Muscle is the key to your dream body. Without it, you would look like Smeagol from Lord Of The Rings, which isn't very attractive if you ask me. It's not as hard to build if you apply some rules to muscle building that all the greats do. Have you ever seen those guys who look like they have been working out for YEARS, yet when you ask them how they say they’ve only been training a few months? These people are either on steroids or they are using some secrets to building muscle that you just don’t know about…” ok...it’s definitely the steroids…” You think, but really it is the fact that they are following the following 7 muscle-building secrets that you can start implementing today to make serious gains of muscle that will make your next Instagram selfie look better than ever.
Time Under Tension = Muscle
Time under tension (TUT) is the time your muscle spends under load during a set, also known as tempo. Among the six main exercise variables that we use when working out, one that almost everyone seems to ignore completely is the speed at which you do each repetition. This is called the tempo, and by far it is the most important variable for building muscle. Each and every rep should be done with intention and with a specific time for the eccentric (lengthening phase), isometric (pause), and the concentric (shortening phase). Your muscles grow with time under tension. Basically, the slower you go the more muscle you grow. This is why things like “negatives” seem to have such an anabolic effect.
One of my favorite coaches, Charles Poliquin, is a pioneer in the training realm and he focused on changing time under tension to help his athletes get the best results possible. Through his experience (and research), he was able to create the best ranges of TUT for each of the training goals.
For muscular growth (aka hypertrophy), he found that 30-70 seconds per set was best. For strength and size (aka functional hypertrophy), Poliquin suggests training on the lower end of that range, around 30-50 seconds. If you want maximal muscle growth without much strength, train on the higher end of that range which is 50-70 seconds.
So, next time you are in the gym, make sure to just go a little slower than you normally do for each rep. Depending on your goals you can select a rep range that fits your goals and then use a four number tempo count for each rep like so: A, B, C, D. A is the eccentric (lowering), B is the isometric (pause) at the bottom, C is the concentric (raising), D is the isometric (pause) at the top. An example of a tempo that will create lots of tension and thus muscle growth is a 2,1,2,1 tempo. Each rep then takes approximately 6 seconds total to complete. So, a set of 10 reps would take you 60 seconds. This is ideal for muscle building.
Use Heavier Weights
Heavier weight means more intensity. This might not sound pleasant but it will help with your muscle-building endeavors because lifting heavier weight activates Type 2 or “fast-twitch” muscle fibers. These specific muscle fibers are essential in developing your strength and promoting muscle growth along with an increase in the size of muscle cells.
“Heavier weight” is a broad term that is very subjective to each individual. 100 lbs could be light to you but heavy to me. So, instead of giving you a specific load/weight/resistance, it makes more sense to give you a percentage of the maximum amount of weight that you can lift. In this case, you want to lift between 70-75% of your 1 RM or one-rep max. For example, if the max you can lift in the bench press is 200 lbs, then you will want to lift between 140-150 lbs for as many reps as you can.
However, be warned that lifting with this intensity is not sustainable for EVERY weight session so it is important to mix it up as much as possible. This means you can do lighter weights with higher reps which builds your type 1 muscle fibers (slow-twitch). This builds endurance and if done the right way can burn fat, too.
Eat More Protein Than You Normally Do
Amino acids are essential for your muscle-building goals. Amino acids come from protein which comes from animals. Anything with eyes (aka animals) has protein. This protein will feed your muscles and help them to grow. Every time you lift weights you are creating micro-tears within the muscle (don’t worry this is a good thing if not overdone) that then will repair in a bigger state, especially if after it tears you give it more protein to then fuel its growth.
Most people get more carbohydrates (veggies & fruit) than they do protein in their diets. And this is ok, especially if you are a Slow Oxidizer (which means you burn food for energy at a slower rate and thus need leaner meats and more carbs than meat). However, if your goal is to build muscle then you need more protein in your diet. So, this could look like you adding an extra scoop of protein to your protein shakes and an extra serving of meat at lunch & dinner.
Many people (mainly vegans and vegetarians) argue that you can get protein from sources like beans, however, these are incomplete sources of amino acids. Meat & dairy are complete sources of protein because they have a profile with ALL the amino acids. In addition to being incomplete, they are also not as bioavailable so the body does not absorb it the same way as it does something like whey protein or a steak. And yes, the quality of the source matters too, because a grass-fed ribeye is going to have much more protein and bioavailability than a grain-fed antibiotic-filled steak. Quality matters folks. If you eat garbage you are no good, right? The same goes for the animals you consume.
