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How to build muscle

Wie man Muskeln aufbaut

The process of building muscle is a highly complex physiological and biomechanical process that can confuse even the most experienced exerciser. Here are 5 simple steps to get you started on the right path today.

Are you looking for the most comprehensive muscle building guide on the internet? Glad you stopped by, I have exactly what you were looking for.

This guide will walk you through everything from nutrition to training to proper supplementation and put you on the right path to building as much quality muscle mass as possible.

How do you really build muscle?

Before we talk about the practical basics of building muscle, we need to go over the basics of muscle physiology to make sure we're on the same page.

When someone trains with weights, they generate trauma within the muscle fibers through micro tears. Once such damage occurs, a cascade of biochemical signals begins and satellite cells become active. These cells connect with muscle cells to repair the damaged areas and help synthesize new contractile components.

When these components increase the muscle cross-sectional area, you experience the phenomenon known as muscle hypertrophy.

Basically, you need to remember that the goal of training is to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, with the key to building muscle being cellular repair, not damage.

Don't get me wrong, there is some truth to the statement "stimulate rather than destroy", but to quote super genius and performance specialist Alex Vida:

"Adaptations require forcing the body to do something it doesn't really want to do - and that will hurt. If it gets easier, there's a good chance you'll get lazier."

Somatotypes: Do they even matter?

When it comes to training and nutrition, most people want to sort themselves into one of 3 categories of body types: ectomorph, mesomorph or endomorph.

Before we take a closer look at these three somatypes, let's first examine the origin and significance of body type categorization.

Somatypes were originally developed by a physiologist from Rhode Island named William Herbert Sheldon. Originally, body type classification was developed to characterize a person's physiological state based on their athletropometry.

Eventually, the bodybuilding and fitness community adopted the somatype classification system as a way to categorize physical abnormalities in exercisers.

But not only that - the original model developed by Sheldon was designed exclusively for men, which begs the question, what should women use?

As you can see, somatypes are quite limited in terms of design, application and significance. Having said that, here are typical characteristics of each classification in Sheldon's developmental model:

Ectomorph

The typical "skinny" type:

  • Narrow joints
  • Narrow shoulders
  • Rather slender physique
  • Long bone structure
  • Tall and lanky

This type of exerciser is also known as a "hardgainer" in the weight training community.

Mesomporph

  • Fairly athletic build
    • Heavy bone structure
    • Higher level of body mass
  • Kind of bulky appearance
  • Naturally strong, which is true even with a lack of proper training

Endomorphic

  • Small and stocky build:
    • Chubby appearance
    • Slightly higher amounts of body fat
  • The length of the limbs offers advantages for strength training in the lower body area

You'll notice that unlike most other articles on this topic, I'm not going to give specific recommendations for training and diet depending on somatotype.

If I'm honest, I believe that most of these articles use a rather myopic approach, as many people don't follow the "scheme F" recommendations associated with their body type.

For example, what happens if you have an ectomorphic physique but feel terrible on a higher carbohydrate diet and do well with 5 training days a week?

Should you keep gritting your teeth and shoveling carbs into you, avoiding cardio and only working out 3 days a week because that's what all the internet experts recommend?

The short answer is "no."

Somatypes were never developed as a means of estimating muscle growth potential or individual genetic response to training.

Remember that body types are not the be-all and end-all - you're not doomed to a life of hardgainer hell because you're tall and lanky and have narrow shoulders.

Neither are you doomed to put on fat if you are an endomorph who loves carbohydrates. The somatypes are merely reference points - nothing more and nothing less.

Don't limit yourself psychologically by believing that your somatotype is something you can't control and is the limiting factor for your gains.

Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes described this as follows,

"I think somatypes are useful as a very general classification for beginning exercisers - not as a reason to limit your potential. Your somatype is not even real. Don't use somatypes as an excuse to generate a preconceived limit where no real limit exists.

STEP 1: CALCULATE YOUR CALORIE NEEDS

The first thing you need to do is determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Basal metabolic rate is basically an estimate of the minimum energy required to maintain your basic bodily functions (heart function, respiration, etc.) when you are physically active for 24 hours.

