This post is deliberately brief because I NEED you to read it!
If you haven’t been getting the results you so desperately want from your training, you NEED to read this one.
I’ve linked out to other MuscleHack articles if you require more in-depth knowledge on any issue.
How many of these 10 points can you check off?
(1) Feel The Muscle NOT The Weight
Stimulating muscle growth is not easy. You need to give your muscles NO CHOICE but to grow. In order to do this, you DO NOT focus on using the heaviest weights possible – that’s “ego lifting”.
Your job is to pick a weight that allows you to:
- Move the weight through a full range of motion
- Keep constant tension on the muscle
- Perform your negatives/lowering quite slowly
- Take the set to failure between a low of 6 and a high of 12 reps
We talk about “lifting”. We call ourselves “weight lifters”. But really our goal is “muscle stimulation”. Your job is not to lift weight. It’s to produce high-quality muscle contractions, and take it to failure. More in-depth knowledge on this here, ‘Feel the Muscle, Not the Weight‘.
[tweetthis]You really want to build muscle? Then feel the muscle, not the weight.[/tweetthis]
(2) Forget About What The “Other Guys” Are Lifting
As an extension of point (1), what other people lift is none of your business. We all know people that bench 80kg with a big chest, then other guys who can almost double that lift with extremely unimpressive pecs.
Why? The “absolute” numbers don’t matter. The “number game” will ruin you. Only the relative numbers matter i.e. relative to what you used to lift. You should be getting stronger and adding weight (slowly) over time. Small, incremental weight increases ALWAYS work best for true gains in size.
See my first podcast for more on absolute and relative numbers.
(3) Don’t Overtrain
Building muscle is bi-phasic i.e. it occurs in 2 phases. The workout only STIMULATES the recovery and growth process to begin, it does not PRODUCE growth.
Growth is produced in the rest period between workouts. And the muscle must be left undisturbed in order to let the growth process fully complete.
If you work a muscle again before this process has finished, you’ll get nowhere. You accomplish nothing and make no gains. This is overtraining – doing too much work too soon. For more, see my article, ‘Yes CT Fletcher, You Can Overtrain‘.
Free THT training sorts this out for you. You’ll train with a 3-day per week full-body plan, then on a 5-day split plan. And you’ll make consistent gains without overtraining. Cool! Download it free below…
(4) Slow Your Negatives
Simply put, if you don’t, then you CANNOT maximize muscle fiber recruitment.
You are stronger when lowering a weight than you are when lifting it. This is why the negative always feels easier than the positive. If you lower at the same speed as you lift (or even just drop the weight) you lose fiber recruitment because it’s too easy.
To compensate, you should lower a little slower than you lift. About 1 second for lifting, and 2 seconds for lowering is good. Really FEEL those negatives stimulating the muscle as you lower.
(5) Get a Pump
It’s not the actual purpose of your workout, but it DOES help.
The pump occurs when liquid rushes into the muscle cells in order to transport fuel and oxygen.
Muscle cells SWELL in size, which is seen by the body as a THREAT i.e. a threat to the actual integrity of the cell. So to compensate, the body increases protein synthesis levels (muscle growth). More on the pump here.
(6) Don’t Train in Very Low Rep Ranges
I define low as 5 reps per set and below.
There are MANY reasons why this is so. And many reasons why low rep plans like 5×5 are simply incapable of being optimal for size gains.
You can get more in-depth knowledge on this issue in my article, ‘Is Heavy Weight & Low Reps Best For Growth?
As a brief summary:
(a) Actual hypertrophy/growth studies confirm that higher rep ranges (around 8-12 reps to failure) work best to promote size gains. This is around 60%-85% of your 1 Rep Max.
(b) Higher rep ranges can reduce Myostatin levels. Less Myostatin = More Muscle.
(c) Higher rep ranges increase “metabolic stress” levels. This correlates positively with hypertrohy/muscle growth. Low reps and not going to failure will not get the job done.
(d) Higher rep ranges activate “satellite cells”. These satellite cells give their nuclei to cells already in the muscle. The kind of metabolic stress produced by higher reps activates this process better.
(e) Higher rep ranges give you a pump. See point (5) above for how this helps with muscle growth.
(7) Go To Failure
The only guys telling you not to take a set to failure are those with superior genetics who have succeeded themselves without this high level of intensity. These were the type of guys who were already bigger than everyone else in high school – long before they ever started lifting. They think because it worked for them, it will work for everyone. Nonsense!
