How to Get Bigger – 25 Muscle Building Laws
In 1986 I trained my first skinny guy. His name was Jason, and he was a 127 pound runner.
Jason lived on the same floor of my dorm. He watched me transform my physique in only 8 short months. To Jason, this seemed like an impossible feat. I went from 154 and skinny fat to 170 pounds and noticeably muscular.
“What are you taking man?”
“Just trying to get stronger and eating a lot of food.” I responded.
“Show me how to do it.”
…So I did.
In three short months Jason added 12 pounds to his frame. He looked much better, and his arm size was up an inch. He continued to run, but was not utilizing progressive overload, a good exercise selection, and eating a much better diet.
Pretty much everything important I learned about about building muscle occurred during my first year in the gym. The process of packing on size seems like rocket surgery, but in fact it’s a lot easier than you think. You simply need to follow the right laws.
Break these laws, and there will be no gains for you.
How to Get Bigger
Law #1 – Get Your Butt to the Gym
Consistency is key. I can’t tell you how many people I know that haven’t just made the sacrifice and trained for a full year straight. If you don’t get to the gym on a regular basis, there will be no change. Stop making excuses. Start finding ways to succeed.
Law #2 – Filter Out the Noise
Every Tom, Dick, and no gains making Harry have all the training answers. “Do this for a better chest. Use this split for amazing gains, bro!” Nine times out of ten this advice only serves as a distraction. Focus on the basics presented in this article, keep your head down, and get to gettin‘.
Law #3 – One Body Composition Goal at a Time
Can you build muscle and lose fat at the same time? I get this question a lot. The best way to think about it is like this. If you chase two chickens at the same time you’re unlikely to catch either. Pick one major goal and sell out to it. It you feel too fat, drop some weight. If you feel too small, build muscle. Focusing on a single goal at a time will dramatically improve your chances of success.
Law #4 – Don’t Avoid Challenging Exercises
Embrace the most challenging barbell and dumbbell exercises and you’ll develop a body that looks like it was challenged. Avoid difficult movements and you’ll have a body that looks like you avoided the gym.
Law #5 – No Progression, No Muscle
Progressive overload is king. If you want to change how you look you must get a lot stronger than you are now. No, we are not talking powerlifter strength here. But with that said, you can’t expect to look fit and muscular if you’re frail and weak. Using good form, push yourself in some way, shape, or form for more strength.
Law #6 – Make Every Set Count
Set quality matters. Too many folks are focused on the wrong thing. Instead of worrying so much about how many sets to do, or what split to use, try making every set count. When you maximize each set, you maximize your workout. When you maximize each workout you maximize your progress.
Law #7 – Train For Progress, Not Pain
Gym fads suck. Especially the current fad that equates punishment to progress. I see so many trainers beating the living snot out of people, using exercises that will do little to give these people the body they want. You don’t need to beat the crap out of yourself with battle ropes and bosu balls to build muscle. You need a good variety of compound and isolation exercises that focus on good form and consistent progress.
Law #8 – Eating Healthy is Not Good Enough
“Healthy eating” can mean 100 different things to one different people. It can mean a fad diet, a low-fat diet, eating only salads for lunch (that have 500 calories of dressing), or a million other things. A muscle building diet is a specific style of eating. It requires enough daily calorie intake to grow, and a protein intake designed to maximize recovery, repair, and the muscle building process.
Law #9 – Cardio After Resistance Training
Perform your resistance training work first, and cardio last. To build a fit and muscular body, you want to attack your muscle building work while you’re body is at 100% energy. If you are exhausted from cardio heading into your resistance training session, your progress will slow and your form might suffer. This is a recipe for injury and a slowing of the muscle building gains train.
Law #10 – Stop Changing Programs
Program hopping is a disease. Lifters will attack the “program of the week,” and when one variable doesn’t feel right they will jump ship completely on a workout system. Look, no workout system will feel perfect to everyone. If a variable doesn’t feel right, tweak it. At the end of the day, the workout you are using isn’t as important as consistency and progression anyway.
Law #11 – Stop Deloading After Every Bad Workout
Bad workouts happened. Get over it. Having a sub-par training session doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, it simple means you’re human. There is no need to deload, change training programs, or panic every time you have a bad day. Stay the course and focus.
Law #12 – Think Lifestyle, Not Temporary Program
Building muscle is not an eight or twelve week program. It’s a lifestyle. You must be willing to adopt a new way of living to develop the body you are after. The old you practiced habits that forged a sloppy body. The new you must develop habits that can develop and sustain a physique you will be proud of.
