If there's one thing every athlete wants to know, it's the secret of how to build muscle. But here's the truth—there are no secrets.
The key to building muscle is hard work, dedication and consistency. Without these, you'll get nowhere. However, there are three initial steps you can take to make sure you're on the right track to building a strong, muscular body.
Step 1: Pick the Right Program
The perfect weight training program doesn't exist, but thousands of great ones are out there. You can choose to follow a pre-designed routine or come up with your own.
When putting together your own routine, you need to consider several aspects. The main one is frequency, which refers to the number of times per week that you train each muscle group. Beginners should do a full-body workout three times per week, progressing to four weekly workouts—two upper body and two lower body—after six months. More experienced trainees may benefit from splitting body parts into three or four different workouts and training each muscle group once every five to seven days.
Exercise selection is also vital. To build muscle, focus on multi-joint free weight exercises, such as Squats, Deadlifts, Chin-Ups and Bench Presses. These should constitute 80 percent of your workout, and the other 20 percent should be based around single-joint isolation exercises, like Curls, Lateral Raises and Leg Extensions.
You also need to consider your set and repetition ranges. A good rule of thumb to follow is between three and six sets of five to eight reps for your compound exercises and two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps for isolations.
Step 2: Proper Nutrition
Learning how to build muscle doesn't just involve training. Nutrition is equally important. To build muscle, your body needs a surplus of calories, so before you do anything else, increase your intake by 500 calories per day. If you've not gained weight after two weeks, ramp it up by another 250 calories per day. Do this every week until you're managing a weight gain of around half a pound per week.
Your diet should be made up of roughly one third protein, one third carbohydrates and one third fat. Good protein sources include meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and protein supplements. For your carbs, look to oatmeal, rice, pasta, bread, sports drinks, fruits and starchy vegetables like potatoes and yams. Try to consume the majority of these before and after your workouts. During the rest of the day, get your carbohydrates from green vegetables.
When it comes to fats, a mixture of mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated and saturated fats is ideal to help support immune function, general health and muscle building. Oily fish, olive oil, nuts and nut butters, avocados and red meat are all fantastic, nutrient-dense fat sources.
Step 3: Rest
Many people fail to recognize the importance of rest when building muscle, but it's just as crucial as training and nutrition. Your muscles grow when you're resting, so you need to ensure that they get plenty of good quality recuperation time. Get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and don't do anything too taxing or overly physical on your non-gym days. Other recovery methods—such as ice baths, sports massages, foam rolling and stretching—can help to accelerate your recovery and muscle growth.
There is no magic potion you can take to build muscle overnight, and no special exercise or nutrition supplement that can turn you into an Adonis. The journey to building an athletic, muscular body is a long one, but stick to the three commandments, and you'll get there. Have fun along the way.
Mike Samuels is a UK-based personal trainer, diet coach, writer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist. He has a Level 3 Personal Trainer certification from premier Global UK and accreditation as a Precision Nutrition Diet Coach. He has written for Livestrong.com, EliteFTS.com, BuiltFit.com and Kettlebell Inc. Visit his website at mikesamuelspersonaltraining.co.uk.
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