1. Stay hydrated and maintain a positive electrolyte balance.
Without water or adequate electrolytes, your muscles have a tendency become virtually useless bags of milk. Lack of hydration and electrolytes leaves muscle fibres unable to contract against load, maintain a pump, or push any appreciable weight.
All of which play quite an important role in building muscle.
Action Step: Aim to drink a minimum of 3L of water per day. For most people, this will cover their bases. If you sweat more, drink more. For electrolyte status, salting your meals with sea salt, eating pickled foods and supplementing with magnesium and potassium will do the trick.
2. Eliminate “Junk” training volume, and increase “Quality” volume.
Building muscle requires a training stimulus with enough “oomph” behind it to kick-start muscle protein synthesis.
Many times, I’ve seen lifters think they’re performing enough training volume, but it’s usually what I refer to as “garbage volume.” That means not using a full range of motion, taking 4, 5, even 6 minutes between sets, jumping from one exercise to the next with little thought, and quite often, only sticking to their favourite 3-5 movements.
The lack of variety, intensity, and varying stimulus means training in such manner is no bueno for building muscle.
Action Step: Increase your QUALITY volume. This means you should be entering the gym with a plan designed to push you towards your goal. Bring your rest times down to where they need to be, no longer and no less. For many 60-90s will suffice. Check your ego in the parking lot, drop your weights by 10-15% and focus on moving the weight through a full range of motion, while placing emphasis on the stretched and contracted positions.
THIS is quality training volume that will bring you results.
3. Centre Your carbs around your workout (there are fat loss benefits as well).
It takes calories to build muscle. But how can you help maximize the amount of calories that are used for muscle growth, vs. stored as fat?
Simple: Eat the majority of your carbs pre, during and after your training session. Eating them before will provide fuel for your session, as well as aid blood flow and maximizing your pump.
Taking in nutrients during your session helps to provide energy and fuel to the target muscles while you train, which serves to improve recovery. Afterwards, your muscles are in a prime state to soak up all the glucose you throw at them.
Action Step: Aim to take in 60-75% of your daily carbohydrate intake before, during and after you train. Take advantage of the potential for improved nutrient partitioning to shuttle glucose into muscle tissue as opposed to fat cells.
4. Maintain a high training intensity.
This is one of the more important points on this list. Training intensity is everything. If you treat your gym sessions like a Sunday morning walk in the park, your results are going to mimic that. Muscle growth calls for focused, hard working sessions in the gym.
Action Step: PUSH yourself. Aim to perform most of your lifting at an 8-10/10 level of intensity, with 10 being taking sets to failure.
5. Supplement where applicable.
I have both an immense love and passionate hate for supplements.
Let me explain.
Supplements, when they’re high quality, taken in a context that’s applicable to the users goal, use research backed dosing and labelled correctly, are absolutely fantastic. Sadly, it’s not often I come across either a supplement or a lifter who nails all of those categories.
Action Step: Take a hard look at what exactly your goals are, and what you may or may not be taking in terms of supplements. Be brutally honest with yourself on whether what you’re doing is helping you move in the right direction, or burning a hole in your pocket. Use examine.com as a resource to determine whether the claims being marketed hold any water or not.
6. Consistently adhere to your plan, and avoid getting caught up in the latest fad training method (there’s always one or two going around).
Whenever I’m asked what the “secret sauce” or “one weird trick” to building muscle is, my answer is always consistency. I can’t say it much more clearly than that.
Action Step: Decide how many times per week you’re going to crush a high-intensity, focused training session and stick to it. Going 5 times in one week is great, but if you follow that up with 2 weeks of only going once or twice, you aren’t going to get where you want to be.
7. Each session, strive to make incremental improvements. Whether that means more weight, more reps, more sets, or greater density, aim to be better each time you set foot in the gym.
When it comes to building muscle, applying different methods of progressive overload becomes key as your body adapts, becomes stronger and becomes more resilient.
Action Step: Every time you step in the gym, strive to do more. Whether it be more weight, more reps, more sets, or more intensity. Pick one aspect per session to improve upon. This small, incremental changes deployed with consistency will yield greater results than you can imagine. Kaizen.
8. Ensure at least 6 hours of sleep, up to 8.5.
There’s plenty of debate and discussion in terms of how much sleep is optimal. Here’s my piece to that puzzle. If you’re serious about training, building muscle, burning fat and improving your physique – you will sell yourself short by getting less than 6 hours.
Trust me, I spent 8 weeks with a brutal, unrelenting combination of the common cold, flu and fever because I was perpetually getting between 4-5hrs of sleep per night. As soon as I was able to make some change to my lifestyle, day-to-day routine and prioritized sleep to the point where I was getting at least 6.5 hours each night, it all went away.
Action Step: Pick a time that you can go to bed at, and awake at each day. Again, be consistent with those times.
9. Train your muscles with higher frequency.
Hypertrophy calls for repeated bouts of exposure to a training stimulus. The more you can expose your muscle to training stimuli, the more you can drive blood flow, deliver nutrients and keeping muscle protein synthesis humming. Thus, creating more growth.
Action Step: If you’ve only been training a muscle group 1-2 times per week and aren’t pleased with the results, try dropping the volume of each session by 20-30%, and adding in a third or even fourth training exposure for the week.
10. Use intensification techniques to create metabolic stress and encourage muscle growth.
Sometimes you’ve gotta step outside of the box and truly push yourself. Drop sets, rest/pause work, incomplete rest times, iso holds, partial reps, and much, much more. All of these are tools that can be used to create a strong stimulus, and aid the muscle building process.
Action Step: Take 1-2 sessions per week and add 1-2 of the above techniques into them. Doing so will create a new stimulus to help spur your muscle growth onwards.
Bonus: You must consistently remain in a caloric surplus.
This should go without saying, but you’d be surprised at how many people are under the impression that they can optimally grow without maintaining a caloric surplus for an extended time period.
Bottom line: You can’t build appreciable muscle without staying in a surplus.