Building muscle is a science. And it’s basically the science of how to make a muscle fiber thicker in diameter. That’s the whole thing in a nutshell.
There are certain principles that work to produce this result, and there are others that are simply ineffective.
Today, I’ll take you through 10 rock-solid laws of muscle-building. If you want the best results possible, make sure you are training in accordance with all 10 principles.
(1) HIGH-INTENSITY MATTERS
Make no mistake about it: Intensity matters! In fact, it’s the most important factor. Volume (number of sets) matters also. But volume only starts to matter once you are taking those sets to a high level of intensity i.e. taking a set to positive failure.
All the biological markers for muscle growth (like metabolic stress, muscle damage, muscle fiber recruitment) increase as intensity increases. The result is maximum protein synthesis levels.
All the volume in the world will not make up for a lack of intensity. I’ve written endlessly on this topic – see this article on Total Volume vs Intensity here. And another great article on this is ‘Should You Train To Failure In Every Set?‘.
And if you want to make the point that, “But I know a guy who doesn’t always train to failure and he’s big”, read my response to that type of thinking here.
For extreme “hyper-intense” techniques that produce very fast size gains in your chest, arms and legs, see my experimental workouts – The Chest Blast, The Arms Blast. and The Legs Blast. They’ll blow you away!
(2) OVER-TRAINING IS REAL & CAN HALT YOUR PROGRESS
Most people just don’t understand what overtraining actually is. Let me put it this way…
OVERTRAINING = UNDER-RECOVERING
We only ‘stimulate’ gains in the gym. We do NOT actually ‘build’ muscle in the gym. The building comes in that resting/recovering period between workouts. If you don’t leave sufficient time between training sessions, you’ll under-recover i.e. overtrain.
Sufficient rest is absolutely key to building muscle.
I call the point at which your workout has produced maximal gains: “P.O.P.” – the Peak Overcompensation Point. If you train the same muscle again before this time has elapsed between workouts (point 2 in the diagram below), you’ll literally make no progress whatsoever.
If you’re new to MuscleHack or just haven’t downloaded your FREE copy of T.H.T. training, do it now! It will have you hit that perfect spot (point 2 above) and you’ll make amazing, uninterrupted gains.
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(3) PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD
Progressive Overload is perhaps the fundamental law of muscle-building. It states that strength gains are a sign of muscle growth. So if you are not getting stronger over time, you probably aren’t getting bigger.
However, I would caution you all that these increases are usually slow in coming – and that’s ok. Beginners make remarkable strength increases, but after that, increasing a rep here and there on your lifts week after week is good progress.
Failing to understand this causes people to use too much momentum and other “cheating” methods in order to appease their own ego. Sure, those increasing numbers look good on paper, but you didn’t stimulate any growth with those lifts. And that brings me on nicely to my next point…
(4) STIMULATING GROWTH IS ABOUT FEELING THE MUSCLE, NOT THE WEIGHT
As I said at the top of this article – stimulating individual muscle fibers to increase in thickness is the very reason you’re in the gym. Once you understand this, your sets need to focus on the intended muscle and stimulating it to grow.
Stop letting your ego get in the way. Stop trying to lift the heaviest weights possible. It’s not about that.
“Ego lifts” get you nowhere. Keep constant tension on the intended muscle and bring that muscle to failure. Rest. Repeat. See my post ‘Feel The Muscle Not The Weight‘ for more.
(5) THE “WHEY” TO GO
In my most recent post here, I commented on an article by MSN that recommended giving up whey and eating tofu and beans instead.
But the scientific fact is that whey protein is the single best protein source on the planet. There are 2 factors in deciding the best protein for building muscle:
Bio-availability refers to the amount of the protein your body can actually use. Completeness refers to how many of the amino acids the protein contains. The higher the Bio-availability and the more complete it is, the better for you. With this in mind, whey scores better than everything else – and by a large margin. For more, see my post The Top 5 Sources of Protein here.
The best time for whey supplementation is during or after your workout. I changed my post-workout shake for an intra-workout shake – see this post for my reasons.
NOTE: Here are scientifically verified high-quality whey proteins…
A little bit of soy is going to be ok in your diet. However, the problem comes when guys replace other sources of protein with soy thinking that all protein is created equal.
There are studies showing that soy isolate was no more effective than drinking water for building muscle. Sound interesting? See my post on that here.
(6) SUPPLEMENT WITH CREATINE MONOHYDRATE
Supplementing with creatine increases the amount of creatine phosphate inside muscle tissue. This allows you to knock out more reps, thereby increasing muscle growth stimulation. This post explains how creatine works.
And before you ask, it has been proven safe (it’s natural and you already get it from food).
And yes Creatine Monohydrate is still the best form (despite what some greedy supplement companies would have you believe).
Get trusted, high-quality protein from Myprotein UK/Europe here, MyProtein USA here, or from Optimum Nutrition on Amazon.com.
