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How to Build Muscle – Complete Guide

Most gym enthusiasts focus on the wrong things (repetitions, isolation exercises, supplements, clean food, etc.) and forget the basics (progressive overload, proper exercise, kcal, protein, etc.).

Often only the upper body is trained. A broad chest, thick arms and a six-pack – that’s what almost everyone who starts with weight training wants.

I mean, there is nothing wrong with it, as long as you train intelligently and prevent unnecessary injuries.

There are some training programs that are quite good in principle. However, most programs are often very upper body dominant or have too little volume for hypertrophy.

In addition, common problems such as lack of mobility and difficulty in activating muscles in these programs are completely ignored.

That is far from optimal.

Black emerging athlete learns how to build muscle

The Emerging Athlete Program teaches you how to develop your body symmetrically and healthy. Step by step, you will arrive at a well-trained, athletic body. A powerful body and aesthetic look are more than just a puffy bicep.

How to build muscle – Hypertrophy Basics

It’s simple if you want to build muscle as a natural athlete, you need to get stronger. Period.

Stronger, with the right form and exercises. I am not talking about strong side laterals or bicep curls. What you need to build muscle is heavy compound movements, the Squat, Benchpress, and Deadlift.

In the beginning, you do not need to focus on weak body parts, first, you need the right foundation.

As a beginner your whole body is still weak.

If you want to build muscles, follow this guide, it’s free and it works, 100%.

Common mistakes

  1. Many beginners change their program all the time or use way too much weight. too much weight does not only lead to injury, but it prevents you from learning the right form. And the proper form is crucial if you want to build muscle.
  2. You can’t build your legs by cycling or playing football. So if you are serious about training, incorporate a leg day. I mean, how big are Ronaldo’s legs?
  3. Don’t listen to random dudes in the gym. Have you ever heard the term “Gymbro”? Those are the guys constantly telling bs about training etc. Do not listen to them, stay with the program.
  4. While a pump feels amazing it is only a short-term effect. Also, it doesn’t say anything about muscle growth. As mentioned before, if you want to build muscle, you need to increase weights.
  5. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Building muscles take time and effort. You will get results, I promise, but it won’t happen overnight, it is a process.

Emerging Athlete trains deadlifts to build muscle

How to build muscle – How you muscles work

Simply put, your muscles give you strength. They enable you to carry your groceries and to pick up a pen. Without muscles, you wouldn’t be able to do a single movement.

Every muscle is built of thousands of muscle fibers. You can think of them like tubes. The more tubes (muscle fibers) a muscle has, the stronger it is.

Cross-section of human muscle fibers

Most muscle fibers offer a similar amount of strength, meaning the muscle with most muscle fibers, is the strongest. That is also the reason why your biggest muscles, quads, lats etc. are the strongest.

Types of Muscle Fibers

Still, you can make a distinction between two types of muscle fibers, Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 muscle fibers, also called Slow-Twitch have a high resistance and are build for muscle endurance. They are not very fast and not very strong and therefore mainly recruited in higher rep ranges.

Type 2 muscle fibers, also called Fast-Twitch, are built for high muscle tension and heavyweights. They are ideal for explosive heavy movements and low rep ranges.

How do muscles grow?

Before you can decide what way works best for you to build muscle, you need to understand how hypertrophy works.

Hypertrophy or muscle growth is an increase in muscle fibers or a bigger Cross-Sectional Area. Meaning, you get bigger muscle fibers and the muscle looks bigger.

Simple, isn’t it?

There are two basic ways in which a muscle can grow. First, hypertrophy (bigger muscle fibers) or muscle hyperplasia. Here, your body growths new muscle fibers. The end result is the same, your muscle grows.

The most researched and understood way of building muscle is hypertrophy, so I’ll focus on that.

Research shows that hyperplasia plays a role when taking steroids but this is a guide for natural athletes.

Your muscle fibers are built of two basic elements, contractile proteinaceous unites and non-contractile unites.

Both of these elements can grow (hypertrophy).

Myofibrillar vs. Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy

In sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (muscle growth), there is primarily an increase in intracellular fluid in the muscle cells.

These are also called sarcoplasm. Classical hypertrophy training – as used in bodybuilding, for example – should lead to an increase in sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Sounds scientific, I know, but it simply means your muscle endurance increases.

This is the main reason why bodybuilders are not as strong in relation to their muscle mass as e.g. Weightlifter.

This type of hypertrophy is achieved through higher repetition ranges and many sets.

In bodybuilding, this is called pump training.

Then we have myofibrillar hypertrophy. The myofibrils contain sarcomeres as the smallest contractile units. An increase in these myofibrils provides more strength but also muscle volume.

That’s what we natural athletes mainly want to go for, myofibrillar hypertrophy.

How to build muscle with Myofibrillar Hypertrophy?

No matter the type of hypertrophy you are going for, one thing is key. A progressive overload.

This means increasing weight, repetitions, and sets over time.

Because you can’t (or shouldn’t) add a set every workout, getting stronger is crucial.

There are differences between powerlifters and bodybuilders. Powerlifters are usually stronger than they look, and people often say bodybuilders only look big but aren’t strong.

While there is a bit of truth to it, you can generally say that who has the biggest muscle, is often the strongest. At least for natural athletes.

Because the cross section of the muscle tells you a lot about the athlete’s strength. though this differs for steroid users, here muscles can indeed grow without any significant strength gains.

How to trigger Myofibrillar Hypertrophy?

Well, you simply need to show your body that it needs bigger muscles. Whenever you increase weights, your body notices the difference and has to adjust. This triggers muscle growth.

Myofibrillar muscle growth is only triggered by increased stress. These contractile units consist of proteins. Following an overload, more protein gets stored in the muscle.

You become stronger and get bigger muscles – Yay!

To get a bit more into science, a muscle grows if the muscle protein synthesis is bigger than the muscle protein degradation.

Because you never “only” grow muscle. Muscle growth and degradation work at the same time. It’s important that you grow more than you lose.

short and simple:

Muscle Growth = Muscle protein synthesis > Muscle protein degradation

How to minimize muscle protein degradation?

Following a workout, your body degrades muscles. Sounds bad, doesn’t it?

This process can be slowed down by proper nutrition. Because the reason our body is degrading muscles in the first place is a lack of resources.

Get in some proteins and carbs and you’ll be good.

Because especially Insulin works wonders against muscle degradation. And what most people don’t know, Insulin is not only released when eating carbs but also when eating proteins.

How to maximize muscle protein synthesis (Muscle growth)?

Ever heard of m-TOR? Probably not, but don’t worry, we got you!

Because m-TOR can be your best friend. This protein regulates the growth of cells.

At the very beginning of muscle protein synthesis stands m-TOR. It triggers a variety of processes which I won’t explain any further right here, but if it caught your interest, more information can be found here.

(Goldspink, 1999; Gwinn et al., 2008; Marini and Veicsteinas, 2010; Tipton et al., 2001; Zanchi and Lancha, 2008)

But be aware, these processes are highly complex and most of them are not fully researched as of yet.

How do to trigger muscle protein synthesis?

As mentioned before, it’s complex. But one thing is for sure, to trigger muscle protein synthesis you need to put high tension, mechanical stress as well as metabolic stress on your muscle.

Reps in Reserve - Complete Guide 2019

Simply put, train hard and don’t take breaks that are too long.

Besides exercising, nutrition plays a big role. Especially protein increases muscle protein synthesis significantly.

To break the most important factors down for you:

1.) High Tension

The main signal for protein synthesis is tension and stretch. To get a muscle fiber to grow it needs high intensity. Only with an intensity of around 85% of your 1 Rep Max., all muscle fibers are activated.

Therefore, progressive overload is the determining parameter triggering muscle growth.

Simply put, get more weight on the bar.

Okay so increasing tension is key for muscle growth. But for how long?

This is where the Time under Tension (TUT) model comes into play. Because next to the tension itself, the duration is important.

Because as you might have heard, the positive (concentric) phase, as well as the negative (eccentric) phase, are important for muscle growth.

In short, increase weights with a decent TUT. You can aim for about 1 second for the positive portion and 2 seconds for the negative portion each repetition. Don’t go for your 1 Rep. Max. though, stay within the 3 – 6 rep. the range for each set.

2.) Mechanical Stress

Under mechanical stress, your muscle experiences so-called microtraumas in the contractile elements of the muscle.

To put it a little simpler, microtraumas are tiny injuries in the muscle.

This type of muscle damage increases inflammation. This signals the body that the muscle needs rest and time to be repaired.

You can create Mechanical stress by doing very slow and controlled negative (concentric) movements during your exercises.

The rep range really doesn’t matter too much.

Take home message build in a set every now and then, that focuses on the negative portion of the movement.

3.) metabolic stress

Lastly, we have metabolic stress.

Using your muscles needs energy. The longer and intensive the set, the more energy you will need.

Metabolic damage causes an energy deficit within the muscle and triggers muscle protein synthesis, muscle growth.

This type of muscle growth is triggered best through a higher rep range, using isolation exercises.

This type of muscle damage especially applies to more experienced athletes.

Okay, now we got 3 ways to induce muscle growth. Great!

But I have to mention that all 3 of them have one thing in common. They won’t work until you get your nutrition right.

If your body does not have enough protein and other nutrients it turns katabolic (hell no!) and therefore burns muscles for energy.

Protein is key for muscle protein synthesis, so make sure you get enough of it. Around 1.25 – 1.5g per Kg bodyweight will be sufficient.

Conclusion: How to build muscle with Myofibrillar Hypertrophy

Too much input?

I’ll keep it simple for you. there are 4 main factors that trigger muscle protein synthesis, muscle growth.

  1. High Tension: Achieved through heavy weights and low reps (3-6).
  2. Microtraumas: Achieved though long negative (eccentric) phases.
  3. Metabolic Stress: Caused by an energy deficiency in the muscle. Achieved through high reps (10-20).
  4. Get enough calories and especially protein. 1.25g – 1.5g of protein per KG bodyweight should be sufficient.

Training until Failure?

Should you go all the way to muscle failure during your sets?

You are probably going to meet or see plenty of people exercising until failure in the gym telling you it is crucial to train hard, until failure.

What is muscle failure? Well, it is the moment your muscle is not able anymore to move the weight.

There is two simple types, complete muscle failure, and technical muscle failure.

Technical muscle failure is achieved as soon as form and technique degrade to lift the weight.

Complete muscle failure is achieved as soon as there is no possibility to lift the weight. Not even with incorrect form. You muscle stops working entirely.

But should you train until muscle failure? What are the pros, what are the cons?

One thing needs to be said, if you train until muscle failure every single workout you will grow muscle.

But is it the fastest way to grow muscle? Is it most efficient? Hell no!

Your body needs waaay longer to recover after training to failure than without. Especially your central nervous system gets totally smashed and will need a few days to recovery.

Consequently, progress will shrink.

Still, if you are a beginner and you have never trained until muscle failure, give it a try. Because only if you actually experienced it yourself, you know how hard you will have to train.

What I recommend:

As I said, you should test your limits. Get a feel for when you are close to muscle failure, but then stop. I recommend stopping 1 repetition before you would hit muscle failure.

Muscle fibers and fiber-specific Training

Muscle fiber specific training? Sounds interesting, right?

To get the most out of your workouts should you better tailor your workout to your individual body needs, to get optimal results?

To answer that question, let’s get a few things clear.

What are the main muscle fiber types?

There are two main muscle fiber types, Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 muscle fibers are also called “slow twitch muscle fibers”. They support muscle endurance and are most important for endurance athletes like marathon runners. They show a low potential for muscle growth.

Type 2 muscle fibers are also called “fast twitch muscle fibers”. They work fast and explosive. Whenever you need fast and heavy movements, mainly type 2 muscle fibers are recruited. Also, they show high muscle growth potential.

When do we need which type of muscle fiber?

Depending on your training intensity, the muscle recruits different types of fibers. Starting with the small (type 1) muscle fibers, to the bigger (type 2) muscle fibers. This is also referred to as the “size principle”.

During everyday activity such as walking, you will mainly use Type 1 muscle fibers. As soon as these muscle fibers are not strong enough anymore to carry the load, Type 2 muscle fibers are recruited in addition. At an intensity of around 60% of your 1 rep max., your body starts recruiting Type 2 fibers. At a level of intensity of 85% of the 1 rep max or more, all available muscle fibers are recruited.

Side note: When doing 5 rep sets, you should aim at 85% of your 1 rep max. This is the reason many programs advocate a 5×5 training program.

What about muscle fiber tests?

Muscle fiber tests are advocated by many athletes. The reason being is, that this way you know what your muscle is made of. Mainly Type 1 or mainly Type 2.

If you know that you can adjust your training to your specific body needs, right?

Well, no. First of all, these tests are incredibly unprecise. Secondly, it really doesn’t matter. Either way, you should train exactly the same.

Muscle fiber specific training?

Let’s keep that one short and simple, no, you shouldn’t.

Type 2 muscle fibers are responsible for the majority of muscle growth. Also, when training heavy and with high intensity, you will train both types anyway. So why make it complicated for no reason?

Just focus on results. Heavy but smart training.

Squats for bigger arms? Hormone production and muscle growth.

Whenever you do heavy compound movements such as a squat or a deadlift, your body produces growth hormones.

This is the reason many people advocate heavy leg training. It stimulates growth hormone production and therefore makes your arms bigger.

Another wrong myth.

More growth hormones = More muscles? Nope.

As long as you are a natural athlete, growth hormones play a minor role. It is true that heavy lifts increase hormones production. But the effects are so minor that they can be considered irrelevant.

This does not mean you should skip leg day though!

What do studies say?

According to two studies, there is no significant change in muscle growth for your arms when training heavy squats.

While this does not mean skipping leg day, it should simply tell you to focus on what you want to achieve. If you want bigger arms, train them. If you want bigger legs, train them.

It’s simple, so don’t make it quantum physics.

How to build muscle – foundations of a great program

Training is a stimulus. That is something you need to keep in mind.

You do not need a revolutionary new training program with dozens of fancy exercises.

Your body is made in a way that it can adapt to new stimuli. There are two requirements for your training;

  1. needs to be in line with your goals (strength, hypertrophy, ..)
  2. needs to be appropriate for your level of fitness and experience

Stop doing workout plans of former Mr. Olympias, they are not for you. You need to find the right program for you, at your stage of the athlete journey.

The optimal stimuli to build muscle

While many programs will lead to adaption and muscle growth, there is an ideal program you should follow.

Many programs will give you good results in short term, but you will end up overtraining after a few weeks.

There is a specific range in which your body can adapt and recover best. With our Emerging Athlete training program, you can create a plan that is tailored to your goals and needs.

Just follow along with this guide and you will be good to go.

Are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced lifter?

Creatine - What Is Creatine? Should I Take Creatine?

You probably stumbled across many programs asking you if you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced lifter.

Why make a distinction?

It’s simple, programs that are ideal for a beginner are not suitable for an intermediate lifter.

What is the difference?

If you are a beginner, you make progress every workout. Your technique gets better, and your body gets stronger.

As an intermediate lifter, you can make progress from week to week if not less. The closer you get to your genetic limit, the harder it is to make progress.

As an advanced lifter, you progress will take months if not years.

Which category you are in depends on how you are already lifting.

Nobody wants to be a beginner. That’s one of the main issues. Being a beginner sounds weak and not impressive at all.

So why not go for the intermediate plan?

Because it is not for you.

Being a beginner is great, trust me it’s the best part of the whole process.

You get results quick. You get stronger by the day, get bigger every month, it is great.

Beginners do not need many isolation exercises. You can grow your arms simply by doing pull-ups, isn’t that great?

If you are more advanced, you will have to ad insolation exercises such as curls to stimulate muscle growth.

The optimal training frequency to build muscle

The best frequency is always given as frequency per muscle group, per week. Meaning, how often are you training each muscle per week.

Best frequency for beginners to build muscle

As a beginner, you can have a frequency of up to 3 times each muscle group for best progress. The more advanced you become, the less of a frequency you will need.

A beginner should practice compound lifts as often as possible. Not only the stimulate muscle growth but also to learn the technique.

Training frequency for beginners: 3x each muscle

Best frequency for intermediate lifters to build muscle

As an intermediate lifter, you cannot train with the same frequency as a beginner. At least not when training with the same intensity.

It is important to note that even if you train a lot less than the optimal frequency, you will build muscle. Not the most efficient way but you will get bigger.

Why do people advocate training one muscle one time a week?

A so-called bro split, where you train each muscle once a week for a full workout is nonsense.

If you are a steroid user or the genetic elite it might give you good results, but for the average intermediate lifter, it is nonsense.

Intermediate lifters should follow a full body program 2x a week or an upper/lower body split 3-4 times a week.

Training frequency for intermediate lifters: 2x each muscle

Optimal Intensity to build muscle?

The training frequency is best expressed as a percentage of your 1 rep max. The weight you can lift exactly one time before muscle failure, your personal record.

People often speak about high intensity when they train hard or long. This is by no means what I mean with intensity.

The higher the intensity, the fewer reps you will be able to do.

You can use these as reference points:

  • With 100% of your 1 RMs, you can do exactly 1 repetition.
  • With 80% – 85% or you 1 RMs you can do 5 – 8 Repetitions
  • With 60% of your 1 RMs you can do 12 – 15 Repetitions

Intensity is crucial because muscle fiber activation depends on it. When moving heavy weight (85% 1 RMs) you will recruit all muscle fibers for all repetitions.

This way all fibers get the same stimulus throughout the whole set. This is important since only activated muscle fibers get stimulated and grow.

You can also recruit all muscle fibers in higher rep ranges. But not from the first rep.

Let’s say you are doing a set of 12. during the first 3 – 4 reps, your body might only recruit 30% of your muscle fibers, because it doesn’t need more. Only for the last 3-4 reps, all muscle fibers are recruited and grow.

Female Emerging Athlete jumps to build muscle

Intensity for the best stimulus?

Heavyweights only or light weights with high reps?

For Beginners:

Intensity: everything above 60% of 1 RM

For Intermediate/Advanced:

Intensity: mainly 80% – 85% of 1 RM plus a few sets with 60% – 70% of 1 RM to burn out the muscle.

Optimal Repetition Range to build muscle

The optimal repetition range to build muscle is a very controversial topic. The real gym bro would probably tell you to ALWAYS stay within the 8 – 12 rep range if you want hypertrophy.

Most of the times people give certain ranges for different goals;

1 -5 Reps are for Strength

6 -12 reps are for hypertrophy

12+ reps are for muscle endurance

To align goals with specific rep ranges might seem practical at first. But it gives readers the feeling that you can only train for one goal at a time and it only depends on the rep range.

IF you do 5 reps, you only get stronger, you don’t build any muscle. If you do 8 reps, you get muscle growth but don’t get stronger. And if you do 12 or more reps you increase endurance only.

This is not how our body works!

As often in life, rep ranges are more like a smooth transition than a strict border. It’s not all black and white.

Repetition ranges create a spectrum between strength training and endurance training.

In praxis, this means utilizing different repetition ranges with different intensities. All with the goal of muscle fiber activation to get bigger and stronger in long term.

Muscle Fiber Activation- How does it work?

Depending on how heavy the load on your muscle, the more or fewer muscle fibers are activated. For maximum muscle growth, you want to activate as many muscle fibers as possible.

Otherwise, all not activated muscle fibers won’t get stronger and grow.

With high intensity (80% 1 RM ~ 5 -8 Reps) all muscle fibers are activated starting with the first repetition.

In addition to those heavy sets, you should include additional sets with a higher repetition range to fully exhaust the muscle.

If your muscle is already pre-exhausted, also lower weights with recruit all muscle fibers.

When starting with lighter weight, you will slowly exhaust the muscle fibers, therefore additional ones need to be activated for additional sets.

For this reason, you can also build muscle when using lighter weights but high repetition ranges.

When starting with heavy loads, you will most likely be able to recruit all muscle fibers for every repetition, but you won’t be able to get to a high volume.

Heavy loads come with a higher risk of injury, so always be careful and exercise with the right form.

For light loads, on the other hand, you will less likely recruit Type 2 muscle fibers because of the low intensity. But you will create metabolic stress which is an important factor for muscle growth.

The Solution

It’s simple, just implement different rep ranges in your workouts. Don’t go too low, doing 5 sets of 1rep only won’t be very effective. Doing 10 sets of 25 reps on the other hand neither.

What you should do is start your workouts with a few sets of heavy bench press with an intensity of around 80% (5reps). After heavy bench press, you can then do a few more sets with high rep ranges with a lower intensity of around 60% (12 reps).

If you plan your workouts this way, you don’t have to change from strength focused training schedules to hypertrophy schedules all the time.

It is simple and more effective.

The Optimal Training Volume to build Muscle

Before we dive deeper into the optimal training volume, let’s clarify how volume can be defined.

There are different ways to measure workout volume, I will now explain to you the two most common and logical ways.

I personally use the simpler approach, but in the end, it is up to you, this guide will cover both.

1. You can count each repetition as a volume. If you are doing 5 sets of 12 repetitions, this would count as a volume of 60. The problem I see with this approach is that there is no distinction between the intensity.

Let me give you an example.

If you do a heavy set with 3 reps and 90% of your 1 RM, it would only count as a volume of 3.

If you would do a light set with 15 reps and an intensity of 50%, it would count as a volume of 15.

But I can promise you, the heavy set of 3 will be harder and trigger more muscle growth.

But based on this measuring technique, the light set would account for more muscle growth.

2. You can count each heavy set as volume. Therefore, warm-up sets, etc. do not count as volume.

Based on Dr Mike Israetel, one of the most prestigious volume experts created a table with volume recommendations for each muscle. These recommendations are termed in sets and require that each hard “working set” is on average between:

  • 60% – 90% of your 1RM (one rep maximum)
  • 8 – 20 reps
  • Finished 1 – 4 reps before muscle failure

This approach is way simpler and in my opinion more effective. But both ways are great. As long as you do measure your volume in some way, you are good to go.

Optimal rest period in-between sets

The shorter the rest period the more muscle growth? Nope, not really.

Some athletes preach short rest times to get a really good pump and to exhaust the muscle. But as mentioned before, this does not mean you are building muscle.

HMB for Muscle Growth

Studies show that rest periods are not relevant.

While shorter rest periods increase metabolic stress, longer rest periods allow you to do more reps for more sets.

As for most things, the combination is crucial.

You should start off with heavy lifts. Here, you should take rest times of 2-3 minutes for full recovery.

For high rep assistance movements, you should shorten the rest period to 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Also, the smaller the muscle the less rest it needs. this is why compound movements such as squats require more rest than bicep curls.

Volume, Intensity, and Frequency – Putting it all together

You might have noticed, creating a workout plan isn’t that easy.

There are dozens of variables involved and the optimal is different from person to person.

To keep it simple, here is a summary of where we are at so far.

What’s most important to build muscle?

  • Frequency: How often a muscle is trained within one week.
  • Volume: How many “working set” per week and per workout.
  • Intensity: How much weight is used. What percentage of our 1 RM.
  • Rest periods: How long you rest in between sets.

How to build muscle as a beginner?

  • Frequency: each muscle group 3x per week.
  • Volume: 3-5 “working sets” per muscle each workout are enough.
  • Intensity: everything above 60% of your 1 RM.
  • Rest periods: 2-3 minutes for compound lifts, 30 seconds – 1 minute for assistance exercises.

How to build muscle as an intermediate/advanced Athlete?

  • Frequency: each muscle group 2-3x per week.
  • Volume: 4-8 “working sets” per muscle each workout
  • Intensity: A mix of 80% of 1 RM and higher plus sets with 60% – 70% of 1 RM for exhaustion
  • Rest periods: 2-3 minutes for compound lifts, 30 seconds – 1 minute for assistance exercises.

As you can see, there is a clear tendency.

The more advanced you are,

  • the lower the frequency
  • the higher the volume
  • the higher the intensity

What exercises are best to build muscle?

So where are we at?

We determined all underlying variables, lastly, you will have to choose your exercises.

And with “you” I mean YOU!

Because there is plenty of great exercises, but in the end it really depends on you.

We are all built differently, so we all need to choose our exercises individually.

When you choose the exercise, you should ask yourself these questions:

1. Do I feel the muscle working?? 

Only if you feel your muscle during an exercise it will grow. Some people are not built for all exercises. I, for example, had difficulties learning the bench press. My front deltoids are very dominant. Because of that I was not benching pressing with my chest, but rather with my shoulders.

Whenever you start an exercise, first get the form right and make sure you feel the muscle.

2. Can you overload progressively?

Can you increase the load from time to time for the exercise? Especially for bodyweight exercises, you can’t. Also, for some exercises, it’s not even useful. Overloading on cable flys doesn’t make sense. Pick compound movements, squat, bench, rows, etc.

3. Do you like doing it?

This one is probably the most overlooked in my opinion. Next to volume, intensity, etc. FUN is crucial for success in the gym. If you don’t like the exercise, you won’t do it for long.

Of course, new exercises are often difficult, so give yourself time. But if you really don’t like it, take another one.

There are replacements for almost all exercises.

How do I find the best exercise for me?

As a beginner, you should focus on compound lifts such as Squats, Bench press, Deadlifts.

In the best case, you can talk to the local personal trainer and he will give you a hand.

Compound lifts need proper form. So, either educate yourself or ask someone to check your form.

When looking for assistance exercises such as bicep curl variations, try a few and pick the ones you feel best.

Is it a high or a low repetition/intensity exercise?

Some exercises are made for high intensity. Compound lifts are a great example.

While you can do squat sets of 15 reps, you should mainly stay within the 3 – 8 rep range, with high intensity (70% 1 RM upwards).

Other exercises (I often refer to them as assistance exercises) are made for high reps.

Bicep curls with high intensity and 3 – 5 reps will lead to bad form and bad results.

As a beginner, don’t overthink things too much. Stick to your plan and trust the process.

In which order should the exercises be done?

You got your main parameters such as volume etc.

You chose your exercises and rep ranges.

Lastly, you need to put them into order.

1. Start with the big muscle groups.

You should start your workout with the biggest muscles first.

Start with legs, back, chest and then work your way to smaller muscles such as bicep etc.

Bigger muscle groups and compound lifts will be hard on your nervous system. Do them first when you are still refreshed.

Progress is mostly measured for those exercises, this is another reason to start with compound movements.

2. Most technical first

Compound movements are very technical, most people take years and years to perfect their form.

They will need focus and are the most dangerous. you want to do them when you are still fresh.

3. Start with your weak spots

I told you to start with the biggest muscle group first, right? Well, that’s not always the case.

If you have good legs but a shitty chest (like me) you may want to start with bench press instead of squats. – And that’s fine!

When you are still fresh, you perform the best. If you do have weak spots, start with those.

Summary – How to build muscle

It was a long way, wasn’t it?

We now covered EVERYTHING you need to know for starting your own program.

If you need a summary or just skipped to middle parts, here’s a short and sweet list of everything you need to keep in mind.

To build muscle takes time. Rome was not built in a day and so will your beach body. But do not worry, you will get there!

There are two types of muscle fibers, Type 1 (Slow twitch) and Type 2 (Fast twitch).

Type 1 is mainly used for higher rep ranges, you could say for endurance.

Type 2 is built for heavy lifts, high intensity, you could say for strength.

Muscles grow through stress. Muscle fibers grow, or your body builds new ones, either way, you build muscle.

What do I mean by stress? A progressive overload. This means steadily increasing weights, volume, etc.

Sometimes your body has not done that before.

Then, your body needs to adapt and triggers muscle protein synthesis. It builds muscle.

I will keep it simple for you. there are 4 main factors that trigger muscle protein synthesis, muscle growth.

  1. High Tension: Achieved through heavy weights and low reps (3-6).
  2. Microtraumas: Achieved though long negative (eccentric) phases.
  3. Metabolic Stress: Caused by energy efficiency in the muscle. Achieved through high reps (10-20).
  4. Get enough calories and especially protein. 1.25g – 1.5g of protein per KG bodyweight should be sufficient.

Now, you need to find the right Volume, Intensity, Frequency and rest periods.

There are dozens of variables involved and the optimal is different from person to person. To keep it simple, here is a summary of what’s most important.

What’s most important to build muscle?

  • Frequency: How often a muscle is trained within one week.
  • Volume: How many “working set” per week and per workout.
  • Intensity: How much weight is used. What percentage of our 1 RM.
  • Rest periods: How long you rest in between sets.

How to build muscle as a beginner?

  • Frequency: each muscle group 3x per week.
  • Volume: 3-5 “working sets” per muscle each workout are enough.
  • Intensity: everything above 60% of your 1 RM.
  • Rest periods: 2-3 minutes for compound lifts, 30 seconds – 1 minute for assistance exercises.

How to build muscle as an intermediate/advanced Athlete?

  • Frequency: each muscle group 2-3x per week.
  • Volume: 4-8 “working sets” per muscle each workout
  • Intensity: A mix of 80% of 1 RM and higher plus sets with 60% – 70% of 1 RM for exhaustion
  • Rest periods: 2-3 minutes for compound lifts, 30 seconds – 1 minute for assistance exercises.

The more advanced you are,

  • The lower the frequency
  • the higher the volume
  • the higher the intensity

Lastly, chose the right exercises. Focus on compound lifts as a beginner and as you progress, add some assistance movements.

Always start with the most technical exercises that focus on the big muscle groups.

To finish the guide here is how an example plan of a full body workout could look like:

  • Squats: 4 Sets, 5 Reps, 85% 1 RM
  • Pull-ups: 4 Sets, 6 -8 Reps, 75% – 80% 1RM
  • Bench Press: 4 Sets, 5 Reps, 85% 1 RM
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 3 Sets, 12 Reps, 60% 1 RM
  • Cable Flys: 3 Sets, 12 Reps, 60% 1 RM

and 2-3 Assistance Exercises depending on your strengths and weaknesses. Bicep Curls, Side laterals, …

This is just an example workout that I used as an intermediate lifter. As I have a strong front deltoid development, I do not include any shoulder presses, this might be different for you.

Did I forget anything? Ask questions in the comments!



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