The Ultimate Guide for Natural Muscle Building
This is the third installment of the WCT Muscle Building Series, where we teach you all that you need to do to develop this critical organ system.
All experts would agree that having a healthy amount of muscle mass on your body provides you with a great deal of benefits.
But what is the best way of developing healthy muscle tissue?
How much weight do you need to lift?
Is there a minimum number of sets and reps per exercise?
How should you train based on your body type?
In Part 1 of this series, we discuss the methods necessary to build muscle. If you don’t do these three things, then you are simply wasting your time. You can find it at How to Build Muscle Naturally Using Scientifically Proven Methods
In Part 2, we discuss the different body types, and how each one builds muscle differently. We highly recommend that you determine which body type you are before you read this post. You can find it at Does Genetics Influence Your Muscle Building Potential?
Today, we will talk about the specifics of resistance training- the actual stimulus that allows growth of lean muscle mass.
These are the strategies that I have used to add over 25 lbs of muscle to my frame, and almost triple my strength.
Today’s post is going to cover
The Optimal Volume for Hypertrophy
The Optimal Volume for Strength
Workout Strategies for the Different Body Types
The Optimal Volume for Hypertrophy
Hypertrophy training refers to exercising for muscular growth.
When someone wants bigger muscles, it is hypertrophy that they are after.
Don’t forget, this doesn’t mean getting bulky- all it means is that your muscles are becoming more developed!
I recommend that you train in the Hypertrophy range for most of your early training career. At least 2/3rds of your programming should be dedicated to hypertrophy.
In Creating Quick and Effective Workout Routines we discussed the optimal rep ranges for Hypertrophy training.
- Performing 7-12 repetitions per set has been shown to be the most conducive to muscular growth.
- When it comes to sets, 3 is generally a good place to start. 3 sets of 7-12 reps equates to a total of 21-36 repetitions per exercise per day.
- Since we recommend that you train each major movement pattern twice a week, you’ll be doing 42-72 total reps per week.
It is extremely important that you focus on movement patterns, rather than individual muscles. Movement patterns represent compound exercises, and these hit multiple muscle groups simultaneously.
For example, let’s say you:
- Squat 3 sets of 8 repetitions once a week
- Front Squat 3 sets of 10 repetitions later that week
- And Reverse Lunges 3 sets of 12 repetitions once during that week
That is a total of 9 sets and 90 repetitions of Quadriceps Work per week, WITH the added bonus of hitting your glutes and your hamstrings for 9 sets indirectly as well.
It’s also important to note that different movement patterns may respond better to more or less volume what I have described above.
For me, my lower body responds better to higher volume in the form of a higher number of repetitions and multiple sets, whereas my upper body tends to respond better to a lower number of repetitions per set.
Everyone is different, therefore it is important to experiment and see which range works best for each of the Big 6 Movement Patterns.
The Optimal Volume for Strength Development
What about strength?
It’s important to know that size and strength are not the same thing. One person can have large muscles and be moderately strong, whereas someone else can have medium sized muscles and be very strong. It all depends on how you decide to train.
Strength training is different from hypertrophy in that it requires you to lift heavy weights.
In Creating Quick and Effective Workout Routines, we discussed that the optimal rep range for strength is 4-6 repetitions per set.
Because the load on the bar increases, the repetitions per set decreases. However, the total volume should only be slightly less when compared to Hypertrophy training.
This means that strength training requires more sets than hypertrophy training.
Either way, the weight needs to be challenging. Heavy weights will cause neural adaptations in your central nervous system to develop maximal strength.
How heavy should the weight be?
The weights should be at least 80% of your one rep max.
Your one rep max is the most weight that you can lift for one repetition with good technique. For example, let’s say you can squat 200 lbs for one max rep. In order to be at 80%, most of your volume should be done with weights of 160 lbs or more for sets of 4-6 repetitions.
It’s not always possible to know what your one rep max is (especially if you are relatively new to lifting). For experienced lifters, it is Ok to use estimations.
Other important considerations...
It is important to note that heavy weights should be reserved for experienced lifters who have developed great technique on the various lifts.
Use your judgment. If you cannot maintain good form when performing the exercise, it’s probably a good idea to decrease the weight.
- In total, you should perform around 12-24 repetitions per exercise, per day when training for strength.
