5 muscle building fundamentals EVERYONE should learn
Building muscle is one of the most popular fitness goals. But knowing where to start and how to do it most efficiently is unknown to many. Learning the fundamentals means equipping yourself with the knowledge to make a great start and achieve results you can maintain.
That's why today we're sharing 5 basic rules for building muscle, that everyone should know. Everything, from proper nutrition to exercise selection and rest days, plays a role in how successful your muscle building journey is. The rules are:👇
#1 Activate 'the 3 elements'
Building muscle is a process called hypertrophy. There are 3 elements that make up hypertrophy, and therefore make your muscles grow, are:
This is the tension / resistance you apply to your muscles by lifting weights. The heavier you lift in an exercise, the more tension you’re applying to your muscles. By applying this your muscles will struggle from the tension and therefore want to grow stronger for next time so they can handle the weight.
Aim to find a weight heavy enough where you can (just about) perform all reps. It shouldn’t be so heavy you lose technique or can’t complete the whole set, but heavy enough for the last few reps to feel challenging.
Metabolic stress is the second element and goes hand-in-hand with mechanical tension. You’ve probably noticed when doing an exercise the weight feels heavier towards the end of the set. This is because you are applying metabolic stress, and your muscles are getting tired.
Once again by doing this, you’re putting your muscles under so much pressure that they want to grow stronger for next time, so they can handle the “stress”.
Aim to go to almost failure in all exercises. If you’re using heavier weights, it will take less reps ro reach failure. If you’re using lighter weights, it will take more reps to reach failure. It’s typically recommended to find a weight where failure is 8-15 reps.
Each muscle contains thousands of small muscle fibers. As you’re exercising (and applying mechanical tension + metabolic stress) you’re “breaking down” these muscle fibers. For 1-2 days after a workout your muscles are recovering and building themselves stronger. This is the soreness you feel after a workout and is why it’s often a good sign to feel sore after workouts.
Aim to optimise your nutrition with plenty of good protein and carbs, and implement regular rest days so your muscles can recover.
#2 Apply progressive overload
Once you’ve been working out for a little while, you’ll notice the workouts feel easier, the weights feel lighter or that you can hold a plank for an extra 30 seconds. That’s great news - it means you’re making progress! But in order to continuously build muscle we need to keep challenging them, otherwise we will hit a plateau.
Applying progressive overload is the solution to this. It means to gradually add more “volume” to your workouts - it could be lifting heavier weights, adding more reps or extra sets. We do this because your body will gradually get stronger, and weights that used to feel heavy will no longer be heavy for you. It also helps us avoid plateaus in strength gains.
A few ways to use progressive overload would be:
Adding more weight to an exercise
Holding an exercise for longer
Increasing the number of reps or sets
Adding an extra workout each week (advanced)
You might also like: "8 ways to improve your strength workouts"
#3 Optimise your workout split
A workout split is how you divide your workouts through the week into specific muscle groups. The best workout split for you depends on how often you workout.
To most efficiently build muscle, we want to train each muscle group 2x per week. By optimising your workout split you are organising your workouts in the most effective way possible, to achieve this.
For example, someone who trains 2x per week is better off doing full body workouts.
And someone who trains 4x per week is better off doing 2x upper body workouts and 2x lower body workouts.
To figure out the best workout split for you, read this article.
#4 Fuel yourself with the right nutrition
It’s important to fuel your workouts with great nutrition and enough calories. Otherwise it’s like building an extension on a house, but not using the right tools or buying the extra materials needed to build the extension.
The 3 main components of your healthy muscle-building nutrition should be:
Carbohydrates: these are your body’s main energy source and are what fuel your workouts. They will give you energy to lift heavy and complete your reps and exercises. Without these your workouts won’t be as great and your progress will therefore be slower. Examples of healthy carbs: potatoes, oats, rice, wholegrain bread and wholewheat pasta.
Protein: this is what builds muscle. Without enough protein, muscles can’t repair themselves to grow bigger as you workout. Examples of healthy protein: protein powder, soy mince, beans, lentils, tofu and chickpeas.
Fats: a healthy amount of fat is needed for your body to function properly, your hormones to stay healthy and helps keep your appetite satisfied. Examples of healthy fats: olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, hummus and tofu.
#5 Be strategic with your rest days
Let’s go back to point #1 for a moment. A big part of muscle building is by putting your body through enough "resistance" so that it has a reason to grow stronger. To do this your muscles needs recovery time which it gets by you taking a rest day.
Rest days also help to avoid injury, as muscles become overworked and exhausted, which can also lead to bad technique and injuries.
You should always allow at least 1 rest day between targeting a muscle group. It’s why for workout splits, we suggest alternating between upper- and lower body workouts (instead of full body) if you’re training multiple days in a row. That way you start your next workouts refreshed and reinvigorated with greater focus!
Bonus: Progress even further with trainn
Knowing the fundamentals of how to build muscle sets you off on a great start to results. Naturally, the more you progress the more questions you find yourself asking as you need the know-how tailored to you.
Downloading the trainn app is a fantastic way to do this wherever you are on your muscle-building journey. Your in-app Personal Trainer creates a personalised training plan which fits your goals, and is continuously adapted as you progress keeping you on-track to lasting results. With 24/7 access to advice and a library of workout videos too, you can push yourself so much further.
Why not download trainn today and enjoy a 14-day free trial?