The 3 Fundamentals Of Building Muscle
By Ash May
The main goal for many of us in the gym is building muscle.
This is a long, slow process which requires time, dedication, and consistency in order to be successful.
So, because of this, it is no surprise that people like you and I want to optimise what we do in order to get the best results possible.
When it comes to building muscle, there are many (many) factors that come into play.
However, not all of these factors are equal.
It’s like a pyramid.
You have your big blocks at the bottom which are going to make the majority of the muscle building possible.
And then you have extras on top, getting smaller and smaller, giving less and less impact on your gains (supplements sit all the way up the top by the way).
There is no point at all in concerning yourself with the tiny bricks up top If you haven’t completely cemented down the big building blocks at the bottom of the pyramid.
These are the fundamentals.
And when it comes to building muscle, there are 3 fundamentals you need to get right:
It should be fairly obvious that training is fundamental when trying to build muscle.
Although everybody knows they need to lift weights for this goal, not everyone knows how to do it correctly.
There are several ‘big rocks’ when it comes to training for building muscle that I will cover below.
If you want a more in-depth guide on these, check out this post.
When trying to build muscle, basing your workouts around compound movements is an absolute must.
Compound movements are the big lifts which use multiple muscles and joint actions in order to complete the lift.
You will know these as;
- Bench Press
- Pull Ups
- Overhead Press
Because these lifts incorporate multiple muscle groups, they allow you to lift a far heavier load and therefore help you to achieve much more overall volume on your muscles.
This directly leads to greater muscle stimulation and a signal which tells your muscles to grow.
Your training programme should incorporate a minimum of one compound movement per workout, and this should be where the majority of your focus and energy goes to.
Isolation exercises such as bicep curls and chest flies are great for adding volume without being too detrimental to your recovery ability.
However, they simply aren’t going to pack on muscle to anywhere near the same degree is compound movements will.
This is why it is fundamental within your training when trying to build muscle.
You could have the best individualised workout programme in the world, but it won’t help you for long if you aren’t using progressive overload.
Click here to read a massive free guide I wrote on progressive overload.
Seriously, its 9,000 words and we don’t have time for that kind of detail in this post.
The concept of progressive overload is pretty simple. As time goes on, you increase training variables to increase the stress being placed on your muscles.
This could be increasing the weight you’re lifting, increasing the sets, increasing the reps, the list goes on and on.
Although this is simple and seems logical, people still don’t get it right.
If you increase your weight lifted week by week but as a result of the increased energy expenditure your overall weekly volume goes down, then you aren’t progressively overloading.
This is why you need to track your workouts and follow a training programme which has progressive overload built into it.
This is the way I create programmes for all my clients to ensure maximum progress for a long time. Get in touch with me to learn more.
It’s great if you’ve been doing a 5×5 training program in an attempt to pack on muscle, it is really effective!
But unfortunately, it won’t be effective forever…
If you have been following the same workout programme with the same movements, sets, and reps for a long time, then you are going to lose it’s benefits.
The programme you’re following might be the most scientific and effective masterpiece ever created, but your body will still adapt to it if it is the same week in, week out.
The benefit seen from following the same workouts will start to decrease in a shorter period of time than most people realise.
After 6 – 8 weeks, the adaptation will already be setting in.
So, if you’re adapting to a workout after less than 2 months… What do you think happens when you’ve been following the same thing for 4, 5, or even 6 months?
(hands up who’s guilty)
Therefore, with this in mind – it is very important to periodise your training programme.
What you eat for optimal muscle building is an absolutely enormous topic which dramatically varies case by case, person by person.
Because of this, it is impossible to give blanket advice which will apply to everyone and be effective for everyone.
Anybody that tells you otherwise is lying to you.
However, that is only about the specifics.
There are some fundamental aspects of nutrition which need to be in place if you’re looking to build muscle.
Lets go through them.
Calories In Vs. Calories Out
Yeah yeah I know you’ve heard this term 100 times before… but it’s true.
Unless you’re very new to weight training, then generally speaking, you need to be in a consistent, mild calorie surplus in order to build muscle.
This means that you’re eating more calories in a day than you’re burning.
In other words, you’re gaining weight.
This should be a very slow process – because eating more than you burn enables you to build muscle, that doesn’t mean the more you eat the more muscle you will build.
A small calorie surplus of 100-300 calories over your maintenance intake is all that is required to really maximise the muscle building process.
This post goes over the process of eating in a slight calorie surplus to build muscle in the most effective way possible.
