While building muscle is quite simple on paper - create a stimulus for muscles to grow through weight training and consume adequate energy to support the process - it does not mean it’s easy.
However simple the concept is, many people struggle to get their desired results. This is due to overcomplicating certain factors, or simply missing the mark on the key fundamentals.
This article takes a look at the key principles of muscle building, so you can learn where you may be going wrong and how to achieve optimal results!
The Top 5 Principles of Muscle Building
1) Progressive Overload
Progressive overload is the need to keep progressing our training volume to consistently force our muscles to adapt and grow. The more we train, the more adapted we become, so it’s important to find ways to increase our volume to the point of forcing consistent muscle-building adaptations.
Many people confuse progressive overload for getting stronger, but the load on the bar is the only variable you must manipulate to create a higher training volume week on week - i.e. progressive overload.
2) Training Volume
Training volume is the load multiplied by the number of reps and sets. You can also increase training volume by increasing the number of sets, the frequency of the exercise performed each week, adding extra exercises to sessions, and using training methods such as drop sets, supersets, and giant sets to build quick volume.
Even if you cannot get stronger and increase reps at a certain weight, lowering the weight and doing more reps would still mean you’re building volume, despite it seeming counterintuitive.
For example, deadlifting 100kg for 10 reps would mean your volume is 1000kg for each set you perform, so 3 sets would equal 3000kg of volume. If you were to then lower the load to 80kg and do 15 reps, this would equal 1200kg per set, and 3600kg for 3 sets - 600kg more than doing the heavier weight for lower reps!
Though there are a few things to consider when looking at training volume:
The load must be a suitable stimulus to create muscle growth. Ideally somewhere between 8-20 reps for each movement. Doing 100 reps of an exercise will not provide the stimulus required for muscle growth, as the weight would be too light.
Train near to failure in each working set. This will help accumulate the right metabolic response to promote muscle growth.
- Recovery is key. While volume is very important, you must make sure you are recovering adequately between sessions to ensure you’re making progress. Small increases in volume each week will be better for long-term progression as opposed to larger increases.
Once you max out your session volume, you can then begin to think about maximizing this by splitting your sessions. For example, if you have reached peak volume for the chest, split the session into 2 each week so you have adequate time to recover and make room for more volume and progress.
3) Training Style
One of the most common mistakes people make when embarking on a muscle-building journey is spending too much time on isolation movements, such as bicep curls.
While isolation moves do have a place in any muscle-building program, they are only really effective once basic fitness and physique foundations have been adequately developed. These moves shouldn’t form the basis of a bulking routine.
This is because they aren’t efficient when it comes to all-around muscular development, as they are too specific to one particular muscle.
You would get better results if you turn your attention to compound movements such as deadlifts, bench press, squat, and military press. These movements will stimulate the release of growth hormone in the body, which then aids the muscle-building process.
Compound lifts are the optimal way to strengthen stabilizing muscles, as well as the surrounding ligaments and tendons, which all protect the main lifting joints and muscles. This can play a huge role in preventing injuries, having a huge impact on performance and recovery.
4) Recovery and Overreaching
The suggested increases in volume week on week can mean two things:
- In order to progress, your recovery must be dialed in. This means enough rest and the right nutrients!
- At some point, you may find yourself “overreaching”. This usually coincides with a reduction in performance both in terms of strength and progression.
Overreaching is a temporary condition that occurs in response to heavy loads and increased volume. This may occur around the 8-week mark of a muscle-building program for the more experienced lifters.
It mainly happens due to the inability to recover in short time frames as well as the large amount of stress placed on the central nervous system.
At this point, a de-load week is essential. This is either resting for a few days or backing off the volume and training for a week or so to give our bodies a chance to recover, adapt, and grow.
While it may seem counterproductive to not train during a muscle-building phase, it would actually help your muscle growth progress more than you think.
Now that the training principles are nailed down, it’s time to talk nutrition.
It takes a lot of energy and the right nutrients to optimally build muscle. This process requires a suitable nutrition strategy to fully support the growth that’s about to take place, as well as the performance and recovery factors.
Firstly, consuming around 2.0g of protein per kg of body weight would be a good idea. Protein is an essential nutrient and the only one that can stimulate growth and support the repair and development of muscles.
Ideally, your daily protein intake should be split into 4-6 meals throughout the day to ensure you are regularly consuming protein, thus optimizing muscle protein synthesis.
Enough calories, carbohydrates, and fats are also essential to the muscle-building process. So, ensure each meal is a balance of all macronutrients so you can optimally fuel your workouts and promote recovery after sessions.
Once your calories and macronutrients are in check, it goes without saying that micronutrients should also be addressed. Ensuring you are consuming enough fruits, vegetables, and whole foods to give your body the key nutrients it needs to not only function properly but fully support a muscle-building program.
Muscle building can put an immense amount of pressure on your immunity, so it’s important to consume enough energy as well as nutrients to support this and keep your mind and body healthy.
Supplements may also play a role in your nutrition strategy. Whey protein to help boost your daily protein intake, creatine to support your muscle growth and training performance, and potentially a multivitamin, fish oils, and vitamin D to support your overall micronutrient intake.
To summarize, muscle building is a process that requires patience and consistency, as well as a reliable and sensible progression plan that forces our body to adapt and grow.
For this to be successful, we also need to provide our bodies with adequate amounts of nutrients to support the process. For anyone who lacks or requires extra nutrients, supplementation should be considered to bridge any potential gaps.
Though ultimately, protein and calorie intake are the biggest determining factors of muscle growth. Without the right nutrition protocols nailed down, training would be difficult, slow, and ineffective!
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