Here’s the second part of Rough Strength Basics series of articles. In case you missed part 1, it explored the theme of how to gain strength and you can read it here. So today’s post is going to be, as you probably already found out, on how to build muscle. Muscle building is an interesting topic by itself. I’ll try to cover just the basics of it in this post.
What Is Muscle Building?
Muscle building or, as geeks say, hypertrophy is an increase in the size of a muscle through an increase in the size of its component cells. It occurs due to the principle of supercompensation. This principle states that muscle increases its size as reaction to stress and microtrauma induced by exercise. In simpler words, we exercise, we totally blast our muscles, our body thinks “what the fuck? I better be bigger next time this asshole will torture me like that” and grows.
There are several stages of muscle building process: microtrauma, compensation and supercompensation.
- microtrauma – exercise period, the time when we destroy our muscles;
- compensation – recovery period, the time when our muscles return to their original size;
- supercompensation – growth period, the time when our muscles increase their size.
Look at the Training Effect/Recovery chart below:
As you can see, horizontally we have time, vertically – microtrauma (in light blue) and supercompensation (in light yellow). Blue line is training effect from too easy workout, red is from too hard, and green is the sweet spot. Depending on intensity, volume and frequency we can get different training effect. When intensity and volume are too high, we get red workout. When they are too little – blue one. Regarding frequency, you can find “Too early”, “Optimum time” and “Too late” markers. If frequency is too high for given intensity and volume, we will be at “too early” marker. If it is too low, then at “too late”. “Optimum time” is the sweet spot where we get the most gains.
Bla, bla, bla, enough of this nerdy scientific stuff. Who cares about it anyway? Let’s get to important stuff.
How to Build Muscle?
To build muscle you need to follow several basic guidelines:
- make your resistance progressive;
- your program should contain enough training volume;
- be in caloric surplus;
- eat enough protein.
Make your resistance progressive. I wrote a lot of information on this, but, I guess, it will never get old. Firstly, progressive resistance is the main recipe for success. You need to get stronger to grow. If you bench 50 kg all your life, you’ll be looking exactly like that. On the other hand, you’ll definitely grow if you bench press 100 kg, and then 120, 140 etc. with enough volume. You won’t ever grow if you do just regular push-ups. But you’ll have opportunity to grow if you progress to planche push-ups or strict one-arm push-ups, or ring dips etc. Intensity increase is not the only way to make resistance progressive. However, most of the time it is the most beneficial.
Secondly, you need to progress in BASIC exercises. For those who is not familiar with them (and haven’t read the article) these are the ones that involve into action more than one joint. They are various presses, rows, squats and pulls. Why do you need to bother with them? Because they involve much more musculature than isolation exercises. I’m not saying here that isolation exercises (the ones that involve one joint) are useless. They have their own aim (for example, to fix muscle imbalances). But they fall short compared to multi-joint exercises in case of muscle building. If you see big (and especially lean) natural guy training, then he’s probably pretty strong in basic exercises (as experience shows). That’s why strength is so important. So you got it: progressive resistance + basic exercises.
Your program should contain enough training volume. Low volume programs are awesome to some point. However, there are two situations with them after the initial gains:
- You still progress and grow.
- You still progress, but don’t grow.
In the second case, all you need to do is to add more training volume. In addition, you need to switch training programs from time to time. And sometimes (when you have solid strength base and at least one year of uninterrupted training under your belt) you need to switch to moderate to high volume programs to shake things up and to grow more. According to experts, you need approximately 25 reps total per movement to make strength and size gains. Sometimes you’ll need to go up to 50 reps total (of course, no strength gains, just size). As for rep range, many coaches prescribe 6-12 reps per set. Does this mean that 1-5 rep range doesn’t build muscle? No, it builds. Only ignorant people can say otherwise. But with low reps you’ll need to perform more sets. That’s a rule.
Be in caloric surplus. It’s a no-brainer. If you want to build muscle, then you need to eat (while some of you will need to EAT!). Important thing is that you can build muscle only at really slow pace. Don’t rush things. You can’t get 21 inch guns overnight. If you rush progress, you’ll only get fat (and nobody except you will know that there are muscles under that fat). Decent muscles are built over years (even decades for some people). I would recommend minimizing fat gain as much as possible. If you have moderate-to-slow metabolism, don’t be a fool, add only 200-300 calories to your daily number. If you gain 0.5 kg per month, it’s awesome and it’s probably all muscle. Watch your waist. It shouldn’t change if you are lean.
Eat enough protein. Protein is very tricky topic. Some people say you need just 1 g per 1 lb and that works for them. And others say you need 1.5 to 2 g per 1 lb and that is working for them. So where’s the truth? Well, I’d rather eat more protein than less. You don’t want to hamper your muscle building process by eating not enough protein, right? If you grow on low and moderate protein quantities and that all is muscle, not fat – good for you. You’re lucky bastard. But I know that the more protein I eat the better I look and perform. And I don’t mean that you need to use supplements. Not at all. Here you can find a guide on how to make a high-protein diet on a budget.
Example Routine for Muscle Building
I used Iron Addict’s SPBR with a lot of success with me and my clients. This template is great. Here’s a variation you can use to build muscle:
1) Sandbag Push-Press 3 x 5
2) Dumbbell Incline Bench Press 4 x 8
3) Kettlebell One-Arm Seated Press 3 x 8 (each arm)
4) Barbell Triceps Extensions 3 x 12
1) Barbell Squats 3 x 5
2) Weighted Chin-Ups 4 x 6
3) Sandbag Bear Hug Good Mornings 2 x 10
4) Rings Bodyweight Curls 3 x 10
1) Weighted Dips 3 x 5
2) Kettlebell Floor Press 4 x 8
3) Wall-Assited Handstand Push-Ups 3 x 8
4) Rings Triceps Extensions 3 x 10
1) Barbell Deadlift 3 x 3
2) Sandbag Shoulder Squats 2 x 10 (1 for each side)
3) Front Lever Rows 4 x 6
4) Sandbag Biceps Curls 3 x 12
Start over with ‘Monday’.
NOTE: of course, you’ll need to scale the intensity to your current levels. That’s just the basic template.
So these are the basics of muscle building. Now you have the information and sample routine. Time to implement this information in practice. That’s all for today. Stay tuned for part 3. Thanks for reading. Share this article if you like it. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.