lift heavy things!” yeah cheers mate! That reminds, this post is for people who are looking to develop muscle naturally, I’ve got nothing against people on steroids, but if you’re on steroids and are struggling to build muscle fast, then you’re certainly beyond my help.
There are 7 things you need to focus on when building lean muscle mass, I appreciate 7 is a random number but I refuse to just fill this article with junk to push it up to 10 or take out awesome stuff to round it up to a cool 5, so we have 7:
1 - Big Compound Lifts
2 - Progressive Overload
3- Avoiding Overtraining
4 - Increase Calories
5 - Plenty of Protein
6 - Plan Your Sessions
7 - Consistency
Big Compound Lifts
When we talk about building muscle we’re not referring to building muscle in one specific area, like your left calve muscle, as we’re obviously focusing on building an all round incredibly physique and in order to do that, we need focus on big compound movements that target many muscles.
The Squat - Probably the most famous or infamous exercise around, engaging more muscles than almost any other exercise on the list and “I Squat” has always been the reply to “How Did You Build Those Sick Quads?” or “How Did You Build Those Amazing Glutes?”.
The Deadlift - The most alpha exercise on this list, it’s been a key exercise in anyone’s plan, if they are looking to develop strength, optimise movement patterns and increase all around lean muscle mass. This exercise is quite advanced and is easy to get wrong, especially when ego lifting, I myself have pushed the weight up too far and compromised form, or shall I say my ego did, so technique is key. When done correctly this can engage almost every muscle in the body, especially muscles in the posterior chain.
The Military Press - The is an incredible upper body exercise that specifically targets your shoulders whilst forcing your entire body the brace putting you in a strong position to perform the exercise correctly. Any exercise that engages numerous muscles at once is amazing at both increasing muscle and burning fat, due the the calories needed to fuel such a compound exercise.
The Bent Over Row - This exercise is one of those exercise that I almost feel I put in people’s programmes far too often, but you can never do too much Bent Over Rowing. This exercise focuses on developing the muscles in your upper back whilst bracing your core and activating muscles in your legs (specifically your hamstrings) to help hold you in that strong position with a neutral spine.
The Bench Press - Let’s not forget the mother of all chest movements, there are few exercises in the world where you can put your life on the line, press an incredibly amount of weight and get a awesome chest pump at the same time. The sheer fact you need to summon a random person passing by to be your “spotter” just in case you end up being crushed beneath a 100 plus kg of iron, put this up there with some of the most alpha exercises available.
You can’t develop lean muscle tissue without progressive overload! “Progressive overload requires a gradual increase in volume, intensity, frequency or time in order to achieve the desired goal of the user. In this context, volume and intensity are defined as follows: Volume is the total number of repetitions multiplied by the resistance used as performed in specific periods of time.” That my friends is straight out of Wikipedia.
When exercising, your body will adapt to a point, but if you want to make further development then you need to exert greater demand on the body by training hard and training smart. If you don't progressively overload the muscles by forcing them to do more than they're accustomed to, then they have no reason to make further adaptations.
Think about it this way, if you go to the gym and do the same exercises with the same amount of reps, sets and resistance, then run 1km at the exact same pace each time, do you think your body will develop? Does it need to?
The answer is NO, your body will not develop unless it needs to! FACT!
To affectively overload the muscles, you need to implement these methods:
1. Increase Load/Resistance
Increasing the resistance/load is the most common and effective way of progressively overloading a muscle. Say one week you do 4 sets of 8 reps on the back squat using 100kg and the next week you do the same amount of reps and sets, but you increased the load up to 110kg, that is the simplest form of progressive overload, progressively increasing the load in order exert greater demand on the muscles.
2. Increase Reps
Instead of doing 4 sets of 8 reps followed by progressively increasing the load, you could instead keep the weight the same and simply increase the reps to 10 reps for the same amount of sets.
Note: With this method you're limited as you do want to train within certain rep ranges specific to your goals, for building muscle we generally want to sit between 6 to 15 reps.
3. Increase Volume
Volume is simply sets multiplied by reps multiplied by resistance. You can increase demand on your body and muscle groups by adding more exercises, reps or sets. Instead of doing the 100kg back squat for 4 sets of 8 reps, you can do it for 5 sets of 8 reps. Alternatively you can stick with the same weight, reps and sets, but add in another exercise that targets the same muscle group, for example, you could super set your back squats with lunges..... if you're feeling brave.
4. Increase Frequency
This is a very simple and effective approach, especially when targeting a specific muscle groups that you want to particularly develop. This approach is obviously limited as you can't just keep training more and more frequently as you'll end up training every single day twice a day. Training needs to enrich your life and not take over it!