Train To Failure
Progressively overloading your muscles (meaning pushing them past their threshold) will force them to adapt and then grow. This is why training to failure is so important for building muscle.
This study by Brad J Schoenfeld, and others was done where 18 young men (experienced in resistance training) were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 experimental groups: a low-load resistance training routine of 25-35 repetitions were performed per set per exercise or a high-load resistance training routine of 8-12 repetitions were performed per set per exercise. During each session, subjects in both groups performed 3 sets of 7 different exercises representing all major muscles. Resistance training was performed 3 times per week on nonconsecutive days, for a total of 8 weeks. Both the high-load and low-load conditions produced significant increases in thickness of the triceps, biceps, and quads with no significant differences noted between groups. They concluded that “these findings indicate that both high load and low load training to failure can elicit significant increases in muscle hypertrophy among well-trained young men” (1).
Beware that when I say, “train to failure” I do not mean technique failure, but rather I mean tolerance failure. Technique failure means you train till you no longer can maintain good form. This can cause injury and faulty movement patterns. Instead, I mean to train to tolerance failure, which means the burn stops you or you can no longer physically lift the load, yet you keep good form. .
Do Isolation Movements (At the End Of Your Workout)
I don’t normally advocate isolating your limbs, however, there is a time and a place in which doing curls, extensions, and raises (for both your arms and legs) can add to your physique. In this case, doing isolation movements like bicep curls or leg curls can help define an area by building muscle in that region due to its specific targeted nature. When you do a pull like a row you are working your back, core, shoulders, and biceps. However, when you do only bicep curls, you are only training the biceps and nothing else. And because the stimulus is so focused on nothing but your biceps, it has no other choice but to grow because not only are you training your back AND biceps when you do pulling but now you are training your biceps again with the curls so it gets more attention. Whatever you give attention to in the gym will inevitably grow as a result.
Make sure that when you do isolation moves that you do them AFTER your main compound functional movements. For example, if you do push-ups (which train your chest, triceps, and shoulders) make sure you do your tricep extensions after you are done with your push-ups and not before. If you train them beforehand then your triceps will give out before your chest does when you go to do push-ups which will cause faulty movements patterns and prevent you from reaching your desired reps, and thus prevent you from maximizing your push-ups to the fullest.
Rest & Get Deep Sleep
Sleep is your most anabolic state. Many people think that you build muscle when you train but actually, exercise is catabolic (meaning muscle breakdown). This is what you need for it to then build, however, the only way to build it is if you rest.
You recover the most from life and the gym when in deep REM sleep, so if you find that you wake up feeling unrested or unrecovered (mentally, emotionally, and physically) then chances are you aren’t getting deep restorative REM sleep. If this is the case then check out this blog on 11 Tips To Get Deep Sleep so that you can sleep more soundly and wake up more energized.
In addition, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can train the same muscle every single day. Your muscles will never recover enough to grow if you do this because you would constantly be tearing the muscle over and over, and thus it would never grow.
Do Deadlifts & Squats As Often As Possible
Deadlifts & squats, when done right, work the most amount of muscle fibers in the body during the movement. Everything from your neck to your entire core to your feet is being worked during a deadlift. The squat works the entire core as well as your pelvis and all the muscles you can’t see (also called stabilizer muscles). Because they work so many muscles, this causes a spike in growth hormone, which subsequently increases testosterone which - you guessed it - builds muscle!
These exercises are the king and queen of exercises because they train the most amount of muscles, are the most complex of all the primary lifts, and they create the most amount of nervous system activation. Many people mistakenly avoid them because they think running or biking or walking is enough to train your legs but they are very mistaken. These cardio activities, although valuable, do not train your Type 2 muscle fibers (which as we said earlier are responsible for increasing size and the number of cells in the muscle). Biking, running, and walking only work the Type 1 muscle fibers which are associated with increased endurance, not particularly muscular size. So, do your squats and deadlifts because they don’t just work your legs but they work your entire body, and this will stimulate muscle growth (among other things).
Apply these rules to your life as soon as possible if your goal is to build muscle the RIGHT way. If you need help building muscle in a way that will not destroy your body then feel free to book a free discovery call with me by clicking this link HERE.
Schoenfeld BJ, Peterson MD, Ogborn D, Contreras B, Sonmez GT. "Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men". J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Oct;29(10):2954-63. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958. PMID: 25853914.