Once you have determined your basal metabolic rate, you need to multiply the activity factor by this value to get your daily calorie expenditure. This value is a combination of the calories needed to maintain your basal metabolic rate and provide you with the energy you need for your daily activities.

If you type "BMR calculator" into Google, you will find numerous sites that will help you determine your basal metabolic rate. You will need the value determined in this way for the following calculations.

Low-fat mass gain:

Low-fat mass gain is generally recommended for healthy people of average weight. Use the following formula to calculate your daily calorie requirements for a low-fat mass gain:

  • Total daily calorie requirement + 250 kcal

Aggressive mass gain:

If you are fairly new to training, underweight or a classic hardgainer, then it may be beneficial to use a more aggressive nutritional approach. Use the following formula to determine your daily calorie requirements for aggressive mass gain:

  • Total Daily Calorie Requirement + 500 kcal

Keep in mind that all of these calculations are based on algorithms created for the average person. These algorithms cannot take into account all individual factors such as NEAT (non-exercise induced thermogenesis), genotypes, hormones, lifestyle factors, hobbies or nervous system dominance.

Therefore, some individuals will need to add more calories to their calculated total calorie consumption to gain weight, while others will need fewer calories to keep the scale pointer moving in the right direction. Start with the calculated number, eat accordingly for a month, check the scale and re-estimate the amount of calories needed based on your progress.

If you've been exercising for a year or two, it's realistic to aim for a weight gain of roughly half a pound per week. Beginners should aim for a slightly higher 0.75 to 1 pound per week to maximize their muscle-building potential.

STEP 2: PLAN YOUR MUSCLE BUILDING DIET

Meet Joe.

Joe is a 20-year-old college student who is new to training with weights but wants to build some muscle. He is 75 kilos, 185 cm tall and works part-time in a restaurant. He tries to train 4 days a week, he is quite thin and resembles the average ectomorph.

We will use Joe as a practical example to show you the steps needed to determine your calories and macronutrients. In step 1 you learned how to calculate your base calories and here we will show you how to break this down into macronutrients and plan your meals.

  • Total calorie requirement: ~2750 kcal
    • Estimated calorie target for aggressive mass gain: 2750 + 500 = 3250 kcal

  • Protein:
    • Start with 1 gram per pound of body weight
    • Each gram of protein contains 4 kcal
    • 150g
    • 150g (i.e. twice your body weight) = 150x4 = 600 kcal

  • Fat:
    • Start with 0.9 grams per kilogram of body weight
    • Each gram of fat contains 9 kcal
    • ~70g = 70 * 9 = 630 kcal

  • Carbohydrates:
    • Fill up the remaining calories with carbohydrates
    • Each gram of carbohydrates provides 4 kcal
    • 3250 - 1230 (600+630) = 2020 kcal divided by 4 = 505g

So Joe would be aiming for roughly 150g protein, 70g fat and 505g carbs per day.

Don't panic now. I know that may sound like a large amount of carbs and/or calories, but some guys (and gals) need these amounts to build muscle.

If you can't manage to eat that many carbs, or if that amount of carbs doesn't seem to do you any good, then you can also increase your fat intake at the expense of carbohydrate intake, as fats are more calorie dense and therefore provide less nutritional volume.

I should also note that these recommendations are intended for young, healthy and active people. For older people, and people who do not respond to specific dietary strategies, certain nutrients may require manipulation.

Joe's muscle building diet

Ingredient Serving Size Oatmeal 1.5 cups Whole eggs 3 large banana 1 large Mixed vegetables 1 cup Meal 1: 865 kcal - 125g Kh/ 25g F/ 35g P Ingredient Serving size Chicken 120 grams White rice 2 cups Broccoli 1 cups Olive oil 1 tablespoon Cherries 1 cup Meal 2: 820 kcal - 120g Kh/ 20g F/ 40g P Ingredient Serving size Lean ground beef 180 grams Sweet potatoes 2 large Green beans 2 cups Sliced mango 1 cup Meal 3: 855 kcal - 90g Kh /15g F/ 40g P Ingredient Serving size Ground turkey 120 grams Whole wheat spaghetti 180 grams Tomato sauce 1/2 cup Apple 1 medium Meal 4: 870 kcal - 155g Kh/ 10g F/ 45g P You don't have to stick to this meal plan exactly. There is nothing magical about the foods included. This plan is just an example to show you how you can easily calculate the macronutrients for your body and then put together a sensible meal plan based on these nutrient amounts.

