While the vast majority of the fitness industry is fixated on fat loss and cardiovascular exercise, a meaningful percentage of gym goers are more interested in weight or, more accurately, muscle gain. Many men and some woman want to build muscle for improved appearance, increased performance or both. Sadly, many of these exercisers make little or no progress because they fail to follow certain physiological principles. In this article, I will map out the most important principles so that you, frustrated muscle builder that you are, can start seeing results from your workouts.

Principle one – focus on compound exercises

The best exercises for building muscles are compound exercises. Sometimes called multi-joint exercises, compound exercises use a lot of muscle simultaneously and ideally suited for lifting meaningfully heavy weights. Examples of compound exercises include squats, deadlifts, bench press, lat pull downs, overhead presses, lunges pull-ups and seated rows. Eighty-percent of your workout volume should be made up of compound exercises and the remaining twenty-percent should be isolation or single-joint exercises such as side lateral raises, calf raises, triceps push downs, dumbbell flyes and biceps curls. Compound exercises are far superior for building muscle mass!

Principle two – progressively overload your muscles

Muscles only grow when they are sufficiently challenged and that means you need to overload them with more weight, more reps, more sets, more complex or demanding exercises, more frequent workouts or shorter rests between sets. If you always do the same workout consisting of the same exercises and using the same sets, reps and weights, unsurprisingly your muscles will stay the same. To keep your muscles growing, you must endeavour to increase the intensity of your workouts (by manipulating one or more of the training variables listed above) every week or two. Repeating the same workouts will result in little or no progress.

Principle three – make time for recovery

Hard training takes a lot out of your body so as well as hitting the gym, you also need to consider recovery. Muscles only growl when you rest so it is vital you pay as much attention to the things you do outside of the gym as you do your actual workouts. Keep your out-of-the-gym activities to a minimum if you are serious about gaining muscle and avoid doing lots of cardio or other types of workout. If you are worries about fat gain, eat a little less rather than exercise even more. Make sure you are getting at least eight-hours of sleep a night and that, if possible, you sneak the occasional mid-afternoon power-nap too. Also, try to keep your stress levels to a minimum as too much stress can hinder muscle growth. In a nutshell, train hard but also rest hard too!

Principle four – feed your muscles

You can’t build a house without bricks and you cannot build muscle without adequate nutrients. You need to keep your muscles supplied with plenty of food to not only fuel your workouts but also provide the nutrients necessary for muscle growth. Ideally, you should eat a balanced meal every three-hours or so to ensure your muscles receive a constant supply of nutrients. Aim for around one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, enough carbs to ensure you have plenty of energy and around one gram of fat per pound of bodyweight. Eat healthy foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre and also drink at least two litres of water a day. A muscle building diet should be a healthy diet so minimize your consumption of sugar and other junk foods. Do not underestimate the importance of good nutrition – if you are training hard but you aren’t gaining muscle the fault inevitably lies with your diet.

Principle five – vary your workouts

Most exercisers have favourite workouts, exercises and set and rep schemes and they like to use them often; exercises are often selected because the person performing them is good at them! However, if you always follow the same programme, your progress is likely to stall. Most workouts start to become less effective within four to eight weeks. To avoid this, make a point to change your workouts often. This doesn’t mean you should do something different each and every week – you need to stick with a programme long enough for it to work but also don’t “flog a dead horse” by sticking with the same workout month after month after month. Changes you can make include..

  • Using different set/rep ranges so instead of three-sets of ten-reps, try five-sets or six-reps
  • Switching from dumbbells to barbells
  • Switching from machines to free weights
  • Training more or less frequently using a different weekly split
  • Introducing new exercises

By changing your workouts every four to eight-weeks and manipulating the training variables outlined in principle two, you should see continuous progress from your workouts and avoid hitting a plateau.

If you are taking the time to hit the gym on a regular basis, you really should be getting results. Follow these principles and, like a smart banker, you should soon start seeing a return on your investment of time and effort. To build muscle, you need to train HARD and SMART!