How to Build Muscle

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man flexing muscles of back

Building muscle takes hard workouts and good nutrition.

Fat loss and weight reduction gets a lot more attention, but when it comes to weight training it’s building muscle that really gets my juices flowing. You can achieve initial weight loss and fat reduction through dropping your calorie intake or changing your macros (ie. usually through limiting carbs).  If you want to build muscle though, you need a consistent system of training and nutrition to get results.

Want to know how to build muscle?

USE THE BIG LIFTS

If you want to pack on some serious size efficiently, using big multi-joint movements (ex. Squats, lunges, deadlifts, pull-ups) is the best place to start.  Not only are you training your body to be strong and functional, rather than just to look good while performing a double-bicep in front of the mirror, but you’re also working many muscle groups simultaneously. To do a deadlift, you use your quads, hamstrings, glutes, adductors (for stabilization), back, and forearms. And let’s not forget your abs, which work hard to maintain stability of the torso during this big lift. Looking for a great ab exercise? Try deadlifting or squatting – HEAVY.

GO OUTSIDE OF THE USUAL REP RANGES

Any basic Personal Training course is going to tell you that maximum hypertrophy (muscle growth) is going to happen within the 6-12 rep range, endurance will be developed at about 13 reps+, and power/strength at less than 6 reps. Sure, those generalisations are a good place to start, but there are other factors that you can take advantage of.

If you’ve been training consistently and progressively with weights for several years, you may be able to get muscle size maintenance or even increase through lower rep ranges. Also, if you’ve been working in the same rep range for a while (let’s say 3 sets of 10 – YAWN) you’re likely to get muscle growth by working at a higher rep range for a period of time.

MAXIMUM MUSCLE STIMULUS The most important stimulus to build muscle is intensity. By that I don’t mean running around the gym doing circuits of push-ups, chin-ups, and Burpees (sorry Crossfitters!), but the generally accepted strength training terminology that refers to percentage of your 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM).

“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody want to lift no heavy-ass weights.”

8-time Bodybuilding Mr Olympia Ronnie Coleman

Ronnie certainly has a way with words (even if his grammar needs a little fine-tuning). What you want to do with your training is work with a large mechanical workload (“heavy-ass weights”).

HORMONAL RESPONSE

When you work with heavy weights, you create more of a metabolic stimulus for your muscles to change. More Testosterone and Growth Hormone (GH) is produced and these hormones are anabolic (muscle-building).

POST-WORKOUT NUTRITION

Many people forget that if you break down muscle tissue through hard weight training you need to repair and replenish to rebuild and grow. The most important time to refuel is post-workout, within 1 hour, when you want to take advantage of elevated insulin levels to drive carbs and protein into the muscles.

How much protein do need?  About 0.5g of protein per Kg post-workout is optimal, so if you weigh 80Kg (176lbs) you’ll want about 40g of protein. Most whey isolate protein powders deliver about 30g per scoop so you might need a bit more than a scoop. In terms of carbs, you’ll want a ratio of 4:1 or 3:1 carbs to protein. If you’re not very lean, you’ll be better off with 3:1 (using the same example you’d want about 120g of carbs). Carbs higher on the glycemic index, such as bananas, grapes, juices, potatoes, and raisins, can be ideal. Unlike your other meals, you want high-glycemic foods so that the carbs are driven into the muscle with elevated insulin levels. Insulin is the most anabolic hormone so you want to take advantage of it. Having fats in the post-workout period slows down this process and should be avoided.

EAT TO BUILD MUSCLE

If you’re a traditional hard-gaining ectomorph and you want to build muscle, eating needs to be your new hobby. You need to eat good quality protein, fats, and carbs consistently to avoid losing the muscle you’re trying to build. Make sure you get the calories in, primarily through whole foods and the occasional protein shake as necessary. Nuts and seeds can be a great way to add in calories, as they’re calorie-dense. Protein recommendations vary, but the standard bodybuilding recommendation is 1g per pound of bodyweight. Some people will need a bit more, but those concerned with muscle gain probably don’t want to get less.

REST TO BUILD MUSCLE

It’s important to get enough sleep to promote recovery and promote muscle growth. Growth hormone (GH) repairs your muscle and other tissues when you’re sleeping. If you’re sleep-deprived, GH doesn’t have a chance to do its work. Just in case you needed another reason to get more shut-eye…

OH, AND SKIP THE CARDIO!

Long periods of steady-state cardio increase your cortisol levels, which is catabolic (breaks down muscle). Even moderate levels of cardio work can reduce your ability to maintain your peak muscle mass.  If maintaining leanness is important, do it through appropriate strength training, precise nutrition, and the occasional bout of sprinting or interval training.

BUILD YOUR MOST MUSCULAR SELF

Building muscle starts with an effective weight-training program. The right nutrition and plenty of rest will ensure that you don’t waste your time in the gym.

With a consistent plan, you’ll be able to build muscle and be the most muscular version of yourself.

Ivana Chapman 

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Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman BSc BA CSCS is a Canadian fitness and nutrition coach, happy wife, and mom to an energetic 5-year-old boy. She is a writer, published fitness model, speaker, 3rd Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, former World Cup Karate Champion, one-time marathoner, and CBBF National level Natural Bikini competitor. She loves weight training and chocolate, not always in that order of preference.
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