Total calories: 3230 kcal - 490g Kh / 70g F / 160g P
Daily target: 3250 kcal - 505g Kh / 70g F / 150g P

These values do not match 100%, but they are close enough together that the small deviations will not make a big difference. Consistency and adherence to a nutrition plan are critical to success - not your ability to hit specific macronutrient amounts exactly.

Having said that, here are some simple guidelines for measuring your food intake if you don't have a scale handy, or don't want to use one:

  • 1 palm = 1 serving for a protein source (~150 to 180 grams)
  • The length of your thumb = 1 portion for fat sources
  • 1 cupped hand = 1 portion for carbohydrate sources
  • 1 fist = 1 serving of vegetables

I should also note that most people should recalculate their macronutrient amounts regularly (every 4 to 6 weeks) and add calories if their weight is not increasing. Your body will try to maintain a state of homeostasis despite the fact that you are trying to gain weight, so you may have to force adjustments by increasing your calories even further.

Muscle building foods

Foods contain carbohydrates in the form of glucose, fats in the form of triglycerides and proteins in the form of amino acids. Calories are the building blocks for muscle, but you should also be aware of the individual macronutrients and have a rough idea of how much of each you are consuming.

When it comes to muscle gains, you should do your best to keep things simple and healthy on the nutrition side of the equation. Just stick to whole foods that contain as few additives as possible. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Protein:

  • Poultry, lean beef, whey protein, fish (fatty and lean varieties), eggs.

Carbohydrates:

  • Rice, quinoa, oatmeal, potatoes, fruit, vegetables

Fats:

  • Olive oil, mixed nuts and seeds, coconut oil, cheese, avocados

Keep in mind that as your calorie intake increases, it can become progressively difficult to consume enough food to reach your goals. If this becomes a problem, you can use liquid foods such as smoothies, coconut milk or whole milk to increase your calorie intake.

Once you have met your micronutrient requirements, you can also turn to processed food sources to increase your calorie intake if you are lacking in appetite.

Hard-training people may consume a greater amount of processed foods due to their higher workload, but ideally processed foods should only make up 10 to 15% of their calorie intake.

Basic supplementation

This area is exactly what the name suggests: a supplement to an already solid nutrition and training program.

If you don't have these two areas covered, you won't be able to use supplements to compensate for a poor lifestyle and your decision to neglect the two most important components of your muscle development and physical growth.

Paul Carter put it this way,

"If your supplements cost more than the rest of your diet, then something is very wrong."

  1. Creatine - Creatine is cheap and effective and its effects are supported by countless scientific studies showing its efficiency in terms of power release, muscle hypertrophy and anaerobic energy system performance.
  2. Fish oil - A healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is critical for both long-term cardiovascular health and control of blood lipid levels.
  3. Vitamin D - Strictly speaking, vitamin D is not a vitamin. Rather, it is a fat-soluble nutrient similar to vitamins A, E and K, but differs from other fat-soluble vitamins in that it acts as a steroid precursor from a hormonal perspective. Scientific research has shown that optimal vitamin D levels can affect heart health, cognitive ability and bone density.
  4. Whey protein - If you're struggling with your protein intake or want to increase your meal frequency to get more calories in, then whey protein is one of the best and most cost effective options that is portable, tasty and convenient.

*OPTIONAL

  1. Probiotics/Digestive Enzymes - If you're eating 4,000 kcal every day, then your digestive system has to be working overtime. Not to mention that improving gut flora can boost short-chain fatty acid production, nutrient absorption and individual immune response to antigens.
  2. BCAAs - The use of BCAAs is admittedly context dependent. If you're in a fasted state or doing excessively long workouts then BCAAs make a little more sense, but for the average exerciser there are wiser ways to invest your money.
  3. ZMA - Sleep is essential in building new muscle and improving your recovery between workouts. However, many athletes suffer from a lack of zinc and magnesium, as the intense training sessions can deplete the reserves of these minerals. Such a deficiency can have a negative effect on sleep and hormone production and thus impair training results.

