The desire to be bigger is something personal trainers hear all the time. But the ability to build muscle varies from person to person. It depends on your body type — whether you’re an endomorph, ectomorph, mesomorph or a combination — a factor you can’t control. The good news is that you can learn to understand how your body type works and what it needs to build muscle, and that there are other factors you can control to help you build those biceps.
The key to building muscles by lifting weights is to lift strategically.
Going straight for the heaviest weights will help to build up your strength, but won’t necessarily lead to bulking. The key is to find the optimal weight for you. You want to find a weight that you can use for 10–12 reps for three or four sets, and that makes your muscles feel tired by the end of each set. Rest for one or two minutes, then start again.
The best way to break down your programme is to work on a different muscle set each day. For example, your week could look like this:
Day 1: Chest day
Day 2: Leg day
Day 3: Back day
Day 4: Arms and abs day
Day 5: Choose your favorite
Make sure you intersperse the week with two rest days; these are crucial for muscle development. If the muscles can’t recover, they won’t build up.
Now, for each day you’ll want to incorporate six to eight exercises into your workout. How you pair these is up to you. For example, you might want to do three exercises in a row as one set, then a superset of two exercises with no rest in between, such as pull ups and rows. Mix it up throughout the workout so your body can adapt and work harder. After some days of training, you’ll find the original weight you chose doesn’t burn your muscles at the end of your sets. That’s when you can increase the weight.
Eat a lot
The best part of building muscle is the need for fuel — you need extra calories to help them grow. We call this bulking. Men trying to bulk should aim for a minimum of 2,000 calories a day. For women, it’s a minimum of 1,800. If you’re not used to eating large quantities, this can be a challenge, as this is the absolute minimum required to actually build the muscle. Start at this measurement, then increase your caloric intake after a week or two. This will allow your body to adapt, using the calories for muscle development and not just fat gain.
One of the big questions is what to eat when bulking. There is such a thing as a dirty bulk — involving all the pizza, pancakes, burgers and fries you want — but the issue here is fat gain.
Here, gaining fat alongside the muscle isn’t all bad, because you’ll work on cutting out the fat and revealing the muscle later. But not everyone is excited about gaining so much fat.
A clean bulk is also an option, but it’s much more difficult to eat 2,000 calories worth of broccoli than it is pizza. Lots of people’s preferred option is the mixed bulk, where 80% of meals are healthy and 20% are dirty. You can be flexible with this method, too, but it should mostly be about consuming calories to let your body build itself up.
The best way to build muscle isn’t to eat everything and lift the heaviest weights possible. While they are important parts of the process, you need to be strategic about the way you bulk up. One of the best ways to utilize your calorie intake is to eat protein 30 minutes before a workout. This could be a protein shake, a chicken breast, or your favorite protein-loaded snack. This tactic will help optimize the time frame your body needs to use the protein and build up the muscle.
Maddy has worked in the health and fitness industry for 5 years. She has a bachelors in Exercise Science and has recently received her Masters in Exercise Physiology. She has worked with a wide demographic of clients as a Personal Trainer and loves helping people reach their goals and continue to grow. She is an outdoor enthusiast and dedicates her workouts to rock climbing, hiking and whatever new experiences may come her way.
Main Photo Credit: Dragon Images/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: BLACKDAY/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: HealthyLauraCom/shutterstock.com