Want to know the best way to build muscle fast?
Of course you do! Well, you should.
Unless you’ve bought into the nonsensical philosophy that touts muscle building as being completely unnecessary, a philosophy that – much to my annoyance – seems to be so en vogue these days.
When did muscular, well-defined physiques become repulsive? When did it suddenly become uncool to want to build muscle?
And when did men and women develop this weird idea that building massive muscles is easy, or that doing so is even possible for every person that picks up a barbell?
When I give the advice I’m about to lay on you, these are the kinds of comments I regularly receive:
“I don’t want to look like a professional bodybuilder.”
“I don’t want to develop big, bulky muscles.”
“I don’t want to lose my feminine physique and have manly amounts of muscle.”
Lest you be tempted to ignore the muscle building truth I’ll be laying on you throughout the remainder of this article, let me make something loud and clear: Building additional muscle will only make your body look and perform better.
Ladies are not naturally endowed with the hormones or bone structure to facilitate anything but a feminine and sexy amount of muscle.
Of course, what constitutes a sexy amount of muscle will vary with the one making the determination.
Still, you needn’t worry about looking manly or unattractively bulky. Unless you’re planning on using testosterone enhancing implements, that is.
For my fellas, no amount of muscle is too much for you – assuming you’re building it through completely natural methods.
For the sake of argument, let’s just say that you do happen to be one of those few lucky genetic freaks that ends up building more muscle than you’d like to have on your body…
Besides wanting to slap you out of jealousy, I would tell you to scale back your training frequency to the point of training each muscle group just once per week and make sure you’re consuming no more than a maintenance level of calories.
This will allow you to maintain your current amount of muscle mass, without risking building any significant amount of new muscle (I can’t believe I just described building new muscle as a risk).
Despite popular opinion, 99.9% of men and women couldn’t naturally realize this problem – even if they wanted to.
In other words, building muscle is good, it’s extremely rare for anyone to naturally build too much of it, and most of us will always benefit from having more (here’s 13 reasons why building muscle is awesome).
Confusing Training Complexities and Skewed Newbie Muscle Gains
Strategies that supposedly maximize muscle growth are as abundant as the word “like” at a table full of cheerleaders in the cafeteria during lunch hour.
Complicated set and rep schemes, a gazillion different lift variations and timed periodization strategies for maximizing hypertrophy can be found in just about any training plan constructed with the purpose of building muscle mass.
While these elements (and others) have their place, without applying the best way to build muscle your results are going to suffer. This is especially true when talking about long-term muscle gains.
Newbies who are stimulating their muscles through weight training for the first time, or those getting back into training after an extended time off, will achieve gains purely from the fact that any stimulus is infinitely better than no stimulus and will be adequate for eliciting a muscle building response.
For this reason, newbies can get away with making tons of errors in their training without it negatively impacting their results by a considerable degree, at least for the first couple months anyway.
After the initial “grace period”, without implementing the best way to build muscle their muscle gains will come at a snail’s pace, which is precisely why so many give up on their muscle building aspirations at around the 3-month mark.
The results they’re experiencing are exponentially disproportionate to the effort they’re exerting. And because their results fall off they ultimately conclude that weight training has become a poor use of their time.
This leads to the development of a number of errant beliefs prevalent in gyms and among many of today’s frustrated aspiring bodybuilders. They believe they have sub-par genetics, aren’t using the right supplements or need to train for 2 hours every day to have any chance at building a respectable amount of muscle.
The real reason their results prematurely stagnate has little to do with genetics, supplementation, or training volume/frequency, and everything to do with failing to apply the best way to build muscle.
By the way, this is not some cutting edge, little known principle relegated to the scientific community and elite bodybuilders. It’s a rule that’s been known and applied by strongmen and bodybuilders alike for more than a century.
The Best Way To Build Muscle = Progressive Overload
I remember as a teenager I would go to the gym, blast some Def Leppard on my Walkman (usually the High ‘n’ Dry album), put on the same amount of weight I used the last time I lifted and pump out the same 10 reps. And it would always be 10 reps. It didn’t matter how easy or how hard the 10th rep was to complete.
This was for the obvious reason that performing sets consisting of anything but 10 reps would have caused serious problems for humanity, like creating a disruption in the time-space continuum.
Humanity was depending on me, so 10 reps it was.
I’d complete my 3 or 4 sets of 10 reps on a given lift before repeating the same process for my next lift, and continue the process until I was done training for the day.
