16 Mar No B.S. Muscle Building Tactics (Part I)
In the last article, I introduced why it’s important for each one of us to gain muscle.
The degree of muscle building will totally depend on what your specific goals are.
In this article, I’d like to share the biggest tips and specific tactics I know for muscle building.
I’ll keep it simple, but as practical as possible.
Again, who should be interested in reading this?
That’s because muscle building, in some capacity, should be in the top tier of everyone’s list of fitness goals.
Let me re-cap from the last article first.
I’m NOT saying you necessarily want to be a bodybuilder or pack on a lot of muscle mass.
That may or many not be the case.
But, everyone should want to build muscle mass to some degree and there are many reasons for this.
As you age, you lose muscle year by year. That’s BIG reason number one.
BIG reason number two is muscle activity (growth and repair) elevates your metabolism. This very important for fat burning and many other physiological benefits.
I’m going to give you the top things you need to know about how to build muscle, while keeping the information simple and not confusing you.
These are the muscle building “tactics” you need to build muscle, as well as get you strong and powerful.
TACTIC #1) GET STRONG TO GET BIG. USE PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD.
If you want build muscle, you have to build strength, period.
Still one of the best ways to build strength is to utilize progressive overload, which is pushing more weight progressively.
This doesn’t mean you need to be making strength gains each and every workout (although you could), but your workout progressions should be tracking upward.
I should point out, there’s many different ways to use progressive overload besides increasing weight.
Increasing reps, sets, intensity, frequency, and intensity are other ways to use progressive overload.
But, for pure muscle building, the best way to use this principle is to simply add more weight to your lifts, plain and simple.
Training heavier will make you stronger and build more muscle, that should be obvious to you.
One of the best raw strength training programs I’ve read recently was 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler.
I’ve heard this book referred to as the “Bible” in strength training and has been “all the rage” recently for improving total body strength.
It’s a simple, but highly effective and straightforward program with a lot of successful case studies.
The book is an easy read, but a hell of a program.
You may already know that my current favorite strength training book (maybe of all time) is Easy Strength by Dan John and Pavel.
So many programs, so much wisdom in that book, it’s crazy.
Very different from 5/3/1, but much more comprehensive and a ton of programming ideas to choose from.
Two great books that will get you on the path to mass, if you want mass.
To build muscle you must build strength.
TACTIC #2) USE COMPOUND, MULTI JOINT LIFTS AND MOVEMENTS.
Forget the isolation exercises. As a recovering bodybuilder, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s true.
Forget the machines that isolate your pecs, lats, biceps, quads, etc.
Keep your exercises simple and incorporate compound, multi-joint exercises that train many muscle groups and integrate your entire body.
Compound, multi joint exercises are the real deal. This is what builds muscle fast and also improves your functional body strength and power.
Examples of these exercises are:
- Squats (see my last article on the importance of squats) Many variations
- Deadlift variations
- Military Presses (Barbell, kettlebell)
- Bench Presses
- Snatches (barbell, kettlebell)
- Cleans (Barbell, kettlebell)
- Kettlebell swings (yes, for total body strength and power, as well as keeping your fat loss in check)
- Pull ups
- Pushups (many variations, one arm, weighted)
- Rows (Barbells, kettlebells, dumbells)
- Double Kettlebell Complexes
These are all basic, simple exercise movements.
These are also some of the most high reward, big bang exercises you can do.
Learn proper technique with each of these exercises. Then start loading up the weight.
These fundamental exercises will build serious muscle mass.
Keep it simple, no need to get fancy.
These types of lifts will also have more impact on your hormones, specifically Growth Hormone (GH) and Testosterone (T) to shed body fat and increase lean muscle mass.
This has been demonstrated and cited in many clinical research papers. More on this later.
It’s not difficult to see and feel the difference in single joint, isolation exercises versus multi joint compound exercises.
Remember, multi joint versus single joint.
TACTIC #3) TRAIN “OLD SCHOOL”
In the age of technology and advanced training methodology, there’s really no need to go “high tech” with your training.
