Building Muscle: Tips for Getting Started

Knowing what works for you

First of all, you have to realise everyone is different; we all have different body types. This means we are all going to adapt and progress slightly different to stimulus even if we are following the same programme.

To get started in the best possible way take time to sit down with a professional and have a full consultation that takes in all your personal information around training so a personalised programme can be developed for you.


Technique over weight

Increasing the weight in an exercise before you are ready to can lead to the technique being less effective at building muscle. This is probably the biggest mistake I see in the gym on a day to day basis. Lifting weights that are heavier than needed or than your body is capable of leads to the body adjusting posture or speeding the exercise up to make this easier for you to achieve.

There are however, a number of ways to increase overload of a muscle, for example increasing the reps, adding another set, slowing reps down, increasing the range, less rest between sets etc.

To combat bad technique in your workouts use the mirrors to watch yourself performing the exercise and be critical of your technique. You could also try some different styles of training to achieve overload.


Think about what you’re doing

Mentality has a big part to play when it comes to fitness and especially muscle growth, this is why a lot of knowledgeable people in the fitness industry say, “if you can’t contract a muscle at rest, how do you expect it to grow.”

Next time you’re in the gym lifting weights try to actually think about what the muscle is doing at each point of the lift, rather than just moving a weight from a to b. To improve the brain to muscle communication, make sure you carry out warm up sets of an exercise. For example if we take the bench press, warming up with a light weight for 2 sets of 25 will help activate a clear brain to muscle pathway.

When performing the exercise you should try and stretch out the muscle in the down phase and then at the top of the movement when lifting, squeeze the muscle to get a full contraction.

Arnold Schwarzenegger use to use this technique in between sets by posing and squeezing the muscle at rest and let’s be honest if it’s good enough for Arnie its good enough for us!


Time under Tension (TUT)

This is another technique that works wonders for building muscle and goes hand in hand with the previous tip of thinking about what you’re doing as it takes a lot of concentration to perform effectively.

As mentioned before sacrificing technique for weight is a big no no when it comes to building muscle. For a muscle to grow we need to cause a certain amount of micro trauma to the muscle, aka tearing the muscle.  After this has been achieved, and as long as the right levels of overload and good nutrition have been met, the muscle goes into a repair stage leading to growth of the muscle.

To implement this into your workout you should start with making sure you are in control of the weight at all times, focusing on lowering and lifting the weight in a controlled manner. Once you have managed to do this you should start to try and slow down the lowering phase even more, this can be achieved by slowing the movement down by 2 to 3 seconds during the lowering phase and keeping the upwards phase at 1 second. The advantage of this technique is you can continually play around with the time under tension to keep your sessions enjoyable and challenging.


No need for confusion

There is the common misconception that you need to keep a muscle guessing or confuse a muscle which leads to people changing their programmes or exercises often. If a muscle can only lengthen and shorten, and you’re in control of the muscle through the nervous system, then how do you confuse a muscle?

Instead, track your sessions by recording what you are lifting each time, how long you are resting for between sets and how many reps you are achieving each set. From this you will know when to add more weight on, increase the reps, decrease the rest time or add in more time under tension. For example, if you have squats in your programme and you are tasked with doing 5 sets of 10 reps at 60kg with 1 minute rest in between, once you have achieved this task with clean technique you should look to increase the weight.

Remember, as humans the more we do something the better we become at it and this is definitely the case when it comes to building muscle.

A workout programme should be monitored well and have small tweaks along the way rather than a full overhaul of the programme. If you are making good gains, building muscle well and lifting more you shouldn’t completely change your programme just because a book or magazine says every 12 weeks you should. 

Written by Mark Wickens, Personal Trainer.

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