TODAY, I am going to show you exactly how to go about building muscle. If what you’re doing at the moment isn’t working, please pay attention. What I have to say might be just what you need to get better, faster results.
Step 1: Get Real
The first step is to make sure you have realistic expectations about how much muscle can be built and how fast you can build it.
You’ll come across a lot of wild claims about how much muscle it’s possible to gain naturally, as well as the length of time it’ll take to build it.
Here’s the truth:
If you have 20-30 pounds more muscle than an average, untrained, fully-grown man of your height and frame, you’re doing extremely well. Women can cut those numbers in half. That’s about as much as most people can realistically expect to gain over the course of their training lifetime.
Am I saying that’s the absolute upper limit for every single human being that has, or ever will, set foot on this planet?
No. But I am saying for most people, it’s going to be there or thereabouts.
How long will it take to get within shooting distance of your maximum muscular potential?
Most people will need to train for somewhere between 3 and 5 years before they get anywhere close to their physical limits as far as muscle size is concerned. That’s 3-5 years of hard work, proper training and good nutrition.
It’s not something you can do in 30 days, 12 weeks or even 12 months.
Claims that you can gain 18 pounds of muscle in two weeks, 34 pounds of muscle in 28 days, or whatever else, are total BS.
Eat enough food, and it’s possible to gain a large amount of weight in a relatively short period of time. But most of that weight is going to be in the form of fat rather than muscle.
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, who combined great genetics and a Herculean work ethic with more than a little pharmaceutical assistance, was very happy when he gained 25 pounds (11.4kg) in weight over the course of a year.
Here’s what he wrote in Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder:
“Many people regret having to serve in the Army. But it was not a waste of time for me. When I came out I weighed 225 pounds. I’d gone from 200 to 225. Up to that time, this was the biggest change I’d ever made in a single year.”
To repeat, that was 25 pounds (11.4kg) in weight, and not just muscle.
If one of the greatest bodybuilders in history is saying that 25 pounds was as much as he ever gained in one year (and not all of this was muscle), there’s no way that a drug-free, genetically average guy can expect to do the same thing in a fraction of the time.
Step 2: Training Frequency
One of the most important decisions you can make when you’re setting up your training program is how often each muscle group should be trained.
Training a muscle once a week can and will make that muscle bigger. However, for most people at least, it’s probably the least effective way to train.
Most of the research out there shows that the major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week to maximize growth. Of all the training splits I’ve used over the years, the upper/lower split is one of my favorites.
Monday: Upper Body
Tuesday: Lower Body
Thursday: Upper Body
Friday: Lower Body
You hit the upper body on Monday, lower body on Tuesday, then take Wednesday off. Thursday is upper body, Friday is lower body and you have the weekend off. Each muscle group is trained twice a week.
Step 3: Focus on Improving Your Performance in the Gym
Do the same exercises, for the same number of sets and reps, while lifting the same amount of weight, for the next five years. Nothing much is going to happen.
That’s because the training you’re doing is below the threshold required to stimulate growth. It’s a challenge your body has already adapted to. As a result, no new muscle will be gained.
Within certain limits, a muscle will grow in direct proportion to the amount of work it’s required to do. And while there are many ways to increase muscular work over time, these are the three that I recommend to most people, most of the time.
The most common method of progressive overload involves adding weight while keeping the number of repetitions per set the same. Example:
Workout 1: 8 repetitions with 100 pounds
Workout 2: 8 repetitions with 102.5 pounds
Workout 3: 8 repetitions with 105 pounds
Option two involves doing more repetitions with the same weight. Example:
Workout 1: 6 repetitions with 100 pounds
Workout 2: 7 repetitions with 100 pounds
Workout 3: 8 repetitions with 100 pounds
Let’s say that your current routine involves 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions of a particular exercise. You start out doing 3 sets of 8 reps. Over time, you keep on adding reps until you’re able to do 3 sets of 12.
Then, you add weight, drop back to 3 sets of 8, and start the whole process all over again.
Doing 12 reps in all three sets serves as the trigger for adding weight. When you hit 12 reps, the weight goes up. If you can’t, carry on using the same weight until you do.
The third option is to increase your training volume. The most popular way to do so is to perform more sets for each muscle group. Example:
Week 1: 10 sets per muscle group per week
Week 2: 11 sets per muscle group per week
Week 3: 12 sets per muscle group per week
For reasons I’ll explain in a moment, you can’t keep adding sets indefinitely and expect to keep growing. If your training volume is too high, you’ll end up hurting your gains.
As time goes by, and you close in on the upper limit of muscle mass your body can add, the speed at which you improve will slow down.
Progress will come not from workout to workout, but from week to week, and then from month to month.
That doesn’t mean your days of gaining muscle have come to an end. You just need to go about things a little differently (which is exactly what I show you how to do in my MX4 training program – https://muscleevo.com/MX4).
You’re not going to make progress in every single workout. To do so indefinitely would be impossible, and there’ll be times when you end up lifting the same amount of weight, for the same number of sets and reps you did in the previous workout.
