Building muscle is something many of us think of doing at points in our life. It can be an amazing thing to see the body strengthen, grow and take on good form. But like all forms of bodily change, it requires knowledge to be done well. It is also something to enjoy. This article will help you understand what you need to do to build muscle, enhance your body and gain strength.
Start with weight training
Weights are your friend when it’s muscle you’re after. They are a core part of developing muscle.
Ideally, join a gym, so that you have the widest possible range of different weights. They can come in a number of shapes and styles, from traditional dumbbells to kettlebells. They also start from just 1 kg and go all the way up to weights that are almost the weight of a body. In large gyms there will be dumbbells of 50 kg. These are enormously heavy and most people never go near them – or need to.
Start Light, Start Safe
It is essential you remember the body can be injured. Muscles can be sprained or pulled if you lift weights too fast or choose weights you can’t control. Staying in control is essential. A pulled muscle will set you back weeks.
Most people find that even dumbbell weights of 8 kg can be effective if used in multiple reps. Do not be too bold too soon and remember that your body takes time to grow. Patience is essential.
As in life, so in gyms! You are best having a routine that is structured to build your body in line with your goals. Ensuring you design an exercise and weights routine is important if you want to deliver on your goals.
This will mean training well and sometimes training hard, but not over-training any one muscle group too much. If you do that you may end up with an injury or with a body that develops to look out of proportion. Your routine should be tailored to your body and to where you want to develop muscle. Making sure that you challenge your body to move from its comfort zone is wise, but always doing so without injuring yourself. It can be a hard balance to strike, so if you are in a gym take advice from a Personal Trainer.
Progress will come from gradually increasing the weights you can lift or push or pull. Start with weights that are simple, and then move on to heavier weights as your routines progress. Every time you train, even as you progress, it is still wise to always warm up with lighter weights at first. The best training is progressive and is best judged across time periods of a week or a few weeks, and then of a month. You will always feel ‘a pump’ in your muscles after a good session, but remember that it may take time to see the fuller changes you are after in your body.
Progress is sometimes slow, but if you stick with a routine you will definitely see changes over time.
Types of exercise and routine
Compound exercises are for many people the way to train. These are exercises that work multiple muscles at once. There are many, but the main compound exercises in gyms are the following:
- Bench pressing
- Overhead presses
These muscles are likely to form a part of any successful muscle building programme. If you are pushed for time in a session, focusing on these exercises will ensure multiple muscle groups are trained.
There is always a place for isolation training in any muscle-gaining routine. Many trainers will advocate isolation exercises to make sure you enhance particular muscle groups to best effect, so that they look terrific.
Bicep curls. Tricep pulls. Calf raises. Adductor pushes. Abductor pushes. Lateral pull-downs. These are just some of the isolation exercises you will often see in gyms and that are great exercises to ensure your muscles are defined and that they are pushed to the level that means they increase in size and strength. It is usually through isolation exercises that you maximize the potential of a particular muscle group. The most obvious of these, and the muscles most gym users initially focus on, are the biceps. These are often the easiest muscles to grow and they can most obviously show that you are someone who is training. Be careful, however, not to over-prioritize any single muscle or it can look out of proportion with your overall body shape.
Alternate between light and heavy weights
Alternating between light and heavy weights is a good strategy to adopt, once you are more accustomed to the gym life. This approach keeps the muscles on alert, and stops the body getting too used to any one way of being treated. It helps keep your muscles responsive and reactive, and avoids them becoming complacent. If they are only ever lifting the same weights for the same reps, they soon slow down and cease to be as reactive as when they are challenged by alternating training methods.
Lifting more demanding weights causes stress to your muscles, and this is a stimulus to growth.
Your body will respond by fighting back and will grow as it seeks to ensure that it can cope with the demands you are making on it.
Lighter weights, repped more frequently, serve a differently good function for your body, as they can tone muscle and ensure that, because you control the rep more easily, your technique is better.
Knowing you need to increase the weights and reps
This is an important part of muscle-gain. Do not let your body just tick along with weights that are comfortable and with a set that does not test or put pressure or strain on your muscles. Controlled strain is a good way to build muscle. Do not be afraid of some stress on the muscle as you near the end of a set. The phrase ‘push for the burn’ is sometimes used to express the idea that you need to feel some heat or some blood as you hit that last rep in your set. If the last lift feels as easy as the first lift, you need to shift up the weights or increase the number of reps in a set if you are to gain muscle.
Remember, to gain muscle you need to challenge the body.
Aim for variety
The body will respond to change and variation. Make sure to include some other forms of training as you enhance your muscle. It is also important to focus on flexibility, coordination, balance, and core strength as you train. Do not merely use dumbbells and a few favorite machines! Many people train like this, but it can have risks to the overall shape and performance of the body.
Remember that the body needs good form, balance and core strength if it is to grow muscle effectively. In addition, the gym will likely have HIIT training options or classes, and also potentially some classes using kettlebells. These, too, are excellent ways to grow muscle.
HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training
‘Hit the HIIT’, as the saying goes.
You are best doing this kind of training as part of a class run by your gym. HIIT can be an excellent way to build muscle and to do so fast. It is also a highly effective way of losing weight in the form of fat.
