How to Build Muscle

Bodybuilding Pose

I’ve spent a lot of time researching proper techniques on fitness and learned through a LOT of reading that it really isn’t as hard to build muscle as it seems.  I want to give you all the essentials right here on this page with as little extra info as I can.  This is everything you need to know to build muscle.  All the important information, all in one place.   I'm still in the process of bodybuilding, but this is what has worked for me so far. Photo to the right is me, taken on April 1, 2013.


Build Muscle Lose Fat

The most important thing about building muscle is having the right diet.  I know you’ve heard this a million times so take it seriously this time.  I'm going to tell you only what I feel is essential.  Building muscle is done mostly in the kitchen.

Counting calories is not the most important part, but I want to explain what they are and where you should aim for with them.  Calories are units of energy.  Wanna lose weight, burn more energy than you take in.  Wanna gain weight, take in more energy than you burn.  That's all it means.  In this case, we are trying to gain weight in muscle, not fat, so you need to take in more calories than you burn.  To find out how many calories you need to eat, you want to plug in your weight and height into this BMR-Calculator to see about how many calories you burn by doing nothing but sleeping.  Since you’ll be doing a lot more activity than absolutely nothing, take the number you get from that and multiply it by 1.7, so if you have a BMR of 2000, then as someone who exercises, your base calories are 3400.  That's roughly how many calories you would burn.  We want to be taking in more calories than we burn, though, so to bulk, you should add 500-1000 calories to this.  Try adding closer to 1000 and if you feel you’re getting too much fat, then cut it down a bit.

So now you know how many calories you need, but what type of food should you eat to hit this number?  You want to have your diet be 40% protein, 40% carbohydrates and 20% fat.  The protein is what builds muscles, the carbs give you energy so you aren’t lugging around like you're half dead all day and the fats give you either good or bad cholesterol, which can give you heart disease and a bunch of other illness if it's bad.  Fitday is a great site to figure out how many calories come from what foods you eat in a day, and it also gives you a pie chart of how much protein, carbs and fats are in that diet.  When you see how much food you’re going to be eating in a day, it will probably be more than you're used to and may look intimidating, but the best way to eat it all is in 6-7 small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals.  Not only will this make it easier to eat it all, you will also be giving your body the nutrition it needs throughout the entire day, and it also will boost your metabolism so you burn fat and energy more efficiently.

The Purpose of Protein

When we lift, we are pushing our muscles until they rip and tear.  Our body then uses protein to repair, rebuild, and add more muscle so it doesn’t rip and tear again.  Then we push a little harder to break that and our bodies use protein to build muscle even stronger than last time.  Now, I’m sure you’re wondering if eating protein is what builds muscles, why can’t we just eat a lot of protein?  It’s because your body uses food for many other functions, too, so if protein is the only thing going into your body, it will break down the protein to try to use it for everything besides building muscle.  No one wants to work hard, eat a lot of protein and then have their bodies break down their hard earned muscle for energy.  Good foods to eat for protein are


  • chicken
  • steak
  • seafood 
  • eggs
  • milk
  • cheese
  • beans
  • lean beef 
  • and my favorite, greek yogurt.  Mix that with some fruit or buy it with fruit already in it.  Trust me, it’s delicious.  No comparison to cottage cheese.  

Read!

You do not need to buy a bunch of supplements.  They are meant to supplement your diet, not be it.  I'll have 2-3 protein shakes and a multi-vitamin a day and that's plenty!  

Protein shakes come in two different types, whey and casein.  Whey is fast acting so good to drink right when you wake up and after a workout, while casein is longer-lasting so is perfect to drink right before you go to sleep.  Try to have protein consistently throughout your day.

Why You Need Carbs

Carbs are essential for giving you energy.  You can deal without them, but like I said, your body will then break down muscle for energy instead.  Some people cut carbs when losing weight, but it’s not necessary.  You want to be eating carbs that are low GI (glycaemic index), which means slow-burning.  Example foods of this are

 

  • brown rice
  • whole-wheat bread
  • whole-wheat pasta
  • sweet potatoes
  • oatmeal
  • green vegetables

Foods you want to AVOID are high GI, which is any food with sugar in it, like white bread, white sugar, white rice, fast food and soda.  

You want to eat carbs first thing in the morning because it will give you the energy to go about your day. Right after your workout is the other most important time to be taking in carbs because your glycogen stores are down.  An easy way to cover this is to drink your post-workout shake with 2% milk.  I would avoid eating carbs during the later part of your day because you won’t be giving your body enough time to burn it before you go to sleep.

