Building muscle is an everyday goal in modern society and it's easy to see why.
Most people want to build muscle for the physique goals and that’s cool but let’s not overlook the other benefits of lifting weights and building muscle:- increasing metabolism, increasing bone strength, improving joint health and general life and well-being benefits.
I have spoken to clients who have been introduced to weightlifting at the later stages of their life and they’ve told me how they’ve started walking up the stairs or walking around the golf course pain free - that's the amazing transformative power of weightlifting.
Weightlifting is for everyone and anyone, despite of age, sex or lifestyle.
Whatever your reason is for building muscle, it can be a lengthy process.
I myself have been there.
Getting disheartened with my progress or lack of progress.
One thing that's helped me massively is accepting that building muscle does take time, so enjoy it!
That being said, there are generally some key mistakes being made which can slow down this process.
I speak this from experience - I’ve learned from myself and with clients.
When starting training I’ve actually made every single one of these mistakes. So, I’m going to let you in on my top 3 mistakes when building muscle.
A goal without a plan is just a wish.
Read that sentence again because it's true.
Take a moment to let it sink in.
That exact concept relates to building muscle.
As with all things in life we need planning in order to increase the chances of success and create the right path to get there.
Otherwise you are like a ship sailing the high seas without a destination.
Sure you'll cover distance but it doesn't mean you are headed in the right direction because you have no destination planned.
Planning your training days and sessions keeps you accountable and keeps structure in your regime.
It gives your ship co-ordinates.
You can start by identifying your goal and from that planning how many times a week you are going to train, how long you can train for, what exercises you will be doing in the gym, what rep ranges you will be using.
Take into consideration, your plan is just a guide.
You may find the exercises you planned are unmanageable due to equipment or injury.
You may find that you planned training on Monday, but instead trained Tuesday.
There is no problem with this whatsoever, as following 70% of a plan is better than no plan at all.
So, you’re now planning your workouts, you definitely should start tracking.
If you are not tracking your weights and reps each week you are only guessing you are getting better.
It is like giving your ship a destination but never checking the map to see if you have gone off course.
Gradually in order to achieve better results you need to be training slightly harder.
This concept is called ‘progressive overload’.
That may mean adding a rep a week or adding some weight on the bar.
It doesn’t only make sure you’re progressing, but it gives the opportunity to see how far you’ve come.
You can use a training diary, a spreadsheet, the notes in your phone- or a combination.
As long as you’re tracking, you’re progressing.
If it is not monitored it is not managed.
A Training split is how you split your weekly training into your desired muscle groups and body parts.
A split you will see often is the ‘Bro Split’.
This is dedicating one day a week to training each body part, for example: Monday - Legs, Tuesday - Back, Wednesday - Chest, Thursday - Shoulders, Friday - Arms.
The good thing about the bro split is that it does consider all body parts, and when building muscle this is obviously necessary.
But what happens when you miss your leg day, do you then have to wait 2 weeks to train your lower body?
(Don’t skip leg day!).
Not only this, but research shows us to optimally train each body part we need a frequency of 2-3 times per week.
To do this with a bro split we would need to be doing 10-12 sessions per week.
Can you make progress off a bro split? Absolutely!
Is it the best way to build muscle? Absolutely not!
So where to start? Decipher how many days per week you are willing to train, what is manageable and suits your lifestyle?
In our experience you need a minimum of 2 sessions but optimal for most people to balance life alongside results 3 is perfect.
Sometimes will be more, sometimes left but 3 on average is great.
So find the training split that works best for you and then match it to a set up below-
2x Per week - Full Body, Full Body
3x Per week - Full Body, Full Body, Full Body
4x Per week - Upper, Lower, Upper, Lower
5x Per week - Push, Pull, Upper, Lower, Full
Doing this will ensure you are hitting an optimal frequency for your body to adapt and make progress whilst not having exercise/ the gym need to take over your life in order to make progress.
You can have the perfect training programme, but if you don’t look after your nutrition, you will be making very hard work of gaining muscle.
I’ve made the mistake of not eating enough myself, feeling low on energy and giving 100% when training but for very little progress
Muscle growth is driven by something called ‘muscle protein synthesis’ (MPS).
MPS is elevated the most by training, secondary to that, when we eat sufficient amounts of protein.
Combine the two and that's where the magic happens.
So, how much protein do we need?
Research shows that ranges between 1.6-2.4g/kg (bodyweight) per day has been optimal for elevating MPS.
A good place to start is aiming for double your bodyweight each day.
For example, somebody 80kg should aim for 160g per day.
MPS is also elevated by frequent protein servings every 3-4 hours.
A simple way to do this is splitting that daily protein target into 4-6 meals & snacks.
Does this mean you need to go protein shake crazy? Definitely not.
Protein is found in numerous foods such as: meat (chicken, beef, turkey etc.), fish, eggs, dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurts), beans and lentils.
The majority of your diet wants to be built up off natural sources of protein to ensure your body is provided with the right nutrients.
Protein shakes and supplements are just a really good way to make up that last 30% and meet your target!
Another consideration is making sure your body has the right energy and calories to build muscle itself.
Training newbies will most likely be able to build some muscle in a calorie deficit (having a negative energy balance = not eating enough food to fuel your bodies daily actions - this is the process required for fat loss).
However, the more advanced you get building muscle in a calorie deficit becomes much harder.
Having sufficient energy would mean being in a calorie surplus (eating more food than you need for your daily actions).
A 200-400kcal surplus is generally optimal for muscle growth.
A rough guide to work your calories surplus is:
Male- bodyweight (kg) x 34
Female- bodyweight (kg) x 32
Tracking and logging your protein and calories can be done really easy through fitness apps such as MyFitnessPal!
Remember, point two: if you are not tracking you are only guessing.
From personal experience these are the 3 biggest mistakes made when looking to build muscle.
Follow the above and we are now planning and tracking our training, hitting each muscle group 2-3x per week and eating sufficient amounts of calories and protein.
Enjoying the process as much as focussing on the outcome is essential, as it can take people years to achieve the desired body they want.
Make sure you aren't making mistakes along the way to guarantee your progress and make that process fun and enjoyable and you are half way there.
All the guidelines are simply that- guidelines.
So, experiment with your training and nutrition and find a plan you can adhere to whilst making really good progress. If you track what you are doing following the above this will be easy to do.
But most of all… enjoy the journey!