HIIT is exercise that combines a series of short and intense bursts of exercise interspersed with periods of rest. Depending on the intensity and the rest periods, your routine will make greater or lesser demands on your body. If you are new to HIIT, take it easy at first. It can be incredibly demanding, and even those who know their weights well and who are relatively experienced in other parts of gym life can find HIIT classes incredibly demanding. Once you use HIIT in your training, however, you will see a significant and fast reduction in fat.
Eating to Build Muscle
Protein consumption is essential
To gain muscle form you will need to increase your protein intake beyond its normal range. Diet is of the greatest importance to anyone training to increase strength and muscle and lose fat.
Most dietitians and fitness trainers recommend eating around 1.2-2.0 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. Be aware – this is a lot, so you will need to plan this part of your life carefully. If you are ten stone and looking to put on muscle to reach eleven stone, that means eating anywhere around 160 – 220 or so grams of protein if you are really wanting to put on muscle fast and are training hard.
Even if you do not eat as much as that, you are still going to see benefits if your protein intake is a bit higher than normal, so do not obsess over this. Keep a measured focus on it and do what you can. The body will still grow muscle so long as it has a good amount of protein and is being trained well.
The following foods are useful to consider for their high protein values.
- Most other fish
- Red meats
- Dairy products
These foods are among those with high protein values. A small tin of tuna, for example, can have around 25 grams of protein in just a few mouthfuls. Eat two of those when you are in training and you have already got 33% of a high-demand intake.
Eat more complex carbohydrates
Energy is key, so eating complex carbs that take longer to break down in your body and that release energy gradually and in a more sustained way matters. This helps your muscles and stops your body having to use other food sources for energy that are then no longer feeding your muscles for growth.
Whole grains, quinoa, brown rice, lentils, vegetables and wholemeal breads are good sources of complex carbs and should form part of your diet for muscle growth.
Definitely avoid nasty, high sugar snacks that offer little of any nutritional value.
Fats are your friend – if they are healthy fats!
Do not think fats are an enemy when it is muscle you are after. Far from it. In fact, they are of the greatest importance. These fats are essential for proper hormone production; cell and tissue health; energy levels; and the correct absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Healthy fats also help keep your appetite in check, reduce inflammation, and assist with skin and hair health.
The best way to ensure you are getting these essential fats into your diet is to eat the following foods regularly.
- Avocados. (These can be served well with eggs, but they are also delicious in a smoothie, blended with a banana and some spinach, greek yogurt and honey.)
- Oily fish, as above in the protein section
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sunflower seeds and other seeds and pulses
- Some wholegrain and seed breads, hence their high fat values per slice
Balance in your diet matters
Muscle-building requires nutrition. Your body needs lean proteins, in the form of fish or lean meats, for example. Vegetables, which are full of vitamins and minerals, are also essential, as are healthy fats.
Do not forget the power of hydration either. You must stay hydrated as you grow muscle. Water matters to your body.
Make sure you also eat regularly. Allow the body to have regular bursts of nutrition. If it is to grow muscle it needs the fuel to do so. It must have its protein, micronutrients and essential carbs and fats delivered in ways that ensure it can be feeding your muscles between the training sessions. The wrong diet or not attending to your diet will unquestionably impede your progress.
Supplements for Building Muscle
Protein supplements can help
Do not be put off by any fears about protein supplements. They can be an excellent way to ensure adequate protein intake. Typically in powder form, they can be mixed with milk or water to make a drink. Many suggest you need to take them soon after a workout, but it does not really matter when you take them in the course of a day, as the muscles will continue to grow so long as your overall protein intake is good.
Be aware that some supplements are better than others. Some cheaper supplements are more likely to give you bad wind and a feeling of bloating. The higher quality ones are less likely to disturb your gut, so do your research to see what the reviews say. In general, however, protein supplements will enhance muscle growth and alleviate some of the soreness in muscles from hard training.
Creatine is also helpful for strength gains
Creatine is natural. It is a naturally-occurring compound found mainly in fish, red meat and chicken and other poultry. It is also available as a supplement, and when you consume it, your body breaks it down into phosphocreatine, which helps enhance your production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a chemical that gives you more energy for your workouts. It also helps reduce fatigue in your muscles, which enhances your ability to train, thereby stimulating ongoing muscle growth.
BCAA (branched-chain amino acids) can help build muscle
These are less well known than creatine, but they also help with muscle growth. Scientifically speaking, BCAA is a group of three essential amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine – and these amino acids play a key role in protein synthesis, muscle repair, and growth. In addition, they increase energy levels and help reduce fatigue during exercise, which makes training more extensive than it would otherwise be.
Caffeine and other natural stimulants and supplements
Caffeine is among the most readily available of all stimulants. It works by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain, and when this happens the body releases adrenaline and other neurotransmitters that help to increase alertness and energy levels.
Other natural minerals and supplements are also wise to have in your diet and to take in supplement form. In particular, magnesium, selenium, zinc, Vitamin C, and turmeric can all play a highly important part in your body as you train for muscle growth. Ensure you take these in supplement form regularly, if you wish to maximize your training routines and get the muscle growth you are after.