Resist the temptation for the latest high tech machine that promises things it probably won’t deliver anyway.
And, definitely, forget that gadgets and gimmicky devices you see on TV that promise to get you big and ripped.
Not happening, sorry.
No matter how much things advance, when it comes to physical training, nothing beats free weights and body weight movement training.
Barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and body weight exercises are still king and always will be.
Nothing teaches your body how to move better and get stronger than these type of exercise modalities.
After spending many years myself doing “machines” and free weights, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s absolutely no need or added benefit to machines.
If anything, machines hinder your ability with your ‘authentic movement‘ since they do nothing to teach you how to move better.
One of the great things with kettlebells is that it teaches you to move better. Not only better movement, but stronger movement.
Kettlebells, Barbells, and Bodyweight training make you “bullet proof.”
This is providing you are training safely and correctly.
For putting on pure muscle, there’s nothing better than basic, “old school” methods and equipment.
TACTIC #4) TRAIN SHORT, TRAIN INTENSE.
4 hours in the gym? Seriously?
That’s the amount of time I’ve seen some people say they spend in the gym.
You know what? I’m guilty of this myself many years ago.
Now I know better.
Train hard, train smart, train fast.
I’m a big believer in getting in there, training at a high intensity, and getting out.
As I mentioned with multi joint, compound exercises, this will elevate certain hormones (GH) and (T).
When you train longer, this can have a detrimental effect on those hormones.
Why? Because other catabolic hormones such as cortisol will elevate over a longer time period and longer training sessions can begin to tear down your immune system.
Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone or the the “belly fat” hormone.
Not a hormone you want to elevate, I’m guessing.
TACTIC #5) LIFT HEAVY THINGS. KEEP REPS LOW.
What rep range is best to gain muscle?
A very common and maybe confusing question.
I’ve already discussed how you must get stronger to get bigger, right?
Strength training guidelines typically call for lower reps, in the 3 to 5 rep range.
I would say that 3-8, is a great range for building strength without causing significant fatigue and overtraining, based on my research and personal experience.
The main thing is to train heavy, but if are getting more than 8 reps with your “heavy” training, you probably aren’t going heavy enough.
I also love the idea of “leaving money in the bank.”
This basically says, don’t go all out, leave a couple reps on the table.
Don’t max out, train hard at 85% to 90-95%, but leave a little on the table.
This training philosophy will keep it safe and keep that extra strength “in the vault” until you need it (say for a competition or event).
There are some exceptions to this tactic, however.
As in the case with kettlebell swings. This is a perfect example of doing higher reps.
It’s a different type of exercise and for different purposes.
Are kettlebell swings a muscle mass builder?
I would say that they add to a total body power strengthening and conditioning program.
Specifically, the kettlebell swing is not a muscle building exercise (although you could argue if you’re doing double kettlebells, it could be).
But, the exercise is additive in a mass building program.
There are other exercises, as well, that are exceptions to the rule.
You could argue that legwork is also an exception.
Just consider the consequences with the high reps though, such as significant delayed onset muscle soreness.
Low reps builds strength with heavy weight.
The heavy weight is the key, so whether lower or higher reps, keep the weights on the “up and up.”
These are 5 specific tactics to build lean muscle, muscle mass, hypertrophy, or “armor building” as it’s called in Easy Strength.
Who needs more muscle?
WE ALL DO!
As I close out, I leave you with this.
We are all different and we may all respond differently to these tactics.
These are specific things, but you may need to tweak things to find out what you best respond to.
It’s like anything else. Nutrition is a great example.
What works for me may not be optimal for you.
In general, these tactics work.
But, you have to test things out for yourself and discover how well you respond, then tweak a bit as necessary.
It’s really not “rocket science.”
But it is science (and an art).
Look for Part II in this series coming next.
If you read this article, it would be awesome of you to share, comment, or re-post it.
Also, if you have questions or comments, post them below, that would be totally cool.
Thanks and stay tuned for more tactics coming up soon.