Best Way to Build Muscle? Here Are 3 Rock Solid Strategies
In the pursuit of building massive amounts of muscle and punishing power, we’ve have all witnessed (or maybe even been that guy ourselves) someone always seems to be wanting to put on some size.
Month after month, this person is puts forth a worthy effort with little result. As time passes, with hundreds of trips to the gym, this person looks the same. No real changes in size and strength hasn’t budged.
What’s going on?
This is the classic case of the normal dude who wants to put on some size and get strong. You know, the guy who as a steady job and a social life he wants to nurture.
He doesn’t want to chase down Kai Greene, but he wants to fill out a white T-shirt and be able to squat respectable weight. He wants to feel confident when he lays eyes on the fox behind the counter at his local coffee shop. He wants to look in the mirror and not see the sunken chest.
With a laundry list of real life responsibilities outside of packing on some muscle, this guy does his due diligence in regards to finding every “training secret” that will help him transform from bony to beastly.
To be fair, we must give him credit for effort. The desire to learn how to do something is the first step in any transformation.
Unfortunately, the search for gains usually turns into a black hole of researching. He digs up everything he can find and in the process, gets tossed around like a pinball.
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With so much information getting lodged into his mind he ends up being as frantic as a teenager who doesn’t have access to the internet.
For anyone who has ventured the road to gaining muscle, and conquered the journey, understands that the road is difficult.
They’ll tell you that eating at a surplus is deceivingly tough. They’ll tell you that progress is slow. They’ll tell you that meal prepping can be a drag. They’ll tell you that they didn’t miss workouts. They’ll tell you that at times they wondered if it was all worth it or not. They’ll tell you what training program they used. They’ll tell you the PR’s they set.
The nuances amongst the people who have made the #gainz is extensive.
But, one of the things I enjoy doing as a fitness writer is to find the connective tissue amongst those who succeed. By synthesizing the strategies that the successful have utilized, it allows you, the reader to take the principle and leveraged it into your own approach.
The following three strategies are teased from studying the ones who have won a the game of building muscle – alongside the lessons I’ve learned in my own journey. Over the last five years or so, I’ve put on about 20 pounds of muscle. Like many others, my own journey has been filled with mistakes and questionable methods. My aim is to help you avoid the same faults so you can make those gains faster.
Best Way to Build Muscle – 3 Strategies
1. One big goal, lots of tiny steps
A lot of people set goals. Successful people set behaviors.
You probably have a big goal, right? It’s something like putting on 15-20 pounds of muscle or deadlifting 500 pounds. Whatever.
That goal can be exhilarating when you think about it. However, when you drift back down to reality, you’re humbled by the fact that the goal is so far away that it feels untouchable.
It can be overwhelming to think about fitting into an XL t-shirt when you swim in a medium. It can be daunting to think about pulling 500 pounds off the floor when locking out 285 made your face turn red as tomato.
The key is to set your big goal and then forget about it.
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You must transfer all of your energy to tiny steps you take each day. These are called behavior goals. This is what the people who win in the iron game do all the time. They have goals just like you, but they don’t wallow in thinking about them all day.
They do something that inches them closer to that goal each day. The adhere to certain behavior goals that executed over time, yield massive results.
They set big goals. Then they take tiny steps everyday.
In order to slap some muscle onto your frame, you must do the same. Here a few tiny steps that regardless of your experience, must be done each day in order to gain muscle:
- Eat enough calories (more on this in a minute)
- Sleep at least seven hours per night
- Drink half of your bodyweight in ounces of water each day
As painfully easy and simple as these are, they are also woefully overlooked by thousands looking to make some serous gains. Take inventory and see how you measure up with these simple daily strategies.
2. Eat enough calories (Super shakes are the most practical)
Nearly every guy striving to turn his skinny frame into a body worth taking a second look at, says he eats a lot.
But when he looks at his body after months, maybe even years, his enthusiasm deflates with the lack of results.
Does that sound familiar?
The bottom line is this: If you’re not as muscular as you’d like to be, you haven’t been eating enough.
Hardgainers have metabolisms that run faster then Usain Bolt. If that describes your situation, you must combat your speedy metabolism with more food than you’ve been eating thus far.
The normative approach is to go on the “see-food” diet. Meaning, you eat everything you see. I’m not a fan of this approach. First, off it opens the door up to eating a ton of junk. Second, it becomes painful to stuff yourself at each meal. Eating becomes a job. That sucks.
Instead, the most practical and healthy way to eat more to support your muscle gains is to add calories incrementally – at a rate that is sustainable.
On a fat loss diet this is commonplace. It’s not sound to cut calories by 1,000 over night with hopes to lose fat faster. This approach sets you up for massive muscle lost, and a severe imbalance in hormones, and an overall miserable relationship with food. Rather than slashing by a huge amount, a fat loss diet is typically leveraged by cutting calories gradually – usually around the 200-400 calorie range.