Muscle building nutrition tips

PROTEIN:

  • Support your training sessions with protein before and after training
  • Eat protein with every meal and snack
  • Leave a gap of 3 to 4 hours between meals to allow amino acid levels to return to baseline
  • Make sure you consume some protein or at least branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) before training to maximize anabolism

CARBON HYDRATES:

  • Should preferably be consumed around training
  • Can be split according to personal preference and individual response - e.g. spread throughout the day, later in the day, less in the evening, more in the morning, etc.
  • Prioritize fruits, vegetables and other whole food options - rice, potatoes, oatmeal, etc.
  • Carbohydrates should neither be feared nor completely avoided as they are very important to the muscle building process
  • If carbohydrates tend to make you tired, then choose options with a lower glycemic index or simply consume the majority of your carbohydrates later in the day after you've exercised

FAT:

  • Experiment with avoiding fats in the pre-, during and post-workout periods as they delay nutrient digestion
  • Eat fats with the other meals of the day as they lower the glycemic index of the meal and improve the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
  • Consume a balanced variety of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats
  • Avoid fats that are not naturally occurring (i.e. artificially produced fats such as corn oil, rapeseed oil, safflower oil, etc.)
  • Ensure an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids from a variety of sources

STEP 3: CHOOSE YOUR TRAINING PROGRAM

Nutrition is only part of the equation - if you're not working out, then it doesn't matter if your macronutrient intake is perfect or if you're following the healthiest diet known to man.

If you're the adventurous or inquisitive type, then you might be interested in putting together your own training program, but this will require some experimentation and knowledge. Depending on your preferences and goals, your training will likely boil down to one of the following training splits:

  • Full body - 3 training days per week
  • Upper/lower body - 4 training days per week
  • Legs/Push/Pull - 3 to 5 training days per week

We'll get into exercise selection in another section of this guide, but in general you'll find that one of these templates will work best for most exercises.

Remember, this isn't about using a fad or fancy exercise program - it's about relentless application of the basics until you become a master of the most mundane things.

A few words about technique

When you first start training, it can be tempting to focus more on the weight on the bar than the biomechanics of the movement. Don't trick yourself - poor technique will pay back in the long run.

Ideally, you should start your training session with 5 minutes with the fascia roller and then move on to some dynamic stretching and activation exercises for your shoulders and hips. This warm-up doesn't have to be particularly long, but it will make a drastic difference in the long run if you incorporate these elements into your training program.

The most effective muscle building exercises

Deadlift

Deadlifts are without a doubt one of the best muscle building exercises an exerciser can include in their training program. How many strength athletes who can deadlift 300 kilos have a narrow back? Just like squats, deadlifts should ideally be performed with a barbell.

Squats

Perform deep squats and try to go even deeper. Deep squats are one of the hardest exercises to truly master, but they are essential to any training program. Due to differences in hip anatomy and bone structure, not everyone will be able to go all the way down to the ankles with the butt, but in general, everyone should work on mastering both classic squats with the bar at the neck and front squats.

Dips

You should be able to manipulate your body weight through space against gravity. If you are unable to perform simple exercises such as push-ups, dips and pull-ups, then you need to work on your relative strength. Having said that, I would like to point out that dips are an excellent muscle building exercise for the chest, triceps and shoulders if progressive overload is maintained.

Pull-ups

Performing pull-ups is the easiest way to determine a person's relative strength. If you can bench press with your bodyweight but can't do at least 5 pull-ups without additional weight, then it's time to reprioritize. Pull-ups are an excellent mass building exercise for the latissimus, biceps and upper back and should be prioritized over machine versions like lat pull-ups whenever possible.

Bench press

Bench presses are as American as apple pie, fireworks and bald eagles. If you walk into a gym on a Monday, you can be pretty sure that 85% of the men in the building will be bench pressing - and with good reason. Variations of barbell and dumbbell bench presses or incline bench presses are very effective mass building exercises for the chest, shoulders and triceps.

Overhead press / shoulder press

Everyone wants to know how much you bench press, but when was the last time someone asked you how much you overhead press? Shoulder presses are an excellent indicator of your overall upper body strength and a balanced training program. Most experienced exercisers should be able to press their body weight overhead.

