Every high school athlete wants to know how to build muscle faster. To build some serious muscle, you have to follow certain principles, including the four I share below:
1) Master Basic Compound Exercises
Compound exercises, like the Bench Press and the Squat, require movement at more than one joint and involve large muscle groups. They are effective in building muscle fast, because they target multiple muscle groups and recruit more muscle fibers.
To master basic compound exercises, you need to perform them on a regular basis, which means every workout. Benefit: since they target multiple muscle groups, compound exercises eliminate the need for isolation exercises like Leg Extensions and Chest Flies. Below, I break down basic compound exercises into two categories:
Basic Upper-Body Exercises
- Military Press
- Bench Press
Sets/Reps: 4-6x5-8 each exercise
Basic Lower-Body Exercises
If you want to build muscle faster, your program should incorporate these basic exercises. However, you can supplement them with bodyweight movements. Although no weight is used, bodyweight exercises challenge muscles with high reps to promote muscle size and strength gains.
- Pistol Squats (Single-Leg Squats)
- Rope Climbs
*If you can do more than 12 reps of a bodyweight exercise, add external resistance with a chain or dumbbells.
2) Continually Add Weight to the Bar
The only way to get bigger and stronger is to add more weight to the bar. This is the theory of progressive overload, which holds that in order to make strength and size gains, you must challenge your muscles beyond their normal demands. So, if you increase your Bench Press from 135 to 175 pounds, your Squat from 225 to 255 pounds, and your Deadlift from 245 to 265 pounds, you will be stronger and bigger.
An easy way to make sure you are continually lifting heavier weights is to keep a training journal. A journal helps you keep track of how much weight you lift from week to week on each exercise. On your final set, if you are able to perform two or more reps beyond your goal, try adding five pounds (for an upper-body exercise) or 10 pounds (for a lower-body exercise) the next time you work out. As you advance, it should get harder to keep increasing weight on exercises like the Squat and Deadlift. At that point, perform more reps than you did the previous week.
3) Train No More Than Four Days a Week
Many athletes make the mistake of lifting five to seven days a week because they think "more is better." If your goal is to build muscle faster, your muscles need time to recover after each training session. Heavy weight training causes micro tears in the muscles, and muscle growth takes place when these tears are repairing. If you lift weights every day with the same muscle groups, the micro tears will accumulate, and eventually you will overtrain, which will prevent you from gaining muscle. Training four days a week is ideal. To allow for proper recovery, wait at least 48 hours before reworking a muscle group.
Each training session should consist of only four to six exercises. The basic exercises listed above are all you will need to build muscle fast, in conformity with the 80/20 rule, which, in this case, means that 80 percent of your results will come from 20 percent of your efforts. Specifically, you will derive the most benefits from the core 20 percent of your workout—Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press and bodyweight exercises.
4) Be Consistent
Building muscle is not an easy task. If you are inconsistent in your workouts, your chances of success will diminish. To be consistent, you need to set short- and long-term goals. Short term goals are benchmarks in your quest to reach your long-term goals and to help you track your progress along the way. Examples of short-term goals are to increase your Bench Press by five pounds or to increase your total amount of max Pull-Ups from eight to 10. Such small incremental changes will give evidence that you are making progress toward your long-term goal of building muscle.
In addition to setting goals, being consistent means not missing workouts or meals. To maximize muscle gains, you have to be consistent 90 percent of the time. So if you have 10 planned workouts over the course of two to three weeks, you should only miss one of them (at worst!). Fitness guru Louie Simmons once said, "Without a plan, you plan to fail." Consistency is the key to success.
Joe Meglio is a strength and conditioning coach at the Underground Strength Gym in Edison, N.J. Mentored by one of the brightest minds in the strength and conditioning industry, Zach Even-Esh, Meglio has worked with athletes at the high school, college and professional level. He specializes in training baseball players. Besides being a strength coach, Meglio competed in his first powerlifting meet in 2010, setting the New Jersey state record for Squat, Deadlift and total in his weight class and division. He graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in May 2011, following his final season as captain of the baseball team. For more information, please go to MeglioFitness.com.
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