The same concept can be used when you’re trying to add muscle. Adding too many calories too quickly ends up making you more fat than you’d like to be. And, if you ever decide you want to cut it up after you’ve added all that weight, carrying around too much fat makes your cut exponentially harder AND longer.
Instead of cutting calories by 200-400 or so, you’ll simply add 200-400 calories to your diet each day. The most practical way to do this is with a super shake.
Adding in a super shake is the first thing I suggest to people struggling to eat more in their daily diet. It’s fast, simple, and can provide a ton of health promoting nutrients along with the extra calories.
There are ton of possibilities when it comes to building your super shake. However, here is a basic template you can play with to get you started and eventually create your own recipe:
- Handful of fruit (frozen berries or frozen bananas work well)
- One or two scoops of high quality protein powder
- One tablespoon of nut butter
- A handful of greens (spinach or baby kale work great)
- If you prefer your shake to be a bit thicker add a handful of ice cubes
- Liquid of choice (water or almond milk). Depending on how you like the consistency it’ll be around one and a half cups for a thicker shake or around two and half cups for a more fluid shake
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3. Hit a variety of rep ranges
Training for size and training for strength are different.
Yes, there is a correlation between the two. However, a strategic approach for the layman must be considered.
Becoming stronger is largely grounded in improving neural adaptations in big, heavy compound movements. The rep range that induces this response is anywhere from one to five reps. Training in this range is associated with myofibrillar hypertrophy. Think of myofibrillar hypertrophy like so:
Think of a rope with three strands woven together. Then, think about that same rope but only with two additional strands woven into the rope itself. This would cause the rope to be thicker, bigger.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy has a similar impact on your muscles – an increase in size and in the number of muscle fibers is increased.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is pointed at a higher rep range – usually anywhere from eight to twenty reps. This type of hypertrophy is associated with an increase of volume of non-contractile matter (glycogen, water, and myoglobin).
While higher rep ranges have little impact on absolute strength, the nature of high rep training induces a favorable response hormonally. Training with short rest periods at moderate loads shift your body into producing more testosterone and growth hormone – the two powerhouses largely responsible for building a better body.
So, which approach is better for building muscle?
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When you’re on a mission to change your body and pack on muscle, hitting a variety of rep ranges is the way to go. However, the structure of each workout and how you position the order of exercises deserves some attention.
Your first move should be the heavy compound lift. Your nervous system along with energy reserves will be at their highest at the beginning of your workout. So, you’ll want to front-load the big movements.
- Bench presses
- All variations of overhead presses
- Weighed dips
- Weighed pull ups
- Clean and jerks
For these movements, you’ll want to keep sets and reps low, while the loads are on the upper end of spectrum. In other words, three to five sets between 80-90% of your training max will do. Total number of reps should probably fall under 12-20. Rest periods will fall under three to five minutes per set.
Once your strength work is done, it’s time to hit the accessory movements which target sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. You’ll want to pair up your accessory work with the main move you performed just prior. For lower body movements like squats and deadlifts (and all their variations), you’ll want to hit the following muscle groups:
- Lower back
For upper body movements like bench press, jerks and overhead presses ( and all their variations) you’ll want to hit the following muscle groups:
- Rear delts and middle delts
- Upper back
For each of these muscle trained, you’ll want to bump up the number of reps per set, while the loads being moved will shift downward. In other words, you’ll bump up reps per set to a minimum of eight at <70% of that respective exercise. Total number of reps per exercise should fall under 30-40. Rest periods will drop to 60-90 seconds between sets.
Upper body day workout example
Warm up with 10 minute row, 50 push ups, and shoulder mobility.
- 5×3 Thick bar bench press from pins three inches off chest at 85%
- 3×8 One-arm dumbbell row (each arm)
- 3×12 Parallel par dips
- 3×15 Reverse curls with EZ bar
Lower body day example
Warm up with 10 minute stationary bike, 20 body-weight pause squats, and hip, ankle mobility.
- 5×3 Front squat at 85%
- 3×12 Band resisted glute ham raise
- 3x 12-15 Leg extension
- 3×25 Weighed leg raises
Building muscle has been done before. It doens’t require much creativity. In fact, you could argue that less creativity is helpful in a arduous journey of building muscle.
You’ve got three strategies to simplify your approach to building muscle.
By applying these to your game-plan, it’ll cut down the mild anxiety you might be experiencing when trying to figure out how to build muscle.
Set your big goal and then forget about. Then, set daily behavior goals that support the big goal – focus your energy on executing behavior goals consistently.
Second, bump up your calorie intake with super shakes. This sustain surplus will help you build muscle while keeping bodyfat levels in check.
Lastly, hit a variety of rep ranges in your training to induce both types of hypertrophy responses. This will help you build a body that can show and go.
Bryant, Josh. Built to the Hilt: Creating a Muscularly Strong and Superbly Conditioned Body That Will Last a Lifetime. N.p., 2013. Print.
“Impact of Exercise Intensity on Body Fatness and Skeletal Muscle Metabolism. – PubMed – NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Apr. 2016.