Rowing

Bilateral (barbell) and unilateral (dumbbell) versions of rowing are both very beneficial when it comes to developing the muscles of the upper back, which is relatively weak in most exercisers. Machine versions can also be useful, as each form of rowing has specific benefits, but you will generally benefit more from the free weight versions.

Your recovery determines how hard you can train

It would be an unforgivable mistake not to address the importance of recovery. Your recovery outside the gym will determine your training frequency, duration and intensity.

You can't continuously push yourself to the max in the gym and expect your body to perform at 100% on a daily basis. As I said at the beginning of the article, cellular repair is the key to building muscle - not the muscle damage caused by training.

When you see bodybuilders or professional athletes training at a huge volume, keep in mind that there are specific parameters at play that allow these athletes to train extremely hard and recover exceptionally well and quickly from training - and these parameters are performance enhancing substances.

Aside from possible steroid use, their entire lifestyle revolves around their training: they eat, train, eat, sleep, rest, eat, sleep and then start all over again. External stressors are limited to allow them to focus all their time and energy on their training and improving their body or athletic ability.

The average exerciser should focus on the following 3 points:

  • Sleep
  • Stress
  • The need to rest

Sleep

Sleep is undoubtedly one of the most neglected performance enhancing factors. An entire field of scientific research deals exclusively with sleep and its effects on body composition and muscle growth.

Most exercisers should aim for 8 hours of sleep or more per night. Suffice to say, you should be able to wake up naturally at the same time every day without needing an alarm clock. If this is not the case, then you need to improve your "sleep hygiene" and your day-night rhythm.

Stress

Stress can be a good thing in certain situations, because training is also a stress factor, right? This is of course true, but if you have multiple stressors in your life that weigh on you mentally and physically, then you will quickly feel the negative effects of these stressors on your health and performance.

Spend 5 to 10 minutes a day in complete silence without social media or electronic devices. You'll be surprised how hard this can be, but it's important to get away from the constant stress of updates, texts and incessant messages. Surround yourself with people who have similar goals and are willing to support you in your endeavors. If someone is constantly dragging you down, this will have a negative impact on your motivation and will to train.

Rest

Muscles need time to recover. You can't expect your chest and shoulder muscles to perform at full capacity if you did 8 sets of bench presses the day before.

Most muscles can recover sufficiently within about 48 hours, so training them every other day would be a good start. For this reason, most beginner programs are based on a pattern of one day of training followed by one day of rest.

This is not to say that you should never train muscle groups on multiple days in a row, as there are programs that do just that (e.g. Smolov, Sheiko, etc.) and exercisers get excellent results with these programs. However, 48 hours of rest is a solid rule of thumb.

But not only that - your whole body needs time to adapt to the stimulus of training, so you shouldn't expect to look like Arnold after 6 months of training in the gym.

Training through mild muscle soreness is fine, but if you're continuously training to the point where you can barely walk, then it's time to take a step back for the sake of your body.

Recommended training programs

If you have just started training, then you should look at some of the options you find in this blog or on other sites on the internet and do them exactly as they are described. Too many young exercisers want to change every training variable instead of running the program as it is intended. And no, you don't need a full day of training focusing solely on your arms if you can't even manage to do a single pull-up.

Going into detail about all the possible different training programs would go far beyond the scope of this already very long article, so you should check out the training programs you can find on this blog or on other sites on the internet.

STEP 4: PUT YOUR NEW PLAN INTO ACTION

When it comes to achieving your goals, remember that nothing will work until you put it into action. You won't achieve your goals by wishing or hoping to be different - so go to the gym and do something. No one said it would be easy, they just said it would be worth the effort.

Find time to work out

Most people have a 9 to 5 job, but if you're not in the workforce yet, chances are you're a high school or college student who has classes that are spread throughout the day and that, combined with the associated homework, will eat up a lot of your time.