Good fats

Fats are absolutely needed by your body for muscle development and to get into an anabolic state.  You want to be taking in good fats, which are monounsaturated fats.  They raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol.  Good foods to take for these are

  • any type of nut (including peanut butter)
  • olive oil
  • fat from fish (fish oil)
  • and egg yolk

Eat fats during the same time you eat carbs.  Gradually through the early part of your day, but not at all in the later part of your day.

Getting Swole

You are now educated on the diet portion of bodybuilding.  Wasn’t as complicated as you though, right?  Alright, let’s get into the good stuff, how you should be lifting.  But first, remember this, always listen to your body.  If you feel you can do more reps then do more.  And if you feel like you should stop something or something hurts, then stop!  Your body knows best.

Let's knock out a big question most people seem to have right off the bat.  How many reps should I do?  The answer is going to depend on what your goal is.  If you want to be stronger, then go for 4-6 reps per set.  This will not get you massive, but you will be very strong.  If you want to be getting size and looking more muscular, aim for 8-12 reps per set.  This repetition is what tears the muscle which the protein rebuilds larger. Once you can do 12 reps comfortably, it's time to up the weight.  

Proper form is much more important than how much you can lift, so leave your ego at the door.  If you can’t lift that much yet, but have proper form then I guarantee you will get a lot more respect than the guys grunting to get their half of rep set.  Everyone starts somewhere and I bet some of those big guys walking around were even smaller than you when they first started.  If you lift with crappy form, you will get injured, and you won’t be hitting those new personal records any time soon.  I’m telling you from experience.  Bodybuilding.com's Exercises to Build Muscle page has the best rated exercises and how to do them all with proper form.

There are three main lifts that you want to make sure are part of your workout: deadlifts, bench press and squats.  These are compound lifts, which means they hit the most muscles at one time.  That doesn’t mean they should be the only lifts you do, but including them will help you build the most muscle fast.  

I wouldn’t suggest working every muscle in your body in a single day.  Usually, I seperate them to one or two muscle groups per day so they have enough time to recover.

Example workout could be:

Monday is leg day

Tuesday you do chest

Wednesday is back day

Thursday you rest

Friday do shoulders

Saturday work biceps

Sunday is another rest day

Abs every day except rest days

Following a set schedule will give you very nice gains for the first few weeks, but make sure you switch it up every so often.  Your muscles will get used to the routine and will not grow as fast (or stop growing at all, also known as plateauing) if you don’t mix it up.  Try new exercises, do them in different orders and change your rest days.  Keep your body always guessing.  You always want your muscles to feel sore the next day.  That’s how you know you’re doing it right.

When to Chill

Rest is just as important to building muscle as eating properly and lifting are.  There are two times to focus on resting.  In between sets, and after your workout. You want to give yourself only a minute or two between sets so you are maintaining blood flow to the muscles.  You want to make sure to keep your pump, and even though your next sets will have less reps and you’ll feel weaker, you’re working more on pushing your muscles to their max.  Waiting any longer is just training for strength.  When you're done your workout,  sleeping gives you the proper rest you need before you work those muscles again. During sleep is when your body is actually in the rebuilding and growing process.  You should be getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night and should wait a few days to a week before you lift that muscle group again.  


That is all that is required to know how to build muscle.  I’ll be adding sample diets and workout routines in the future, but you now have all the info you need to make your own and without having to pay a personal trainer to whoop your ass and do it for you.  This next bit of info isn’t essential, but I feel is something very beneficial to most people trying to build muscle.

Get Shred or Die 'Mirin

If you aren’t trying to get as strong as you can, you probably are focused on having that sexy beach body look.  You now have all you need to properly build muscle, but there is a bit more to the equation of getting the look you want.  First off, lets talk about genetics.  Every person in the world has different genetics, meaning the way their muscles are shaped are going to vary.  Don’t beat yourself up if your abs aren’t as wide as Ronnie Coleman's.  Everyone has a different shape and structure and yours can look good, too.  Mike “The Situation” from Jersey Shore has some of the WORST abs I’ve ever seen in my life and the ladies go crazy over them.  Why? Because he has confidence in them.  He accepts his genetics how they are so most other people do too.  You can’t change genetics, but you can change your muscle proportion.  The proportion of your muscles will be the most important thing to work on to achieve that aesthetic look.  It has been said that the “X” body shape is the most aesthetic, where the legs are built, the waist is small and the upper body is built.  To achieve this, you want to work on having all parts of your legs bigger,  getting your lats wider (wide-grip pull ups, wide-grip lat pull downs), a wide, but full, chest (work every angle of your chest.  Do close-grip, wide-grip, incline, decline) and full shoulders (front delts, side delts, back delts, upper delts), all while keeping nice abs and a small waist.  Look in the mirror and see where you need to work on to keep everything in proportion.  If you feel your arms are slacking, work more on the arms. You get the idea.  Now go get shred!

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