Going to failure:
- Increases metabolic stress (see point 6).
- It maximizes recruitment of your type 2b muscle fibers – the ones predominantly responsible for size increases.
- It causes more muscle damage and therefore demands more repair
- It increases protein synthesis levels.
Yes, there are things going on BIOLOGICALLY speaking when you go to failure that just DO NOT happen when you don’t.
And doing extra/sets volume won’t make up for it. You can do 100 sets, but if they’re all moderate intensity, you give your body no reason to change. And that explains why many lifters are getting nowhere.
By the way, the only other type of “gurus” telling you not to train to failure are those who’ve been training 10 years or more and look like they’ve been lifting for about a month. You seriously want to take their advice?
(8) Always Hit Your Daily Protein Target
Get your daily protein or it’s all for nothing. You need around 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight (180lbs = 180g protein).
Here are some articles you will find very useful:
How Much Protein Is Needed To Build Muscle
Top 5 Protein Sources For Building Muscle
My Top 13 Cheap-Ass Protein Sources
As far as protein supplementation goes, I highly recommend Optimum Nutrition Whey for people in the US and Impact Whey from MyProtein for my UK/Europe readers.
[tweetthis]To build muscle get around 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight: 180lbs = 180g protein[/tweetthis]
(9) Use Exercises That Actually Work To Increase Muscle Size
Now I’m not going to list all the best exercises here. But you can download them free as part of my THT training package.
The download comes with a file called the ‘THT Exercise Bank‘ and lists all the best, most effective exercises for each body part.
Download it below…
Additionally, check out my post that lists the BEST single exercise for each body part called, ‘The Top 12 Exercises To Build Muscle‘.
(10) Use Supplements That Actually Work
Fact is, most supplements suck and do not work. The supplement industry stinks to high heaven. But you might as well take advantage of those supplements that are proven to work and are safe.
- Whey Protein – It’s the highest quality form of protein in the world…and it’s convenient.
- Creatine – Increases ATP in the muscle allowing you to knock out a few more reps UK/Europe recommendation. USA recommendation
- Beta-Alanine – Shown to help guys add more muscle over an 8-week period. UK/Europe recommendation. USA recommendation
A good pre-workout also helps you knock out a BLISTERING performance in the gym. Thankfully you don’t need to buy one. I created my own ridiculously cheap formula here, which gives you almost a year’s (for a 3-day training routine) supply for a measly $43!!
Here is my full list of supplements that work.
And here is my list of supplements you should NEVER buy.
Got questions? I’m happy to help as always. Just ask below. I’d also recommend you check out my flagship article, ‘How To Build Muscle – The Complete Guide‘.
ALSO, I’M SOCIAL – ADD ME & LET ME HELP YOU…
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Train With Intensity!
P.S. If your current goal is to prioritize fat loss and finally obtain that six-pack you always wanted, get the program that has been proven to work on people all around the world of all ages and both genders. An interesting fact about Total Six Pack Abs is that it minimizes hunger while you get shredded and sculpt muscle.
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Really good guide!
Well, this post just helped me highlight some of the mistakes I made during my first week of TSPA. I had days when I didn’t hit my protein target, and certain sets where I didn’t go to failure (mostly due to equipment limitations). Need to fix both, along with one other nutrition issue. Thanks Mark!
Def look forward to putting a few of these principles to work!
@Tudor. So glad it helped you, buddy.
Thanks, definitely good advice.
Great list, like the 10 commandments haha! I will be pinning these on my walls to be constant reminders.
@Yash. Awesome. Great idea, Yash!
Thanks Mark this has helped me correct some of my mistakes that I have been making. keep up the good work.
Great advice Mark thanks. Especially when it comes to feeling the muscle not the weight as the two coupled with “bro science” can really seem to be the same thing.
Hi mark, first of all thank you for making things simpler and logical.” Train with intensity” explains all and might be the only thought required while working out. I wanted you to help me out with substitute for dead lift in THT as my disc prolapse seems to get worsen post back day (I have long legs and having a proper form is an issue in that over crowded gym 🙂
Hi mark, first of all thank you for making things simpler and logical.” Train with intensity” explains all and might be the only thought required while working out. I wanted you to help me out with substitute for dead lift in THT as my disc prolapse seems to get worsen post back day (I have long legs and having a proper form is an issue in that over crowded gym 🙂 thnx
@Sunil. Unfortunately there just is no sub for deadlifts. It cannot be replicated. So you’ll have to do without it, buddy.