Gaining size and building muscle is one of the most common goals for people working out today. As such, there are a huge quantity of people wanting to know the best way for them to build muscle quickly and effectively.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the internet is full of all kinds of ways that you can achieve hypertrophy of your muscle fibres. The problem comes with trying to find out which sources you can trust.
This has led to a globally warped view of muscular hypertrophy and has built a sea of bad information. What you need to remember is that this is a slow process. Even the biggest body builders in the world have to work for years to get where they are. If you’ve started a plan because it’s promised you an athlete’s physique in 30 days, I suggest you save your money and drop it.
First let’s understand what we mean by ‘hypertrophy’. Well we are simply talking about the increased size of any tissue (in this case your muscles) due to an enlargement of its cells.
There is a subtle difference to building muscle and increasing strength, but it’s one we should be aware of. What we do know is that if you’re getting bigger, then you’re getting stronger too, but the opposite isn’t necessarily true.
Your mindset is the first thing you need to address if you want to build muscle. A scientifically sound program is almost redundant if you lack the required focus and dedication. Be aware this is a long process, and you have to be willing to persevere.
Then it’s a case of finding a program to suit you. Obviously there are many programs out there, and they all differ, but they should all still have the same underlying principles.
These principles can be categorised:
Volume is determined by two things, sets and reps, and these are inversely proportional to one another. Meaning if your reps go up, sets go down, and vice versa. For building muscle you want to be aiming for 8-12 reps, any more than this and you’ll be targeting endurance and any less will help build strength, but may neglect on size. As for sets? Well really you should be doing 3-4 reps, and sticking quite strictly to them.
Intensity can be thought of as the size of the weights you are using. Establishing intensity is fairly straightforward – you need a weight that challenges you. One that you can achieve 8-12 reps with, but would struggle to do anymore.
As with volume, rest depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Generally for muscular hypertrophy, a rest period in between sets of 60 seconds is recommended. Again, any more than this and your body will be increasing strength, but you might not see the increase in size you desire.
This refers to the actual time your muscles are under load, also known as ‘time under tension’. Muscle contractions are composed of concentric and eccentric contractions. When building muscle, you want both stages of contractions to last for 3 seconds, with either no gap, or a 1 second pause (a 3-0-3/3-1-3 system).
How often you train each muscle per week is greatly argued. Some in-season athletes will only train certain muscles once-a-week, whereas body builders may look to train each muscle twice a week. It just depends on what you’re looking to achieve.
Obviously these are all guidelines. But these are fundamentally essential ingredients to gaining size. Your plan may alter, but you really want to be sticking to these principles in order to see real change.
The last thing that needs mentioning is your diet. Following all these guidelines will be pretty pointless if you don’t have a sound diet. When you’re looking to build muscle you need a high-protein diet, incorporating complex carbs and lots of fibre. This means lean meats, whole grains and proteins. You need to spread your protein intake throughout the day so that your muscles have a constant supply of amino acids so your muscles can repair and recuperate.
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