You will probably have to work out either in the morning or evening to fit your workout into your hectic schedule. Here are a few things to consider in terms of possible workout times:

Exercise in the morning:

Improves your mental alertness and sets the tone for the day

  • Prevents you from skipping your workout later in the day for any reason
  • Motivates you to make healthier food choices as you have started the day 'on the right foot'
  • Teaches you discipline as you voluntarily get up earlier than normal to train hard and improve
  • Gives you more time for your social life after work
  • Gives you something to look forward to at the start of each day

Exercise in the evening:

  • Physical performance is typically higher later in the day and peaks in the afternoon
  • Means less stress as you don't have to rush to get to work on time
  • Allows for longer workouts with longer warm-ups and longer rests between sets, which typically correlate with greater improvements in the short and long term
  • Allows for a less hectic morning as you can sleep longer, prepare your food for the day, pack your workout gear and adequately prepare for the day ahead.
  • Allows for a more relaxed atmosphere which can make it easier for you to ask others for advice, or simply chat with the other people in the gym to unwind after a hard day's work.
  • Helps many people wind down before they go to bed

Food preparation

Nutrition is the crux of your success. As long as you have not optimized your diet, you will not achieve your goals - regardless of whether you are looking to build muscle or lose fat.

Most of your success will come from preparing your food and eating consistently well.

Of course, you will occasionally eat a few meals in restaurants, as there are always social activities such as parties or dinner invitations that should neither be ignored nor forgotten. However, if you prepare and cook your own meals, you will find it much easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This process doesn't just start in your kitchen, but from the moment you enter the supermarket or grocery store of your choice.

If you only have healthy food options at home, then it will be much easier to eat primarily whole and nutritious foods. Preparing and prepping food for the week will take some time, but in the end it will make your life a lot easier, especially during busy periods.

Keep a training diary

There is nothing more important than monitoring your progress. You'll never know how far you've come if you can't look back at your successes and failures.

You don't have to document every single aspect of your journey, but some will enjoy the process and get satisfaction from the little things. Photos and body measurements are an easy way to objectively measure your progress rather than simply relying on subjective opinions and what you see in the mirror.

More important than anything, however, is that you keep a record of your diet and training. You should focus on progressive overload during each training session and you should also have a general idea of how many calories you are consuming. I've already talked about estimating calorie intake above. Just make sure you stick to this consistently so that you can make adjustments if your progress stagnates.

STEP 5: STAY MOTIVATED

Making it to the gym is often the hardest part of the day. Once you get there and start your warm-up, things get a lot easier.

For some exercisers, however, motivation seems to wane with each passing day as they struggle with too little sleep, skip workouts or let their diet slide when they're stressed. In the midst of this social media-focused world, it can be hard to find motivation to exercise when so many bare-chested selfies are posted to show the progress of certain individuals.

We need to remember that psychological factors play a very big part in motivation and efforts to stick with it despite the influence of external factors.

When it comes to your goals, individuals with a high level of specific motivation will often achieve their goals and remain successful as they are motivated by the activity itself rather than needing validation from others.

5 rules of successful exercisers

1. knowledge

When it comes to building the best body possible, you must be willing to experiment and learn from your body. No one will be able to tell you what the most effective nutritional strategy and training split is for your individual genotype. Not only that, but other people don't know your personal preferences, your injury history, your asymmetries, your experience level and your current work capacity.

2. preparation

If you have goals regarding your body development, then you need to monitor your diet. It will take some work to prepare a few healthy meals and make sure you're getting enough calories. But not only that, you also need to approach your training in the same way. If you haven't filled your workout bag with the necessary equipment, then you'll be wasting time looking for your weightlifting belt or wrist wraps that you should have already packed.

3. hard work

I'm going to share a secret with you that will change the way you look at training and nutrition: there is no secret that will triple your muscle gains. Building muscle takes time, calories and progressive overload and you won't be able to avoid these things if you choose to stay natural for the duration of your training career.

4. dedication

Have you ever wondered why most recreational athletes never reach their fitness goals? Dedication and consistency in the gym and kitchen take time and effort - two things many don't put in when it comes to improving their body or breaking through a strength plateau.

5 Progression

Throughout your training career, you should consistently strive for progress both mentally and physically. Initially you may be relentlessly focused on nutrition and training, but as you mature both mentally and in terms of your muscle development, you should also focus on the balance between training and the rest of your life. It's never about an "all or nothing" attitude. With all aspects of life, finding the right balance is crucial, but this takes time and comes about over time as you progress.