5. Reduce Rest Between Sets
This is one of my personal favourites, especially with busy clients who have limited time to train as we can't necessarily just keep increasing volume and frequency every single time. The only draw back is if you're training specifically for strength gains as it's vitally important that you have adequate rest between sets.
First of all, let’s check out wikipedia’s definition of overtraining “Overtraining occurs when a person exceeds their body's ability to recover from strenuous exercise”
I couldn’t have said it better myself!
A couple of signs of overtraining are:
Persistent muscle soreness
Increased resting heart rate
Getting ill more frequently
Consistently carrying injuries
Loss of motivation
Now, the main reason this happens is from under recovering and too much training volume, you need to make sure you have enough rest with adequate calories and a high quality diet to fuel the recovery precess.
If you’re feeling like you’re overtrained or overreached, then just take a step back by reducing volume, reassess your calories and macronutrients, take a couple of days off training or maybe even a week if needed. Once you’re feeling like yourself again, it’s time to get back on track.
I can’t emphasise this enough, you need to be in a calorie surplus in order to develop serious muscle tissue. If you don’t eat enough it will be extremely difficult to gain muscle, you might achieve some good results initially, AKA newbie gains, but eventually you’ll need to address your calories.
Food is the most anabolic substance you can utilise! Think about it, the bigger you get the more calories you need, your body will not justify expending all that valuable energy building and maintaining muscles tissue unless there is already a sufficient amount of calories to work with.
Let’s take that one step further and break food down into the three macronutrients, or macros, these are carbs, fats and proteins. You’ll need a respectable amount of all three for the following reasons…
Carbohydrates for energy and to replenish glycogen
Healthy amount of fat to support cell growth and produce important hormones, most important one in this topic is testosterone.
Obviously plenty of protein to help build and recover muscle tissue.
Plenty of Protein
Protein is one of the three energy sources our body needs known as macronutrients, the other two being carbohydrates and fats as mentioned earlier, but unlike carbohydrates and fats, protein is not primarily used as energy, instead it’s primarily used to build and repair. Our bodies are structural and are made up of protein, there is protein in almost all parts of or body, it’s a component of every cell, in fact, your hair and nails are mostly made up of protein.
You need protein for:
Healthy brain function
Maintain immune system
Have a healthy heart
Prevent certain diseases
If you think you can build muscle without dietary protein, you’re sadly mistaken, in fact if you think you can do that thing…. what’s it called…. as yes… LIVE, without dietary protein you’re also sadly mistaken.
So, how much protein should be eaten per day? The RDA is a modest 0.8 grams per kg of bodyweight, this should be enough to prevent you from having any amino acid deficiencies.
There are a LOT of factors to take into consideration when deciding how much protein you should eat per day, such as body type, muscle mass, activity level, goals, lifestyle, basal metabolic rate and more, but you should be consuming from 1.4 to 2.5 grams per kg of bodyweight (in my opinion), but I have often had great success with clients consuming more than 2.5 grams per kg of bodyweight when they have a high amount of lean muscle mass.
Plan Your Sessions
We spoke about the importance of progressively overloading your training, now it would be very difficult to do this without planing out your session to be able to track it.
I know some people like to do something different each time they train and others enjoy having a plan. Let’s take this to the extreme and compare the two, on the one hand we have boring Bob who does the exact same session each time he trains, it’s a full body split with a 500m row at the end. On the other hand, we have Jimmy Spandex who does a different session every time he trains.
Now as boring as Bob’s session is (a very boring session!), he’s more likely to improve as he can accurately track his progress. As much as Jimmy is a fun guy, it will be much more challenging for him to accurately track his progress as he would likely be using the same weights each week.
Now, results are not everything, nor am I suggesting you do the same boring shit each time you train. So here is the solution - Design a plan that is based around building muscle fast, have a different session for each day of the week, but continue that plan for 4-6 weeks, this allows you to accurately track progression and allows you to compete with yourself. Essentially, if you know how you performed last Monday, how much you squatted, how fast you ran, then you’re likely going to want to beat those PB’s. Once you have done 4-6 weeks, change up the plan, but maybe increase volume, this is the basic fundamentals of programming.
Doing a random session each time you train means you’re not training, you’re working out, working out gets some results, but training gets you to your desired goal.
The advice I’ve given you is gold, but if not implemented consistently then you’ll simple not achieve the results you’re looking for. This article has been specific to building muscle fast, therefor we don’t have time to be inconsistent, we need to be in the gym, working hard and constantly pushing forward!