Exercise for Muscle Building
In order to build muscle, you'll want to primarily focus on heavy weight training.
Learn the formula needed to succeed - intensity, volume & consistency!
You'll need a plan to stay on track.
Select a routine to meet your goals.
Weight Training Essentials
- Adequate intensity - You should lift a weight that is heavy enough such that if you were to complete all of your reps, you could not do another repetition. For example, if you are supposed to do sets of 8-12 reps, and you could do 13 reps, you need to raise the weight. Also, if you increase your intensity by lifting heavier weights (for example, lifting less than 5 reps), the total volume you can do per workout will decrease (defined as the total number of reps = reps per set x number of sets).
- Adequate volume - A general rule of thumb is to do one exercise for at least 24 reps (for example: 2 sets of 12, 3 sets of 8, 5 sets of 5). Additionally, you should do 3-4 exercises for large body parts (eg. glutes/hams), and 1-2 exercises for smaller body parts (eg. biceps).
- Progressive overload - you should aim to increase either the number of repetitions, or the weight you lift, each time you lift it.
- Proper form - When you lift weights, make sure you do the exercise the way it is meant to be done. Lifting too heavy of a weight will ruin your proper form. This puts you at risk for injury, and will not work as well for muscle building.
- Consistency - If you skip weight training sessions, at best your strength will stay the same, at worst it will decrease. A muscle that is not exercised gets weak. Try to not miss more than one weight training session per month.
- Recovery - Allowing yourself enough time to recover between workouts will help prevent injuries. For a beginner, 1 day between workouts may be adequate. But for a more advanced trainer, typically 2-3 days is taken between workouts.
Setting Goals & Tracking Progress
The first step to making an exercise plan is to decide what your main goal is. I'd like you to think about both short and long term goals. Examples of a short term goal is "I want to add 20 pounds to my squat weight." An example of a long term goal is: "I can only squat 45 pounds right now, but I would like to squat my bodyweight."
Short term goals are little stepping stones toward our larger long term goals. Always start with a set of goals you can reach in the next 2-3 months. This will help you to stay motivated.
If your goal is to gain muscle, you need to track your workouts so you can make sure you are lifting more (heavier or more reps) each time you go in the gym. You also should take measurements to see progress that way.
If you have a plateau, you will need to find ways to break through the plateau. For a weight lifting plateau, try using microloading weights (homemade 1 or 1.5 lb weights), or lift higher reps.
Scheduling Cardio & Weight Training
Even though your goal is muscle gain, you should consider whether you get enough cardiovascular activity to reap the health benefits outlined here. Unless your job involves manual labor, you probably do not get your 30 minutes a day of moderate cardiovascular activity through your job. Vigorous full body weight training exceeding 2 times a week can count as one of your moderate cardio sessions, so for example, you could do
- Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday - Weight training, 30-45 minutes
- Wednesday, Saturday - cardio, 45 minutes
- Monday, Wednesday, Friday - Weight training, 30 minutes. Cardio 20-30 minutes.
- Tuesday, Thursday - Cardio 30 minutes
Some people prefer to separate their cardio sessions from weights, especially on leg days. It may be helpful to do cardio when you wake up, and weights later in the day. If you do weights and cardio in the same session, do cardio after your weights so you don't pre-fatigue the muscles, which would make your weight lifting workout less effective.
Choosing a Weightlifting Routine
Beginner or novice trainer? Read Weightlifting Basics
Designing your own exercise plan? Learn about Weightlifting Routine Design
Want a tried-and-true plan? Try a Premade Weightlifting Routine