"How do I know I'm making progress?"

As I mentioned earlier in the nutrition section, the easiest way to objectively measure your progress is to simply make sure you are gaining the recommended amount of weight for your experience level. In addition, you can also measure the measurements for each of the following body parts with a tape measure:

  • Forearm
  • biceps
  • neck
  • shoulders
  • Chest (measure under the arms at nipple level or slightly higher)
    • Not applicable for women
  • Waist (at the level of the navel)
  • Hips (at the thickest point of the gluteus)
  • Thighs (midway between hip and knee)
  • Calves (at the thickest point of the muscle belly)

TIPS & TRICKS

  • Make sure you are consistent in your measurements (i.e. make sure you always measure in the same place and the state of the muscle: tight vs. relaxed)
  • Do not tighten the tape measure excessively. It should be tight.
  • Write down all measurements and observe the changes in the values over time to get an overview of your progress.
  • Do not measure after exercise, as strenuous physical activity can cause increased blood flow to the exercised muscles (aka pump), which can make the muscles appear larger than normal.
  • Measure both sides of the body to identify any asymmetries and work to correct these deficiencies.

You can also measure your body fat percentage using a caliper to see if you are improving your lean body mass to fat mass ratio, but be aware that measurements with a caliper are very difficult to duplicate and are often distorted if you do them on yourself, as you may not be objective when reading the results due to your expectations.

For these reasons, you are better off having an expert perform these caliper measurements or simply sticking with the tape measure measurements in combination with a scale and mirror to gauge your progress.

Remember that this is about progress, not perfection.

The 11 most important muscle building tips:

Building muscle is not complicated. Just make sure you remember these 11 important tips:

  1. Nothing will happen until you get your nutrition on track.
  2. Focus on progressive overload with either more weight, more reps or more sets.
  3. Stick to multi-joint exercises.
  4. Don't abuse training frequency (at least not at the beginning) - more is not always better.
  5. Minimize stress and maximize your recovery.
  6. Sleep as much as possible and nap regularly.
  7. Stick to whole foods, but don't be afraid to add a few processed foods (10 to 15% of your calories) to your diet if you have little appetite and are losing weight steadily.
  8. Eat about 250 to 500 kcal more than you consume.
  9. Emphasize protein at every meal and eat about 2 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
  10. Try to gain 0.5 to 0.75 pounds (advanced) or 0.75 to 1 pound (beginner) of body weight per week.
  11. Adjust your calorie intake up or down according to your weekly weight gain or loss.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much do I need to eat?

A: Start with the calculations above, but don't be afraid to adjust up or down. Your metabolism and physiology will adapt to more food by trying to maintain a state of homeostasis and regulate your body weight. Some will need to increase their calorie intake more than others, but the number on the scale doesn't lie. If the weight doesn't go up, then you will probably need to increase your calorie intake.

Q: How much protein do I need?

A: The scientific literature supports about 2 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for young adults. Can you eat more? As long as you have healthy, functioning kidneys, the answer is yes. Will you get any additional physiological benefits from this? Most likely not. And not only that. Since our total calorie intake is predetermined, when we consume more protein, we have to reduce either the amount of carbohydrates or the amount of fat to keep our calorie intake within the set range.

Once you have met your protein requirements (~2 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight), you will gain greater benefits from a higher carbohydrate intake, considering the influence that carbohydrates have on anabolism and the anaerobic energy pathway. However, as I noted above, these recommendations will differ for older exercisers due to the reduced anabolic response to amino acid consumption.

Q: What supplements do I need?

A: Technically, none at all. A better question would be "What supplements are useful?". In this case, I would refer to the basic supplementation section in STEP 2 above.

Q: How much weight should I use?

A: Use a weight that is challenging but still allows you to perform the desired number of repetitions in a controlled manner and with correct technique.

Q: When do I increase the weight?

A: As soon as you can perform the desired number of repetitions, you should increase the weight. If you have a set repetition range, aim for the lower end of that range if the weight feels heavy. If it feels light, aim for the top end. Once you manage to reach the top end of the rep range, increase the weight again and repeat the process.

Q: How do I minimize fat gain while building mass?