However, your focus should always be on improving your workout performance over time. You need to give your muscles a reason to get bigger, or you’ll remain stuck at the same size you are right now.
Step 4: Be Flexible with your Choice of Exercises
Some say that certain exercises, such as the squat, deadlift, bench press and so on, are “essential” for building muscle. These exercises work large numbers of muscles, making them a very efficient use of your training time. I like them a lot.
However, they’re not always the most “joint friendly” options out there. The last thing you want is to feel constantly nagged by various aches and pains in your knees, elbows, shoulders or back.
If you find that a particular exercise makes your joints flare up, don’t be afraid to ditch it and find a similar one that doesn’t. There is no single “must do” exercise that can’t be replaced with something else.
Your muscles can be stimulated just as well with alternatives (many of which I show you in my MX4 training program) that don’t cause the same level of pain or discomfort.
Step 5: Sets and Reps
As far as sets go, there is a “dose-response” relationship between the number of sets you do for a muscle and the speed at which that muscle grows.
In other words, the more sets you do – up to a point at least – the faster your muscles will grow. However, there is a point at which doing more sets becomes counterproductive.
In other words, there’s a theoretical “optimal” number of sets per muscle group, above and below which gains in size will be slower than they otherwise would be.
As a rough guide, 10-12 sets per muscle group per week is a good starting point. Then, you can adjust the number of sets upwards or downwards based on how your body responds.
As far as reps go, conventional wisdom has it that training with light weights and high reps builds muscular endurance, but makes little contribution to gains in size.
Heavy weights and lower reps has long been the accepted “best way” to build muscle.
That’s because lifting heavy weights places tension on a large number of muscle fibers, which in turn sends the “make me bigger” signal to those fibers.
However, lifting heavy weights isn’t the only way to put a large number of muscle fibers under tension.
Training with lighter weights and higher reps – where you “go for the burn” and your muscles feel like they’re pumped up and about to explode – generates a large amount of metabolic stress, which has also been shown to increase the activation of muscle fibers.
In fact, there’s plenty of research out there to show that lighter weights and higher reps do a surprisingly good job at stimulating muscle growth. That gives you a lot more choice about the type of training you do.
For example, joint issues or injuries may mean that lifting heavy weights causes pain in your shoulders, elbows, knees or wrists.
The solution is very simple. If going heavy on certain exercises causes you pain, just go light instead. You can make the switch from heavy weights and low reps to low weights and high reps without missing out on any gains.
Maybe you just prefer using lighter weights on certain exercises, and heavier weights on others. Again, you can do so quite happily without worrying that you’re putting the brakes on muscle growth.
As long as you train hard and push yourself, high reps (15-20), medium reps (12-15) and low reps (5-8) can all be used successfully to build muscle.
Step 6: Eat to Grow
What you do in the gym is only part of the story when it comes to building muscle. Without enough food, much of your efforts in the gym will go to waste.
However, there’s an upper limit on the amount of nutrients you can take in and use to fuel muscle growth. If you’re currently eating below this upper limit, then you’ll build muscle faster by increasing your nutrient intake.
But once you’ve “maxed out” your rate of muscle gain, simply adding more calories won’t automatically lead to a faster rate of growth.
Think of it like this.
Imagine you own a factory that makes widgets. If you don’t give the workers enough of the raw materials (i.e. food) they need to make the widgets as fast as they could, the rate of widget production will drop. In that sense, an insufficient intake of nutrients will put the brakes on muscle growth.
What happens if you start to send more raw materials to the workers?
The rate of production will increase, but only up to a point. That’s because there’s a limit on the number of widgets the workers can crank out in a given amount of time. As soon as they’re working as fast as they can, sending more and more raw materials just becomes a waste.
In much the same way, you can’t force your body to grow simply by eating more. Adding nutrients to your diet will have a positive effect on muscle growth only until you reach nutrient saturation point.
The size of the calorie surplus required to maximize your rate of muscle growth while minimizing fat gain is somewhere in the region of 200-500 calories per day over and above your maintenance calorie requirements.
I know that might not sound like much, especially when you compare it with some of the 5000 calorie “bulking” diets out there.
But you can’t force your muscles to grow faster simply by stuffing yourself with food. All that’ll happen is that you get fat.
Step 7: Stick With It
Once you have a decent training and nutrition program set up, the key to long-term success is to stick with it.
Forget about the latest muscle-building bandwagon that everyone else is jumping on, no matter now tempting it might look. Don’t worry about complicated training routines, exotic muscle-building supplements or fancy diets.
There’s no need to become an expert on every single diet and training method known to man. Just choose one path and stay on it. Only allow yourself access to the information you need in order to stay on that path, and be ruthless about blocking out all the other noise and distractions.
Concentrate on training hard and eating right. Set challenging but realistic goals for yourself and work as hard as you can towards achieving them. Do that and the size will come.
MORE: For a complete science-based training program that will give you more muscle than you have right now without beating up your joints, check out MX4 at the link below: