The Basics of Building Muscle

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For many guys, adding layers of muscle tissue that glisten in the summer sun and ripple when put to work is one of the more enjoyable fitness endeavours. You get to lift, get stronger and eat a lot more food than usual. 

We’re also seeing a growing number of women now entering gyms as it has been well documented and more widely accepted that strength training is one of the more potent ways to forge a physique that is both lean and physically strong. 

It is my hope with this short article to provide for you some muscle-building fundamentals that you may not know about and can apply right away.


Big Movements For Big Mass

It goes without saying, you’re going to need to lift weights. The bulk of your training should Prioritise compound movements such as bench presses, squats, chin-ups, rows, deadlifts and overhead presses. These multi-joint movements work the largest muscle groups stimulating the most size and strength. After you’ve given the big lifts they’re due you can then fill in the gaps with isolation movements such as flyes, curls, extension and raises, for the added training volume and in order to shape and develop lagging parts. It is recommended for isolation movements to be performed with moderate to lower loads for more repetitions, since your loading around a single joint without the protective benefits of sharing the workload across numerous joints systems and muscles.



We know that training needs to be hard in order to trigger the desired growth response. Recent research has concluded that although heavier weights perform better, there doesn’t seem to be a large difference between high and low load training for hypertrophy, so long as sets were taken to or near concentric muscular failure. For growth, sets should be taken to at least under 4-1 reps in reserve, away from muscular failure (4-1 RIR) and in many cases, each set should last approximately 35-70 seconds (time under tension principle) in order to stimulate the physiological cascade of events that maximises growth. Training to absolute failure is not necessary, and often leaves fewer physiological resources left for recovery, exposes you to greater injury risk and accumulates far more fatigue leading to burn out far sooner. 



Whilst over time you certainly want to be getting stronger and moving more weight, the biggest driver of muscle building is volume. Volume is the amount of work that you do, often measured by the number of sets and reps performed per week. The preference is that as the week’s progress you want to be performing more reps and/or more sets each week before you think about adding more load, so long as you are still able to recover. 


How Much Matters More Than What 

One of the biggest issues that we see with people that struggle with gaining lean tissue is that they’re usually not eating enough. You need to be in a small daily caloric surplus in order to have the raw materials available to build new contractile tissue. Typically, an extra 300-500 calories per day above maintenance needs will do the trick without also accumulating too much fat mass. Be warned though, with a comfortable caloric surplus you will likely accumulate some fat mass across the duration of a gaining building plan, however, if you find that you’re tipping the scales with an added 1kg per week, you’re very likely eating too much. My general recommendation is to figure out your daily energy needs for growth by taking your body weight in pounds and multiplying that number by between 16-18 to determine your total daily caloric needs. 

e.g. bodyweight lbs =  (kg x 2.2) x 16-18

Using 16 as the starting point and then raising the intake to 18 if you’re not getting stronger and you’re not getting heavier and simply adjust the figures up or down based upon your results. 

You would then further break up that number to comprise of approximately 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and the remaining 20% being allocated to healthy fat sources. These numbers can vary but to keep things simple, the number one requirement from the nutrition front is to make sure that you’re getting enough total calories to support growth. The second rule is to make sure that you’re getting enough protein to build and repair, enough carbohydrate to fuel your hard workouts. You then fill the rest with fats to round out the main focus points.  Finally, make sure that you spread these calories out across the day somewhat evenly in order to optimise continual growth and repair. The so-called anabolic window doesn’t count for much so long as you have calories averaged out across the week, consuming a majority of you calories around training times for fueling and to support repair.


Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Danny works with some of Australias fastest youth track and field athletes, and consults with busy professionals and businesses to reach higher levels of performance.

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