Personal Trainer’s Guide to Muscle Building
If I asked you what you must do to gain muscle mass, what would your answer be?
“Sign up at the gym and start lifting weights”, right?
This might be true to some extent, after all one cannot gain muscle mass without lifting weights, however just hitting the gym and lifting heavy weights won’t help you accomplish your goal of building muscles.
In addition to training, in order to build muscles, you must focus on your diet and nutrition as well. If you disregard diet and nutrition, you’ll never be able to get the results you desire. Many people don’t pay attention to diet and nutrition and focus on lifting heavy weights, the end result is that they fail to gain muscle mass.
In all my years of working as a personal trainer, I have seen hundreds of people transform their physique from bony to beastly. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed many people failing in their efforts in the pursuit of building muscles. There are many training programs available on the internet — some work well, others are not really effective. Some are based on science while many barely try to sell dietary supplements for profits. Deciphering the right information from hundreds of ineffective articles on the internet can be a minefield.
Fortunately, there are some general rules and guidelines that always work for those who want to gain muscles. I speak from my own experience and have seen it work for my clients. So, I present to you this complete guide based on general rules of muscle building and my own experience.
Are you ready to get buff? Let’s begin with the guide!
The three fundamentals of building muscles, which no personal trainer can deny are:
Heavy weight lifting stimulates muscles fibers and thus forces your body to respond with the growth of muscles. Essentially, your body must be taught that you’ll be lifting heavy weights, so it will have to build more muscles to respond to extra load.
You’ll have to eat more to consume a caloric surplus – you need enough calories for not only maintaining the current weight of your body, but also to fuel the body for extra training.
Rest is essential to build muscle mass as you can damage your body if you keep on training without breaks. Once the damage is done, it’s very hard to recover. Therefore, never push your body to more than it can possibly handle.
Diet and Nutrition
Just because you’re skinny, doesn’t mean you should eat everything you can to gain weight. You must eat high-quality, wholesome foods. Many people eat burgers, pizzas, fast food and ice cream to consume more calories, but it is really a bad plan. The high calories in these foods will increase your weight and you’ll get fat. It will be hard to recover once you’re fat and you won’t be able to concentrate on building muscles.
Consider the following foods for building muscles:
- Organic eggs
- White rice
When putting on muscle, you don’t necessarily have to keep track of calories. Just count the macros (protein, carbs and fats) based on your body weight.
For building muscles, consume 1g of protein per pound of your total body weight every day. It’s more than enough to build muscle mass.
You need fat for brain function, hormone optimization and healthy joints. Eat 0.5-0.6g of fat per pound of your total body weight. 0.5-0.6 grams is an ideal amount of fat to ensure that your diet is not low on fat. You can add more fat, but then you’ll have to lower your intake of carbohydrates and protein.
I recommend you eat 1.6-3g of carbs per pound of your total body weight. But like fat, you can vary the amount depending on your preferences and needs, so consider this a starting number. If you are skinny and need to gain more weight, increase your intake of carbohydrates. If you gain weight easily, then eat fewer carbs.
It’s best if you consume less carbs during the day and take most at night. At breakfast, eat yoghurt, eggs and fruit, consider steamed veggies and fish or meat for lunch. For dinner, have fish or meat again with rice, vegetables or sweet potatoes.
If you are fat, don’t eat too much to get bulky. When there is excess fat on your body, you must get lean first before you build muscles. Once you’ve gotten rid of the excess blubber, you can build muscles more easily.
Get Strong to Gain Muscle Mass
If you keep doing the same workouts again and again, you’ll never be able to build muscles. You must force your body to change. How do you begin with the change? Start by lifting more weight. Get stronger, aim for 5-10 reps, and you will get bigger.
Pick few exercises to train your whole body. Squat, deadlift variations, presses, rows and chin-ups are few of the best exercises to get stronger. Note down the weight you can handle currently for each exercise, work hard and try to increase the weight by 10-20 pound or increase the reps by 3-5 while keeping the same weight. Your body will grow when you force it.
Compound Muscle-Building Exercises
There’s no easy way to build muscles. You must push your body with compound exercises. The best compound exercises that can help you build muscles are:
- Squats- buffalo bar, safety bar, back, front, belt.
- Deadlifts- Romanian, trap bar, rack, sumo, conventional
- Military Presses- dumbbell, barbell, log
- Rows- chest supported, 1-arm dumbbell, landmine
- Weighted Sled Work- push and drag a sled
You must work hard and try to get stronger on all these exercises. Slowly add weight or reps to progress.