I’d get a good pump, feel pretty good about my workout and head home, thinking to myself that someday soon all of my effort was going to pay off by adding inches to my arms, chest and legs and get me the hot blonde from homeroom.
Unbeknownst to me, however, there was no way that would ever happen because my training stimulus – or lack thereof – wouldn’t allow for it.
I’m talking about adding muscle here. With a personality like mine, the hot blonde was still within my grasp – it just would have required a little more effort and ingenuity than it would with a pair of 16″ biceps.
Unlike the ladies, muscles don’t seem to respond to a great sense of humor and well timed flattery.
Muscles require a progression of stimulus for continued growth. I suppose women can behave similarly, though. After all, an anniversary dinner to T.G.I. Friday’s isn’t going to go over too well for a 3rd anniversary gift after laying a pair of diamond earrings on her the year before.
Learn a lesson and pace yourself gentlemen. Save the diamond earrings till at least year five. 😉
And I digress…
My muscles weren’t growing because I was ignoring the #1 rule for building muscle, and by doing so, was foregoing any chance of adding any noticeable amount of new muscle to what was then a scrawny 135lb frame.
Applying Progressive Overload
There are several different strategies that can be used for applying progressive overload. In his book, The Way to Live In Health and Physical Fitness, George Hackenschmidt suggests using specific rep range criteria for determining when it’s time to increase the resistance for a given lift.
This is the method I almost always apply in my own training and prescribe for my clients as well.
Here’s how it works:
- You assign a range of reps which you will use while training with a given lift (for instance, 5-8 reps)
- You start by training with an amount of resistance that causes you to reach failure at the lowest value in the range (which would be 5 if the target range is 5-8 reps)
- As your body adapts to your training and grows stronger, you will slowly be able to increase your number of reps before reaching failure with the same weight
- Once you’re able to perform the maximum number of reps (8 in the 5-8 range), you will increase the resistance by an amount that allows you to again reach failure at the low end (5 reps), start the process over, and increase the resistance any time you hit the top end of the rep range again
I prefer this method because it’s systematic and easy to implement.
It will require you to keep a training log, but you should be doing that anyway. It’s impossible to remember off the top of your head how much weight you need to be using for each lift in your training regimen and keeping a training log is the best way to keep things straight.
I record my lifts, weights and progress on each lift on a dry erase board in my basement and on an Excel spreadsheet.
Although, any method that allows you to record your weights and number of reps performed, while allowing you to note when it’s time to increase resistance, will suffice.
Most of you reading this will ignore this advice, make excuses, and won’t maintain a personal training log because you’ll perceive it to be inconvenient or unnecessary.
It is a little inconvenient, though not nearly as inconvenient as consistently training hard for months on end with hardly any muscle gain to show for it.
So, for those of us that value improving our bodies through the building of additional muscle mass (as we all should), keeping a training log is absolutely necessary – even if it is a little inconvenient.
To Build An Impressive Amount of Muscle… You Have to Want It
This should go without saying, but 9 out of 10 lifters either don’t get it or they get it and choose not to act on it.
You have to remember that progressive overload requires completing more reps with the same amount of resistance or completing the same number of reps with greater resistance.
You obviously won’t be able to accomplish this on every lift of every training session, but that needs to be your goal.
Using the progressive overload strategy I detailed above, this involves making a serious effort to outperform your previous best in reps on each lift.
Are you starting to see how important keeping a training log is yet?
Knowing that you completed 6 reps with a given weight the last time you performed a lift gives you an objective of trying to hit 7 during your current training session.
Again, you may not hit it and that’s okay. What’s important is that you know how many reps to shoot for in order to progress and try your damnedest to complete them.
Over time, your reps will increase, your weights will go up and your muscles will have no choice but to grow.
You show me someone whose squat, bench press or dead lift has improved by 50 or 100 pounds and I’ll show you someone with an enhancement in muscle mass that is impossible not to notice.
In other words, your muscles will have no choice but to grow larger, denser, fuller and more awesome when they’re being exposed to an increasing magnitude of stimulus on a regular basis.
This is what makes consistently applying progressive overload the absolute best way to build muscle.
I truly believe this to be an essential element for every individual (man and woman) who desires to build the sexiest version of their physique possible.
Most of you will ignore this advice and go about your training using no approach for progressively overloading your muscles.
When you finally get tired of being weaker and less attractive than you should be, my hope is that you won’t make the unfortunate decision that so many do and give up on training, and will instead dedicate yourself to the advice I’ve penned for you in this article today.
It’s not only the best way to build muscle fast; It’s the ONLY way to build what I’d consider to be your ideal body. Period.
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