6 Principles for Building Muscle


When you’re on your personal fitness journey it’s important to know how to build muscle. Whether your goals are to make large muscular gains or just add a little bit muscle, these principles and techniques can help you get there.

To begin, we call these principles because they aren’t rules but rather guiding steps and techniques that can help you see the most out of your muscle building workout. You should use them as you see fit but know that they work incredibly well when used together.

But before we dig into the principles that you can start incorporating into your workout routine we want you to know how you are actually making muscular gains.

When you are building muscle you are engaging in hypertrophy. This is the kind of super growth of the muscle fibers meaning that they are actually growing in size as opposed to hyperplasia, which means that more muscle fibers are being added which is actually a rare event in humans.

The research on hypertrophy has shown that there are proven principles that aid in gaining muscle. Alot of the work has been done on bodybuilders, men and women who live for muscle growth, but you can use the same techniques to fulfill your own muscle building goals.

The principles are as follows:

1. Pick the Right Weight

The muscle needs the right amount of tension. The weight should be tough enough that you make it to the end of your set, but those last couple of reps are near failure. Although it is not proven in the lab that failure is critical to muscle growth, experience has proven differently. The muscle will adapt to what you ask of it but if the muscle is not stressed it will not grow. depending on your own goals you should decide which weight will be necessary in your routine.

2. Perform Moderate Reps

To keep it simple, reps are classified as follows: low is 1-5 reps, moderate is 6-12, and high is 15+. Assuming that the weights are correct, the low rep range is for strength, the moderate rep range, the one that bodybuilders primarily work in, is for growth, and the high rep range has the smallest effect on strength and muscle growth.

3. Use Short to Moderate Rest Intervals

Rest is an important factor to any workout. When working for building muscle it’s wise to keep the rest intervals between 30 – 90 seconds of rest. This taxes the muscle and doesn’t allow for complete recovery, which happens around the 180 second rest interval.

4. Perform an Adequate Amount of Sets

Start at four and work your way up to six sets. Keep this in mind: too few sets and you don’t activate growth as well as you could. Too many sets and you run the risk of overtraining.

5. Keep Workouts Under 45 Minutes

During a workout where you focus on building muscle there will be certain hormones and chemicals that will be released in the body. Things like insulin-like growth factor, testosterone, and growth hormone are important to building muscle. Doing a hypertrophy workout that lasts 45 minutes maximizes the amount these growth inducing chemicals in the body. Anything that lasts longer than that, you will actually see a decrease in the amount of hormones thus meaning less growth.

6. Smart Routine Design

The best routines take into account all of these factors and weaves them into a great workout plan. The best workout plans really understand the relationships of all of these factors but also take into consideration the person exercising. You can only do so much before you run the risk of overtraining. Using periodization is important. Don’t risk the gains that you make by only doing this kind of work. When your plan starts to get into acute overtraining it’s time to taper off some of the work to allow for proper growth and adaptation.

You can build muscle when you take into account all of these techniques and principles.

A last note is to be patient and give yourself time to reach your muscle building goals. You cannot control your genetics but you can control your routines. The right attitude and workout plan will help you reach the kind of muscles growth you are looking for.

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We're Alex & Tim Ruben. Former Division 1 college football athletes turned NASM Certified Personal Trainers specializing in HIIT and fat loss. We’re here to teach you everything you need to know about getting and staying fit in less than 20 minutes a day!