The next fundamental area of nutrition to get right for maximising your muscle building potential is protein intake.
If you are to track or be mindful of any of your macro nutrients, protein is the one to go for.
Protein is quite literally a building block for muscle and if you aren’t eating enough, you will struggle the gain the size you’re looking for.
In fact, if you eat too little protein, you can even lose muscle over time – not ideal.
The ideal amount of protein intake is widely debated, but there are some figures to stick to which will generally cover all bases and ensure you’re getting the most from your protein.
The number will vary person to person based on your bodyweight, goals, and the training you do inside the gym.
As this post is all about building muscle…
A good guideline to follow for muscle gain is 1g of protein per pound(lb) of lean body mass.
(lean body mass being a key term here. Somebody who is obese will not need equal protein to their bodyweight as they are supporting a lot more fat tissue than muscle tissue. You can work out lean body mass through body fat estimations.)
For other goals such as weight loss and endurance training, you can use free protein calculators like this one: Free Protein Intake Calculator
This will give you a good idea of where your daily protein intake should be to maximise your achievement towards a goal.
Food sources is a controversial one.
Many people will argue that it doesn’t matter where your calories and macronutrients come from as long as you’re hitting targets.
The problem is, this is partially true. If you’re getting the right amount of calories, fats, proteins, and carbs from pop tarts and protein powder, you will be able to gain muscle or lose weight – technically.
However, this forgets about two things:
1) you will not be maximising your results by any means.
2) you need to think about health. A healthy body will work with you towards your goal.
Therefore, you should aim to eat whole foods for the majority of your diet.
Processed foods lack the extremely beneficial micronutrients and are a lot less satiating, which encourages you to overeat – gaining fat rather than muscle.
Furthermore, your overall health will be much worse when comparing a diet of processed foods to one consisting of mostly natural foods.
I know a lot of you will say you don’t care about being health, you just care about being massive.
I get that – I used to be the same.
However, think about it.
If you’re less healthy, your performance in the gym will suffer majorly compared to what you would be capable of when eating a good diet.
If you can massively improve your gym performance, you will be able to put more stimulus on your muscles, and will therefore be able to build more muscle in less time.
This is why a good diet is fundamental for building muscle, and why you should care about keeping your body healthy.
The last fundamental for building muscle is sleep.
We are currently in a global epidemic of sleep deprevation. In the UK alone only 6% of people achieve the recommended 8 hours of sleep.
Recent studies have suggested that even 8 hours may not be enough for many people due to the high levels of stress from modern lifestyles.
So with this in mind, it is likely that you aren’t currently sleeping enough.
If you not only increase the amount of time you sleep, but also improve the quality, I personally guarantee you will see an improvement in muscle building.
Why Does Sleep Help Build Muscle?
There are a few reasons that sleep is fundamental for building muscle.
The first of which is your performance in the gym.
If you are not well-rested, do you think you will be able to achieve 100% of your potential out put in the gym?
No. Even a slight lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on your gym performance.
A reduced gym performance means that there will be less stress on the muscle, which is a major system for triggering muscle hypertrophy.
Furthermore, your risk of injury goes up dramatically.
Nothing will slow down your muscle gain more than being injured and out of the gym.
The next reason is that sleep is the absolute most parasympathetic state you will ever be in.
But what the hell does that mean?
A parasympathetic state is complete relaxation for your body, where everything slows down and allows for maximal recovery.
It is during this recovery state that your muscle will be rebuilding and growing from your workouts.
Yes, you will still recover during the day and without optimal sleep, but the result will be nowhere near what you can achieve with a good amount of parasympathetic sleep.
How Can You Improve Your Sleep?
Improving your sleep is a massive topic which deserves it’s own post.
However, there are some easy and basic steps you can take to quickly increase the length and quality of your sleep:
- Go to bed earlier and sleep for longer.
- Sleep in a completely dark room.
- Keep your room cool/cold.
- Wear blue-light blocking glasses an hour before bed.
- Dim all the lights an hour before bed.
- Don’t intake caffeine for 8 hours before sleeping.
- Allow several hours between your last meal and sleeping.
None of this is easy to get right…
Especially with todays culture of unhealthy social eating, careless weight training, and sleepless nights.
However, if you always keep the 3 fundamentals of building muscle in mind, you will make progress and see results.
If you need help on exactly what to do, I’m a personal trainer and I can help you with customised coaching personalised to your goals, body type, and lifestyle.
Click here to learn more.