Top Tips For Building Muscle
As summer is on its way and a lot of our male clients can't wait to be on the beaches of Brighton & Hove and beyond in their speedos, a question our personal trainers often get asked is 'how can I build muscle quickly?'
There's a few caveats to this question but in general, quality muscle takes a long time to build. However, you can give yourself the best chance of building solid muscle mass by following these simple principles.
Range of Movement
This term refers to the angles of your joints and the extent to which the joint is moved through particular planes. In English, this means how far you open or close a joint. In order to build muscle, we are looking to work a muscle in the fullest range possible in order to stretch the muscle as much as possible before shortening the muscle fibres using powerful contractions. Recent research has shown that the most hypertrophy (muscle building) happens when we stretch a muscle through the end ranges of a rep. Think about doing a bicep curl, if we aren't fully stretching the bicep at the bottom of the movement (so that your elbow is completely straight) then we aren't getting a full range of movement therefore we're not getting a maximum stimulus for the muscle to adapt to. Don't be the guy who does half reps with heavy weight.. Work on your ROM, reduce the weight and focus on quality reps as opposed to ego lifting.
Quality of Muscular Contraction
There is a huge difference between lifting with purpose & intent and just going through the motions. When you focus on muscular contractions you're working on your neuromuscular connection (mind muscle connection) which in turn will help you acitvate more muscle fibres for each lift. This means you're actually recruiting more muscle to do the lift and in essence you're training more of the muscle for growth. If you're only using 60% of the available muscle fibres to lift then guess what, you're missing out on a lot of muscle growth! Whilst it's pretty difficult to recruit 100% of your muscle fibres, you can most likely get close to it with practice, focus and intent. All you need to do is really think about what you're doing, envisage the muscle lengthening and shortening and really focus on squeezing, tensing and enagaging the muscle to perform each rep. If you're not feeling the contractions and burn deep within the muscle then chances are you're not getting the most out of the movement. So again, drop the weight, slow down your movements and work on hitting your target muscle by creating that neuromuscular connection. Don't just lift the weight and hope for a contraction, actively contract the muscle to make the movement.
The next thing to consider is how many sets and reps you need to do for each muscle group in order to stimulate growth. There is a sweet spot of around 8-12 sets of 10-15 reps per muscle per week, but as you can imagine this might differ slightly from person to person and even from muscle to muscle. You should be aiming for 3 working sets of 2-3 compound movements for each muscle group, coupled with an isolation exercise or two to hone in on the individual muscle with a smaller exercise. So for example with the chest muscles you could do 3 sets of the flat bench press, 3 sets of the incline dumbbell press, 3 sets of dips, followed by 3 sets of dumbbell or cable flyes. This adds up to the higher end of the volume scale but you could always reduce the number of exercises and add in some extra reps for each set.
Muscle isn't built overnight.. well actually it kind of does repair and recover while we sleep but what I mean here is that it takes more than just one workout to build solid muscle mass. Staying consistent with your workouts over the course of months and years will yield the best results. If you're dipping in and out of your workouts with no real plan or continuity you'll be effectively taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back.. sometimes 2 steps back.. meaning you won't be making noticeable progress from week to week and month to month. Staying consistent will also help you apply progressive overload. This is where you're increasing the weight you're using or total workout volume from week to week to give your muscles a continuous stimulus to which they must adapt. They adapt to this stimulus by growing bigger and stronger. So if you're skipping weeks and months you're never going to be able to progress the weights you're using or increasing that stimulus you're exposing your muscles to.
Once you've nailed the neuromuscular connection and consistent routine, you can really start to work on that training intensity. When we're training for muscle and strength, we want to be working to a point close to muscular failure. This term seems like it's a bad thing but actually, it's the point where the muscle can no longer generate enough force to move the weight through the range of movement. Whilst we don't want to be hitting failure on every working set (this would be bad for your central nervous system, leading to serious fatigue and burnout) we do want to be working close to failure. If we're pushing our muscles close to this point of failure, then our muscles must adapt, again by getting bigger and stronger. You can guage your working weights based on rep ranges and points of failure. As mentioned above, we want to be hitting roughly 10-15 reps on each set so if we chose a weight where we struggle for the last 2-3 reps of each set this is perfect. If you're miles away from hitting the required reps then it's too heavy and if you're finding it a breeze for 15 or 20 reps then it's definitely too light!
This is one of the points which our personal training clients seem to struggle with the most.. what food to eat and when. The key to nutrition for muscle growth is taking in more Calories than you're burning on a consistent basis. Now you're probably asking the question 'won't I gain fat if I eat too much?' well the answer to this is probably yes but only if you're eating too much. What we're looking to do is consume just enough Calories to give our body the energy it needs to build muscle, not so much that it uses the excess Calories to store fat. So in essence we're only looking to overeat very slightly and not just eating everything in sight. The second point to consider is what sort of food we're eating. Of course if you're eating empty Calories from pastries, sweets and chocolates then your body can't use these Calories that effectively in terms of building muscle. We want to focus on healthy, whole foods which your body can use for sustained energy and hypertrophy, providing the building blocks for muscle mass. You should be looking to increase the amount of low GI carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta and rice as well as increasing the amount of quality protein in the form of chicken, lean beef, fish, beans and lentils.
As you can see, there's is a lot to take on board if you're serious about building serious amounts of muscle mass with training and nutrition and the points above only really skim the surface of each topic. So if you want to really maximise your muscle-building potential, book in with one of our personal trainers at our Hove studio to start making a real difference today!