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How to build muscle

Posted on: 2012/05/07, 07:48 PM
Generally, the first step in putting together a muscle building program is deciding on which training split to follow. While there are many different splits which can be used with success, the novice should stick with those which have been proven effective in helping the largest percentage of beginning lifters. One’s training split will be determined by what days you chooses to train each body part. See an the example of a 3-Day Training Split below:

3-Day Traditional Split
Monday: Chest, Biceps, Triceps
Wednesday: Legs
Friday: Back, Delts

The 3-Day training split seen above is one of the more effective programs a beginner can utilize for gaining significant amounts of muscle and strength. The program is characterized by lower volume, ample recovery time, and reliance on the basic mass-building exercises. With this split, each body part is trained only once per week and since we are relying primarily on the basic mass-builders, it allows you to train all your body parts over a 3 day period. By following these guidelines, the body’s ability to recover & grow is optimized. The basic mass-builders (exercises) are titled as such for a reason…because they typically produce the largest gains in mass & strength in the shortest amount of time.

When many other exercises are added into the routine, the recovery ability is spread thin and instead of the body spending most of its resources growing, it ends up spending a larger portion of its resources recovering. Every exercise has its place and all can be useful at the right time, but as a beginner, the primary goal is the acquisition of muscle size & strength. Later on down the road, when weak points are being addressed, these other exercises can be of value, but for now the goal is to add as much overall mass as possible.

By sticking with the basics and being able to train all of our body parts over a 3-Day period, we are provided with plenty of days off from the gym. Since growth takes place when resting and not when we are working out, these off days of provide us with the opportunity to experience complete recovery and supercompensation (growth) week after week. People who make the mistake of thinking more is better and begin training 5-6 days per week, while employing every exercise in the book, will inevitably burn-out and fail to keep pace with their full growth potential.

We have been talking a lot about the “basic mass-building” exercises, but what are they? Below is a list of what are considered most of the “basics One of the first questions to be asked when you finally get to the gym is…“What order should my exercises performed in?” Generally, you should move from large to small. When saying one should move from “large to small”, it simply means that you should train a muscle by beginning with the heaviest, multi-joint exercises and afterwards move onto the lighter, single joint exercises. An example of improper exercise order would be training triceps before chest. By training triceps before chest, the triceps will become prematurely fatigued and by the time chest is trained, the triceps will fail long before the chest has been worked adequately.

With this abbreviated 3-Day Split, exercise order is not as much of an issue as it might be with other training programs, as most of the exercises included in this program are multi-joint, compound exercises. Still, no routine can be complete without some isolation (single-joint) exercises, so those single-joint exercises which are included in this program should be performed after one has completed all their multi-joint exercises.

A huge mistake of most beginners is utilizing excess training volume. They believe that their level of exertion directly correlates with their progress. To this end, many lifters will employ set after set of various exercises. Since recovery ability is limited (especially for drug-free trainers, which includes most beginners), more frequently than not, this leads to premature stagnation. While enough sets of each exercise should be performed in order for the lifter to learn proper exercise mechanics, excess volume will hold the lifter back.

For this reason, it is generally recommend that the lifter perform 3 working-sets of each exercise, which is preceded by an appropriate warm-up. This level of volume is high enough so that the lifter can learn proper exercise mechanics (the ability to perform the exercise correctly), while also being adequate in terms of muscular stress. A greater amount of sets is unlikely to lead to additional gains in muscle tissue or strength, but will impose greater demands on the body’s recovery ability.
When it comes to what rep-range should be employed, beginners should avoid extremes and stick with what has worked for generations of lifters. For the upper-body, this involves keeping the reps between 6-12, while the lower-body seems to respond best to a rep range of 8-15.

Let’s address the topic of rest between sets which opinions vary significantly on this subject, When performing basic, multi-joint exercises, a rest period of 3-4 minutes is sufficient, while lighter single-joint exercises will only require about 2 or so minutes before it is time for the next set.

Lastly, but of great importance, is the topic of exercise mechanics and the mind-muscle connection. You could be doing everything else correctly, but if you screw-up these two components of the training process, you will badly cripple your results. While exercise mechanics & the mind-muscle connection are closely related, they are two very different things. Exercise mechanics refers to the manner in which you perform an exercise, also known as exercise “form”. The mind-muscle connection is the ability to feel the target muscles working as you perform an exercise.

In terms of inter-dependence, if your form is horrible, it is going to be difficult to develop a mind-muscle connection during training. On the flip side, if you aren’t able to feel a mind-muscle connection when performing an exercise, you will have trouble adjusting the mechanics of that exercise to best suit your own particular structure. Whenever you perform an exercise, it is absolutely vital that you develop a mind-muscle connection with that movement because if you can’t feel the target muscle working, you will not be able to place optimal amounts of stress on that muscle, reducing the potential for growth. With each rep, you should be able to feel the muscle stretch and contract throughout a full range of motion. Training is not about heaving a weight from point A to point B with as much weight as possible, while using momentum and calling assisting muscle groups into play. The weights are only a tool to achieve muscle growth; it is not about the weight itself.

Sacrificing exercise form just so the lifter can use additional weight is one of the most common beginner mistakes in the entire gym. The cause of this progress pitfall is the ego. Some people are simply more concerned with looking strong in front of their gym mates, than they are with building up their muscles. Whenever a person uses so much weight that he can no longer feel his muscles working through a full range of motion and his exercise mechanics begin to suffer, he needs to ask himself what is more important to him. Would he rather use a bit less weight and build bigger muscles, or would he rather cheat up heavier weights and end up with smaller muscles?

This is just a basic article aimed at beginners and I haven’t covered the most important factor nutrition as that’s a whole other topic all together. But if you want some information on it then let me know.
Good luck!


  • [Former member] 2012/05/08
    hey mate, glad it helped. I forgot to put the mass building exercises on the post, hahaha need to proof read, anyways here they are Chest: Flat barbell Bench, Incline barbell Bench Back: Chin ups, Barbell or T-Bar rows, Deadlift Upper Legs: Squats, Leg press, Stiff Leg deadlifts, Lying Leg curls Delts: Overhead Barbell Press, Dumbell Side Laterals, Dumbell Rear Laterals Biceps: Standing Barbell (or E-Z Bar) curls, Hammer Curls Triceps: Dips, Lying Bar Extensions Lower Legs: Standing calve raise or toe press, Seated Calve raise
  • James_M James_M 2012/05/08
    wow thanks...I am starting on week 2 and altho I am interested in muscle tone and weight loss I appreciate all the info ..I am working on training my mind as well as my body to get the most of the time I do workout! Thanks again!