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Young athletes are fixated on building muscle as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, there is so much misinformation out there that it may seem complicated. However, sticking to tried and true principles can make the process of building muscle size and strength quite simple. Follow these five steps to refine your workout plan and start getting bigger and stronger today.
Step 1: Get Stronger on Basic Exercises
If your goal is to build muscle in record time, then you need to get stronger. Physiologically speaking, as a muscle gets stronger (produces more force), the cross sectional area grows larger (i.e., it hypertrophies). Your workout plan should include basic exercises that address all the muscles of the body, such as Squats, Shrugs, Deadlifts, Leg Presses, Chest Presses, Chin-Ups and Dips.
Step 2: Repetition Reproduction
The foundation of every successful workout plan is repetition. This is when the muscle comes in contact with resistance, causing it to grow in size and strength. Perform each repetition in a controlled fashion. Remember, each rep has two phases—the positive phase (lifting the weight) and the negative phase (lowering the weight)—and both are important. Focus on each, especially the lowering phase. Bouncing or jerky movements reduce muscular tension and therefore slow strength gains.
Step 3: Year-Long Progression
Muscles are amazing at adapting to the stress of exercise. Once you are able to complete an exercise with a given resistance for a certain number of repetitions, your body has adapted and you should increase the weight. However, too many young athletes overestimate the weight they can lift today and underestimate the weight they can lift a year from now. For example, if you're a freshman in high school who is able to bench 150 pounds for 10 reps, it might be tempting to increase the weight to 160 pounds in your next session to force-feed muscle growth. Avoid this and look long term. Instead of rushing things, aim to add a larger amount of weight, say 50 pounds, but do so over the course of the entire school year. This may not sound like much, but think of where you will be in four years: 150x10 as a freshman, 200x10 as a sophomore, 250x10 as a junior and 300x10 as a senior. Small increases in weight can lead to big increases in size and strength if you are consistent.
Step 4: Focus on Sleep and Recovery
You do not get stronger and build muscle when you work out. The actual growth occurs while you are recovering between sessions. If your goal is to gain strength and build muscle fast, limit strength training to two to three times each week and make sure you are getting quality sleep every night. Numerous sleep studies suggest that lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep hampers the body's ability to build muscle. Sleeping at least eight hours a night promotes protein synthesis and lean muscle gains.
Step 5: Eat Healthy Foods
The body needs fuel to build muscle. That fuel comes from food. Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups. Pay attention to lean cuts of protein, vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains. If your goal is to gain lean body weight, increase your food intake, but remember that you can't force-feed growth, and you may start to store excess body fat.
Developing a stronger and more powerful physique is not as complicated as many make it out to be. If you can commit to following these steps for a sustained period, you will be pleasantly surprised by how big and strong you become. Learn more by checking out STACK's Guide to Building Muscle.