Building muscle is a weird thing. First it is really easy “just eat and lift heavy stuff”. Later it get complicated “autoregulation, individualisation, periodisation”. Then suddenly it everythings clears up again “find what works for you, then stick to it and be patient”. To help you to get to the last stage, I’ve compiled a few articles. We start with the basics and add advanced considerations later. Enjoy!
Don’t copy training programs of successful athletes. You are not them! Don’t ego lift. You get nothing except problems out of it. There are no magic exercises. Do what works for you.
How many repetitions should you perform? Well, more and more research points into the direction that it doesn’t even matter, as long as you train hard enough (muscle failure or close to it). Generally big compound movements are best for slightly lower repetition ranges and isolation movements are better for higher ranges.
No matter how optimised your training program is on paper, as long as you can’t stick to it, it is worthless. Sustainability is the most important factor when writing your training program and incredibly underrated.
How to build muscle? Well, obviously your training has to be hard and regular. Being in a calorie surplus provides the best signal for your body to grow. Working on sleep and recovery makes sure your can sustain your training for prolonged periods of time.
I am a huge fan of training intensiveness. It is the foundation of anything you do in the gym as you need to cross a certain threshold of exertion to tell your body to grow. Certainly there also downsides of training too hard, bust most of us don’t need to worry about it too much.
Workout frequency is the number of times you go to the gym in a week and training frequency is the number of times you train a muscle per week. These don’t have to be the same, but often, due to time constraints, are identical. What is optimal? There is a lot of room to explore, but the best frequency revolves around what is sustainable for you.
How many sets you should do per session depends on many factors like training age and genetics. Too little is not enough to send a robust anabolic signal, while too much is setting you up for troubles long term.
A training program doesn’t need to be fancy to be effective, sometimes less is more. Focus on big, basic human movements and sprinkle in some assistance if needed (a.k.a. biceps work 😉 ).
Pairing sets up (performing two or more exercises back to back with little to no rest inbetween) offers some considerable benefits. It saves plenty of time and some research suggests that, if done right, it may boost performance. However, not all exercises are suitable for this. Metabolic stress, safety and gym logistics have to be considered.
It seems that the approximately last five reps of each set before you reach muscle failure are what really drives hypertrophy. This is the reason you need to train (reasonably) hard to make sure you grow.
We all tend to compare ourselves to others. This is normal human behaviour, but not helpful in the gym. Genetics play a role and we like to compare ourself to the best. Forget about what others do in the gym and focus on yourself!
You probably already heard of the hypertrophy range. The magic range of reps that make your muscles grow. Go lower and you only train for strength, go over it and suddenly you do cardio. Reality is a little more nuanced.
You go to the gym and are overwhelmed by the possibilities. So many exercises, so many machines, endless variations. What should I pick? To make an informed decision what is best suited for you, there are several factors to keep in mind. One of the most important is the limiting factor: is the muscle you want to train also the muscle that is limiting performance on a given exercise?
Exercise variety (how many different exercises are performed per muscle group) is often misapplied or overrated. Having too much variety also leads to too little practice, keeping you from progressing. Stick to the basics and leave the fancy stuff to doubious insta-models.
Women are different from men. Shocking, isn’t it? Do you need to buy into a gender specific training program? Nah, it’s probably a waste of time and money. Womens training isn’t that different and a good autoregulated training program should take care of these small differences.
Prilepin was a Russian weightlifting coach who first examined the relationship of intensity (how much you lift) and volume (how many sets and repetitions you perform). Although the numbers he came up with are probably inadequate for most of us, there is still a lot to learn: the heavier you lift, the less volume you need to perform.
Autoregulation became a buzzword lately, and I think rightfully so. It really is a great tool, but just like any tool, there are some cases where it just isn’t adequate.
There is nothing wrong with the good old “straight sets” and they should be the bread and butter of your training program, but there are some intensity techniques worth mentioning. These techniques all share the goal of massively increasing intensiveness, increasing effectiveness, time efficiency but also fatique. Choose wisely if, when and how much of them to include in your training program.
Taking time off
Sometimes you just get injured. However you can ditch most of the outdated recommendations like “just rest” and “put ice on it”. There are better ways of dealing with it, namely adjusting painful movements to make them fit. Keeping up movement without making things worse is the best way to get rid of injuries. Also remember that your body needs adequate fuel to heal, so no excuses to let our diet and lifestyle slip.
After a long break from the gym, whatever the reason, there are a few things to consider. It comes down to the fact that you are deconditioned and therefore well advised to take it slow. This means that, along other things, you should drastically reduce volume and intensiveness. You can always add more later, no need to hurry.
To sum it up
Hit every muscle group around two times a week. Determine the volume you need to grow and split it up according on how often you go to the gym. Train hard but don’t ego lift. Choose rep ranges that fit to your exercises (compound for low reps, isolation for high reps). Implement supersets and/or intensity techniques as needed, mainly if pressed for time. Track your progress and individualise as much as possible. Keep in mind that your training program needs to be sustainable. Again, train hard, but don’t be stupid 😉 .
I am pretty sure that I’ve covered everything you need to know to start making the gainz of your life. Still, if you’ve any questions, just comment down below, I’ll be happy to answer them all.
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