Compound exercises lay the muscle building foundation, but they need to be complemented by body-weight exercises for building muscles. Some body-weight exercises you should focus on are:
- Pushup variations
- Plank variations
- Inverted rows
- Lunge variations
- Single-leg squat
With body-weight exercises, stability and core strength will build up inside your body. Compound exercises and body-weight exercises together will produce a muscular physique you desire. But, be careful, don’t push yourself too hard or people will mistake you for ‘hulk’.
It goes without saying that without proper techniques, you can never get bigger. However, you might have noticed how people at public gyms lift weights without any proper form. Many times, this is the reason why workouts don’t give the results to people who train alone without any guidance from a trainer. There are several components of a perfect workout technique. Focus on the following:
- Don’t use momentum! Bouncing reps won’t do you any good.
- On dumbbell exercises, think, constant movement and constant tension. Stop when you reach the top and reverse immediately.
- Control the lift’s eccentric portion. It will give you more control of the weight and increase the damage to your muscles. Thus, your muscles will grow more.
Contrary to what most people think, you don’t have to train continuously six days a week to build muscles. Strength-training for three to four days works well for most genetically-average, steroid-free people.
An ideal split should allow a person to:
- Spare their spine and joints
- Recover properly
- Gain strength
For beginners, I recommend training with 3 full-body workouts each week. In each workout, do one compound pushing exercise, one compound pulling exercise and one compound lower-body exercise. You can add one or two more exercises like kettlebell swings if you want, but these three exercises are enough for a whole-body workout.
If you have been training for more than 6 months, I recommend you split your weekly workout into lower-body and upper-body days. For example, on Monday, do upper body exercises, on Tuesday, do lower. Rest on Wednesday, start with upper body on Thursday and finish off with lower body on Friday. Rest and enjoy with friends or family over the weekend. Your body deserves rest for all the hard work over the weekend.
For people who train three days a week, I recommend rotating lower-body and upper-body days every week. For example:
Tuesday: Lower body.
Thursday: Upper body.
Saturday: Lower body.
Tuesday: Upper body.
Thursday: Lower body.
Saturday: Upper body.
Some strong powerlifters focus on lower/upper split throughout their lifting careers. However, if you are old or/and struggle to recover, I recommend a pull/push/legs split for directly training everything once each week. Many bodybuilders train this way and it could work well for you too.
For example, exercise for shoulders, triceps and chest on Tuesday, exercise for biceps and back on Thursday and do legs on Saturday.
I have noticed that in many bodybuilding guidelines, the number of sets and reps are too high and wrong exercises are told. But, if you go heavier, lower the volume and do compound exercises as I’ve mentioned, you can build muscles without putting extra stress on their joints.
Work Hard but Smart
Don’t push yourself to the extreme for getting big. You should never get to a point where you’re turning purple and can’t lift for another rep. It is best to end your sets before failure. The moment you feel like your form is breaking down, just end the set. If you push yourself too hard and overdo it, chances are you’ll get injured and all the progress you’ve made so far will go to waste.
Cardio and Conditioning
Doing cardio won’t make you weak and small, even if you are a skinny. If you skip conditioning, you’ll just go out of shape. Conditioning allows you to stay athletic and lean and also improves recovery.
For cardio, I recommend high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It’s extremely effective in boosting conditioning and burning fat while preserving mass. I recommend HIIT workout of 15-30 minutes even for skinny hard-gainers. For those who want to lose extra fat, 2-3 HIIT workouts would work best.
For a HIIT workout, choose one or multiple exercises and go hard and fast for 30-60 seconds. I actually recommend putting your 90-95% effort just to prevent injuries. You can rest for 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat the exercise for 15-30 minutes.
I recommend these exercises for HIIT:
- Jumping rope
- Kettlebell swings
- Sprinting while dragging or pushing a sled
- Sprinting up hills
In addition to these exercises, if you like jogging, hiking or other kinds of low-intensity cardio, those can be done too.
Recovery is a Priority
Training is to stimulate muscles for growth. You can train all day, but that alone won’t help you grow. Your body grows outside of the gym when it’s recovering; not when you’re working out. If you fail to recover, you fail to grow. Simple.
So, how can you ensure a proper recovery from workouts? For that, I recommend the following:
- Don’t train for more than an hour in one session.
- Do not go beyond your limits.
- Don’t get stressed.
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep.
- Take contrast showers and baths.
- Consider a massage
- Do some yoga or any other stretching exercise on rest days
Remember, you won’t get bulky without consistency. By consistency, I don’t mean training continuously for two months or three months. If you want to get buff, you must consistently get 3 to 4 workouts every week, never miss a meal, sleep on time, give your body the time it needs to recover and repeat the process year after year. That’s how you’ll make real progress and become like Arnold Schwarzenegger or at least get anywhere near to how he was in his 20s.
Be passionate, stay committed and work hard!
Check out our guide on how to master pull ups