I want to add that it is especially helpful to use creatine while cutting. It helps preserve that hard-won muscle mass while on restricted calories. Creatine is a recommended supplement in my powerful fat-loss program Total Six Pack Abs. Lose fat, not your muscle
(7) BETA-ALANINE WORKS
Beta alanine has been shown to increase muscle mass by about an extra pound over an 8-week period in trained athletes.
Take 2g grams every day. The timing is not important. However, for convenience, it’s handy to take it as part of your cheap-but-powerful MuscleHack pre-workout formula.
If you don’t shop at MyProtein, you can also get it in the US here.
(8) USE THESE 12 MOST EFFECTIVE EXERCISES
In September 2014 I blogged about the scientific findings from electromyography tests showing the best exercises for stimulating growth.
So if you are serious about this game, make sure the following 12 movements are part of your routine:
- LEGS OVERALL – Squats
- QUADRICEPS – Leg Extension
- HAMSTRINGS – Leg Curls
- CALVES – Standing Calf Raises
- SHOULDERS – Overhead Shoulder Press
- BICEPS – Concentration Curls
- CHEST – Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
- TRICEPS – Decline Tricep Extensions
- TRAPS – Barbell Shrug
- ABS – Hanging Leg Raises
- BACK OVERALL – Deadlifts
- LATS – Bent-over Barbell Row
All 12 of these exercises are included in free THT training. Not only that, but you’ll know the right number of sets, the correct frequency of training, the proper intensity level,and everything else you need to succeed…totally free. All the hard research work has been done for you. All you need to do…is train.
(9) SLEEP 7 – 9 HOURS PER NIGHT
Sleep is actually important for your well-being in general. Not getting enough sleep can lead to feeling:
- Impaired Brain Activity
- Weakened Immune System
Scarily, there are also links to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. See here for more.
However, it’s also hurting your gains. A study found that those who slept 4 or less hours per night had 60% less total testosterone and 55% less bio-available testosterone than those who slept 8 hrs or more.
Almost 70% of your human growth hormone is released as you sleep and much of the repair and growth of muscle fibers occurs as we sleep.
Sufficient rest at night is not optional if you want optimal gains. It’s just too damn important.
(10) STOP EATING 6 OR MORE TIMES PER DAY
I’ll finish with a somewhat controversial point (although it really shouldn’t be controversial).
If you’re still one of those guys or girls who eats more than 6 times a day, thinking it is helping you build more muscle, you should go ahead and stop that.
This thinking was based on the myth that the body can only absorb ~25g protein at a time. It just isn’t true. Read my article on protein absorption here. Alan Aragon’s post at WannaBeBig.com is also a great scientific resource on this matter.
Additionally, read my more recent article showing that eating less often with higher doses of protein (70g) actually produces HIGHER levels of protein synthesis.
So make your life easier, and eat 3-4 times a day with larger doses of protein. If you need 200g protein a day, that’s 4 meals containing 50g protein each. Easy. Find out how much daily protein you need here.
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Can you check all 10 of these off? If not, I can promise you better and faster gains if you start doing so today.
Got questions, comments, need help? Talk to me below.
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Chest Blast Workout
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HERE ARE THE SUPPLEMENTS I HIGHLY RECOMMEND
I highly recommend MyProtein for all your supplement needs.
GO TO MYPROTEIN UK/EUROPE
GO TO MYPROTEIN USA
- I also recommend to US readers this Optimum Nutrition whey (and here's a low-carb whey)
- And this quality, inexpensive creatine ~ Mark McManus
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My progress has been phenomenal since switching to THT. Not only that, but for once I actually know WHY I am doing that many sets, that many reps, those exercises. Everything. The scientific approach is refreshing. I want to thank you Mark!
I’ve been using creatine EE. Should I switch to mono then?
@Frank. Yes you should, buddy. Mono is verified as the most effective form.
Thanks Mark, I am 50 Years old and have seen good gains from your THT program. It has definitely showed me that I was probably over training. Less is definitely more with the proper training and intensity.
marks one more thing to tell Arnold used to have intense 3hr workout for 6 days or 4 days for maximum muscle development and uu are telling to have 45 min workouts with a low amou t of sets rather it also didnt covers all exercises more or less 2 exercise per bodypart in yr 3days plan .so my question is to u we should listen mr world ie Arnold guide or you ie mark mcmanus guide .
@Doug. Exactly correct. When you have the correct intensity, volume, and frequency dialled in, wonderful things can happen 🙂 Glad you’re making great gains with THT.
@Siddhartha. Well since steroids vastly speed up the recovery and growth process, you can start training 3hrs a day for 6 days a week (like Arnold) when you start taking the quantity of steroids that he took.
My 3-day full-body plan actually has 19 total sets per workout – all to positive failure. That’s not exactly a low amount of sets.
Anyway, when you somehow change your genetics to match Arnold’s, and you take all the steroids that he took, then you can train like him and make gains.