- Again, each major movement pattern should be trained ~twice a week, totaling 24-48 total reps per week.
- The weight must be at least 80% of your 1 Rep Max
If you aren’t an experienced lifter (at least 2-3 years of consistent exercising), you should spend no more than 1/3rd of your training on strength. The more experienced you are, the more strength training you can and should do.
The Number One Strategy to Keep Building Muscle and Making Progress for Years to Come
Now that you have an idea for the appropriate amount of volume, let’s talk progress. As discussed in Part 1, the training stimulus must be progressive. The easiest way to do this is to increase the weight you are lifting over time, or to increase the repetitions you are doing at a particular weight over time.
In short, you must do a little bit more than you did before.
Obviously, this cannot be done forever. If you try to do this continuously, your body will plateau, or you will get injured.
The easiest way to circumvent this problem is to keep rotating the exercises that you are performing.
That is why we are such strong advocates of having many different variations of the same exercises in your tool belt. Constantly doing the same exercise over and over with increasing weights or increasing reps will lead to overuse injuries and pain.
Focus only on 1-2 variations of an exercise at a time, and then switch them every 8-12 weeks.
- Week 1-8: Bench Press and Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
- Week 9-19: Close Grip Bench Press and Wide Grip Push-ups
- Week 20-28: Incline Bench Press and Dumbbell Bench Press
- Week 29-36: Weighted Push-ups and 3 count paused Bench Press
- Week: 37: Restart
And for the Squat Pattern
- Week 1-12: Squat and Reverse Lunges
- Week 13-20: Box Squats and Leg Press
- Week: 21-32: Front Squat and Step Ups
- Week: 33-40: Paused Back Squat and Goblet Squats
- Week 41: Restart
By rotating the exercises, you are training your muscles in different ways and forcing them to adapt to new stimuli every 2-3 months. You build better overall strength and keep your training fun and engaging.
Keep track of your progress for every exercise in a journal or electronic note pad.
Every time you return to a variation you have previously done, compare your new levels of strength to where you were before.
Get stronger in every variation possible. Keep the long term picture in mind.
Workout Strategies for the Different Body Types
This next section will go over training considerations for the three different body types. If you are not sure which body type you are, go back and read Does Genetics Influence Your Muscle Building Potential? to learn more.
How Should I Train if I am an Ectomorph?
Ectomorphs have the most difficult time building muscle. You can spend countless hours training and not gain any significant size or strength. If you are an ectomorph, you need to focus more on the Nutrition aspect of the Holy Trinity of Fitness.
Without sufficient calories, your body will never be able to synthesize muscle and repair itself at the necessary rate.
So while it is important to train using these principles, your diet will make up most of your progress.
Secondly, Ectomorphs have thin joints, and thus are more likely to get musculoskeletal injury from excessive exercise. Always listen to your body, and do not be afraid to cut back on some exercises if you are beginning to feel a lot of wear and tear.
How Should I Train if I am an Endomorph?
Endomorphs have a difficult time losing weight, but an easier time gaining muscle than Ectomorphs. You have to be careful, because extra calories could mean fat storage rather than muscle gain. Endomorphs must really focus on the quality of food that they are consuming to gain lean muscle mass. Check out Dietary Weight Loss Strategies for the Busy Professional to learn more about improving your food quality.
Endomorphs can also train more than Ectomorphs can. They have bigger and stronger joints that can tolerate heavier and more frequent bouts of exercise. If your training doesn’t seem to be challenging enough, it might be necessary to bump up the weight!
How Should I Train if I am a Mesomorph?
Congratulations, you have it the easy way. Just show up to the gym and you’ll gain muscle.
All jokes aside, Mesomorphs just need to have consistency. If you show up, and pay some attention to your nutrition and sleep, you will build natural muscle easily.
So there you have it. You are now armed with the most powerful strategies to build muscle as we understand it. This information has taken us years to discover through research, experimentation, trial and error.
Don’t make anymore excuses, carve out 35 minutes out of your day to exercise and build one of the best organs in your body.
So what do you want to build? Size? Strength? Both? Comment below and let us know what strategies you have used to gain muscle in the past.
In the next post, we discuss the optimal strategies to recover from your workouts and from your busy lifestyle. Find it at Powerful Recovery Strategies for the Busy Professional.
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