Law #13 – Listen to Your Body
If a specific rep range is too low and places strain upon your body, raise it. If a certain movement doesn’t feel good, insert a variation. If four days a week beats you up too badly, train for three. If you feel weak or have tweaked something on a given day, don’t push yourself and get injured. Play the long game.
Law #14 – Attack Antagonistic Planes
Moving a weight away from your chest is called a horizontal press (bench press, machine chest press). Pulling a weight towards your chest is a horizontal pull (dumbbell row, machine row). These are antagonistic movements. Pushing a weight overhead is a vertical press (military press, overhead dumbbell press). Pulling a weight down from above is a vertical pull (pull ups, lat pull downs). These are antagonistic movements. Make sure you attack antagonistic movements with equal intensity and fervor.
Law #15 – Don’t Overkill Arm Work
We all want big arms. I get it. But destroying your arms isn’t the fastest way to build big pipes. In fact, arm volume usually leads to swollen elbows and elbow tendinitis. Calm down, bro. Back off the arm volume each week. Instead of quantity, focus on quality – making every set count.
Law #16 – Strap Up on Back Work
At some point your back strength should be a lot stronger than your ability to hold a barbell. I could barbell row 405 for reps, but not without straps. I could dumbbell row 270 for reps, but not without straps. So what! Never let a smaller muscle group prevent you from building up a bigger one. If you’re worried about grip strength, do grip work after training your back with straps.
Law #17 – Don’t Overtrain Abs, Strength Them
500 reps of crunches and sit-ups won’t carve out those six pack abs you are after. They won’t even help you achieve a flat stomach. The only think abdominal volume will do is give you muscle soreness and possible a back injury. Chill on the excessive ab work. Instead, do several sets each weak to strengthen your abs. This will help keep your back healthy too.
Law #18 – Squat
Squat. And not on the Smith machine. Barbell squats are the GOAE – God of all exercises. Squats build powerful legs, a bootylicious backside, and they imbue mental fortitude. Squats also help to improve your vertical jump and sprint speed. They forge the ultimate combination of muscle, sexy, and functional.
Law #19 – Mix Up These 3 Methods
Hammer each muscle group with a good mix of these three methods. Lower rep strength work using compound movements – 5 to 8 rep range. Moderate rep compound and machine work in the 8 to 12 rep range. Higher rep pump and rest-pause work using isolation exercises in the 15 to 20 rep range.
Law #20 – Fuel, Don’t Just Feed
Don’t just feed your body calories, fuel your body with micronutrient-dense food choices. Stick with 80 to 90% clean, natural foods. Avoid the following as much as possible: canned foods, white flour, process sugar, corn starch, preservatives, additives, junk food, fast food, and processed food. Eat more fruits, veggies, a variety of protein foods, and healthy fats.
Law #21 – Keep a Training Log
You can’t track progress if you have no clue what weight and reps you used during your previous workout. Always keep a training log, either on your phone or in an old fashioned note book. Then, each workout aim to make small improvements over your last session. One to twp rep increases add up to big gains over time.
Law #22 – Slow Progress Isn’t NO Progress
Muscle gains always slow over time. This doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong. The body is simply not built to sustain a rapid rate of muscle and strength gains. Don’t panic when rates of muscle and strength slow. Stay the course, monitor scale weight and take arm and leg measurements. Look for micro improvements and trust the process.
Law #23 – Surround Yourself With Positive People
Changing your life might require changing your inner circle of friends. Anyone that considers your new muscle building and fitness lifestyle to be a negative thing will function as a boat anchor. They will only tether you to your old ways and unhealthy habits. If someone refuses to encourage you to grow (literally and figuratively), it might be time to distance yourself form them.
Law #24 – No Challenge, No Change
If something doesn’t challenge you int he gym, it won’t change you. Remember this reality. when an exercise because too routine, or too easy, it’s time to toss that movement overboard for something better. There are far too many exercise variations out there to simply stick to something that feels easy.
Law #25 – Fix Problems With Simplicity
If you’re not building any muscle, and months are passing, don’t look for complicated solutions. There are likely only two reasons you aren’t making any gains. First, you’re not eating enough food. Second, you’re not attacking progressive overload. If you’re gaining weight but not muscle, you need more strength. If your gaining strength but not muscle, you need more food.