One question I get asked more than any other is "How do I build muscle?" Nutrition and sleep both play huge roles in building muscle, but this article focuses on adjustments you can make to your training to maximize your muscle-building potential.
Strength Comes First
As you start working out to build muscle, you should notice strength gains long before you notice muscle growth. That's because you're training your nervous system to recruit more motor neurons for movements. More motor neurons means rapid strength improvement. And although you won't see the results right away, this neural development is laying the foundation for your body to build new muscle tissue.
Keep Things Fresh
If you pour water out of a cup onto a pile of sand, the water will run along the same paths, deepening the grooves, until you move the cup. The same thing happens with your muscles. Athletes working with the same load, range of motion, speed of contraction, plane of motion and angles week after week see results level off quickly. Change your workouts regularly to consistently see positive results. You can do this by adjusting any of the factors I just mentioned, from weight to reps to angles.
Time Under Tension
Studies show that the amount of time a muscle is under tension determines how much it grows. If you do 10 sets of one explosive rep each, will that be enough time under tension to build muscle? No. What if you do five sets of 12, and each rep takes two seconds (24 seconds under tension per set) or even four seconds (48 seconds under tension)? You'd build muscle much faster.
Muscle growth is a full-body phenomenon. The best exercises to build muscle are compound exercises that train multiple muscles at once. So even though the Dumbbell Curl feels like it's building your biceps, a full-body exercise like the Deadlift will produce bigger arms over time because it recruits more muscles. That's why the programs we design for our athletes rely on basic exercises like Pull-Ups and Deadlifts, with a few ancillary movements thrown in. You'll get 80% of your results from 20% of the things you do.
Vary Your Reps
Do you lift heavier weight with fewer reps or lighter weight with more reps? You should do both. Different combinations of reps and weight can help you build muscle in different ways. Sets of 4 to 8 reps are great for building strength; sets of 8 to 12 build muscle size; and sets of 3 to 5 stimulate power gains. As you build strength, you'll be able to add weight to your high-rep sets, building muscle even faster.
Never train in just one rep category for too long, or you'll miss out on some aspects of muscle growth.
Based on these principles, here's a simple, effective two-day muscle-building workout.
1. Sumo Deadlift - 5x2-3, 90-second rest
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