A: The first thing you need to realize is that when you're gaining weight, it's nearly impossible (steroids aside) to build muscle exclusively without the accompanying buildup of some body fat. However, you can improve your lean body mass to fat mass ratio by ensuring that your calorie consumption is not too aggressive (e.g. 1000+ kcal above your calorie expenditure).

In addition to this, it should go without saying that you need to train hard and focus on progressive overload to ensure that the calories you are consuming are actually being used for muscle growth. You shouldn't neglect your cardio training either. Both HIIT and steady-state, lower intensity cardio play a role in increasing mitochondrial density, balancing neurotransmitters, improving oxidative capacity and influencing neuronal plasticity.

Q: Do I need to do cardio training?

A: Yes, as I mentioned in the answer to the last question, it would be ideal to include some high and low intensity options in your training program as both have their own physiological benefits.

Q: Do macronutrients play a role?

A: To put it succinctly, "yes". Once you've decided on a calorie level, the macronutrient composition of your diet is the next important variable. For example, if you decided to consume only 50 grams of protein, no fat and the rest of the calories in the form of carbohydrates after you have decided on the calorie amount, then this would definitely play a role in building lean body mass.

Q: Does meal timing play a role?

A: At the end of the day, the most important variable in terms of weight gain or weight loss is the amount of calories consumed. However, meal frequency and timing around your physical activities may very well influence your exercise intensity and duration, potentially allowing for further improvements in body composition.

Remember that muscle growth is not a pulsating process. It does not increase acutely and then fall back to the initial level. So if there are no amino acids circulating in the bloodstream, then they must be provided by a breakdown of muscle tissue, as muscle is the most concentrated source of amino acids in the body.

Having said this, it would probably be a good idea to eat between 3 and 6 meals throughout the day depending on your daily routine and preferences. Ideally, you should stimulate anabolism with food every 3 to 5 hours.

Q: Is there a time window after training?

A: If your goal is to build the maximum amount of muscle mass possible, then it may be beneficial to eat nutrients within a 30-60 minute window after your workout. Does this have to be a protein shake? No, but ideally it should be a lower fat meal to speed up the rate of digestion of nutrients in the digestive tract.

However, if you've just eaten a meal with mixed macronutrients before your workout, then you should keep in mind that this meal is still being digested, so it's not necessary for you to drop the weights after your last training set and run to your locker as fast as you can to down a protein shake.

Q: How often should I train?

A: Depending on your experience level, your preferences, your recovery capacity and the time available, you will probably find that 3 to 5 training sessions with weights per week is the optimal range. If you have just started training with weights, then you should stick to 3 training days per week and work your way up slowly.

Beginners and intermediate exercisers may be able to manage 4 days per week in the form of a split program such as a lower body/upper body split and more advanced exercisers may be able to manage 5 workouts per week depending on the training program and recovery and nutrition strategies used.

Q: Do I need to rest?

A: What I said at the very beginning applies: "...the key to building muscle is cellular repair, not muscle damage. The goal of training is to stimulate protein synthesis, not to completely destroy the muscle group being trained."

Q: I'm never hungry, but I need to eat more - but how?

A: Eat more often, drink less during meals (as liquid competes with your food for space in the stomach), eat from larger plates and bowls, add lime or lemon juice to the water you drink during meals (this can help increase the production of stomach acid that breaks down food) and consume more calories in liquid form (especially around your workout when your appetite suffers throughout the rest of the day).

Q: Should you exercise when you are sick?

A: Let the symptoms be your guide. A slight sore throat or runny nose may require you to slow down for a day or two, but it's not necessary to prescribe bed rest and assume the worst. However, you should bear in mind that prolonged intense exercise can reduce your immune function and make you more susceptible to bacterial or viral illnesses, so it's important that you listen to your body and respond accordingly.

Q: Do I need to do squats and deadlifts?

A: Yes, squats and hinge exercises such as deadlifts are essential for muscle growth.

Q: Do I need to do conventional squats with the bar in the neck and conventional deadlifts?

A: No. You should ensure that the motor patterns of squats and deadlifts are emphasized, but you should not include other variations (front squats, sumo deadlifts, safety bar squats, Romanian deadlifts) in your training program until you have mastered the technique in these more advanced exercises.

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