Slow Down Your Reps, Speed up Your Gains:  Build Muscle with Slow Eccentrics

Slow Down Your Reps, Speed up Your Gains: Build Muscle with Slow Eccentrics

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression: It’s not what you do, but how you do it, that matters. Nowhere is this more true than in the gym. There are endless ways you can manipulate a single exercise to build muscle.. Isometric holds, cluster sets, partial reps, sets to failure and beyond.. slow eccentrics, etc etc ad infinitum.

However, if there’s one variable you can control that will have the biggest impact on building slabs of muscle, it would have to be Tempo. In particular, the tempo of the eccentric part of the lift (the “way down” in a bench press or curl, or the “way up” in a Lat Pulldown.)

Let’s take a look at how slow eccentrics can speed up muscle growth (hypertrophy), and give some specific examples you can implement into your training to harness their power.

Check out JACKED AF: 10 Week Max Hypertrophy Program. These methods and many others are included in 10 weeks of blood, sweat, and tears. (This is only for those who are serious and ready to train hard).

jacked af hypertrophy build muscle

Longer Time Under Tension

Simply stated.. Slowing down the eccentric portion of a lift will result in a much longer set.. often upwards of 60 seconds or longer of suffering.

Time Under Tension is often touted as the primary driver of muscle hypertrophy. This is not necessarily true, and it is simply ONE factor that can influence protein synthesis. I want to be clear that slow eccentrics are a tool, not some supreme method of training..

If you’re performing 3 sets of 15 Biceps curls at the end of your training session, performing them with a slow, 4-5 second eccentric will feel a LOT different and will have a stronger training effect in regards to hypertrophy.

All science aside, it’s simply a more challenging set. The muscle fibers are under stress/tension for much longer and having to work much harder. Given the soreness people often have after performing reps this way, there’s clearly an added stimulus being presented to the body.

One study by Pope Et al (2015) observed that 4 weeks of using nothing but eccentric reps resulted in significant gains in muscle cross sectional area.

I can also personally attest that adding this element into my (and my clients’) training for a 6 week training cycle gave me noticeable hypertrophy in the Shoulders and Triceps, where I used slow eccentric reps.

jacked hypertrophy eccentric reps

The Law of Accomodation

The Law of Accomodation is an important training principle. It states that: “Constantly repeating the same type of training will eventually lead to diminishing returns.”

With this in mind, you can see that adding in a new method like slow eccentric reps can be a way to avoid the law of accomodation and keep your body in a state of adaptation and growth.

Sometimes things don’t have to be complicated. At the end of the day, it can actually be pretty simple.

If you currently perform all of your reps with no regard to tempo at all, and simply blast through your sets.. introducing slowed down eccentric reps will be a new stimulus to the body.

Thus, you will likely get a strong response from the training method, until your body becomes well adapted and “used to” the eccentric reps. You will probably be very sore from performing reps this way, which is another indication that something different and “new” is being presented to the body.

Examples

Below are some example of how you can implement slow eccentrics into your training routine. I’ll give some of my favorite movements that have worked for me and my athletes/clients.

Eccentric Lateral Raises:

These are tough. Perform DB lateral raises, with a 4-5 second eccentric on every rep. Keep a slight bend in the arms. To get in additional reps, you can “cheat” the weight up a bit in order to get a few extra eccentric reps.

Start with 3 sets of 8-12 reps and aim lighter than you’d normally go. From there you can work on hitting more sets/reps and bumping the weight up.

Fat Bar Reverse Curl w/Slow Eccentric

Using a fat bar or Fat-Gripz makes these especially challenging. With a reverse grip, curl the bar up, then slowly lower back down, looking for a 4-5 second eccentric. An empty barbell will probably be plenty here to start out with. Shoot for sets of 10-12 reps paired with another Biceps movement like hammer curls or incline curls done at regular tempo.

DB Triceps Extensions With Slow Eccentric

Keeping the upper arms vertical or angled slightly back, lower the DB’s down towards your head, looking to feel a stretch in the Triceps at the bottom. Looking for about a 4-5 second eccentric on every rep. Shoot for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps and go from there.

Single Arm Barbell Curl With Slow Eccentric

The added challenge of having to balance the barbell in one hand makes these even more challenging. Looking for a long, slow eccentric of 6-8 seconds. I like these as a finisher or as a way to sneak in some volume for the Biceps on a different training day during the week.

You may like: Build Muscle Faster with Tempo Training

Final Thoughts

jacked af hypertrophy build muscle

As with all training methods, this is a tool you can carry to maximize your time spent training.

It’s important to note that this method is likely not very good for strength purposes (although it can have some positive impacts on strength, such as increased tendon strength and better movement efficiency and mind-muscle connection).

You’re primarily stimulating Type 1 Fibers with the longer, slower sets and increased TUT. To maximize results, this should be combined with some heavier, more explosive work.

If you want to have this and more programmed in for you and have a roadmap to big results, check out my 10 week JACKED AF Program available through the TrainHeroic app. It’s a badass program that will get you, well… jacked af.

Thanks for being here. I hope this helps you on your journey towards your best self.

Build Muscle Faster with Tempo Training:  3 Methods + Full Workout

Build Muscle Faster with Tempo Training: 3 Methods + Full Workout

If you want to build muscle faster and put on some serious size, you have to train smarter. That means choosing the right methods to use in the gym. And when it comes to packing on slabs of muscle quickly, tempo training is at the top of the list.

In the gym, it’s often not what you do, but how you do it that is most important.

What is Tempo Training?

Tempo training refers to the way that you perform repetitions. There are various ways we can manipulate repetitions on almost any exercise to get a different desired effect from it (hypertrophy, strength, power, etc..)

In general, performing tempo reps means slowing down each repetition on the eccentric (way down), concentric, or both parts of the movement at a specific rate (i.e, 3 seconds up and down, 5 seconds down and quickly back up, etc.)

In this article I’m going to:

  • Explain the benefits of Tempo Training
  • Explain how it builds muscle better than other methods
  • Give 3 specific methods you can use to implement tempo training into your workouts
  • Give you a sample workout using tempo training and the methods discussed.

Benefits of Using Tempo Reps

Using Tempo reps in your training can have several benefits leading to increased muscle mass as well as reduced joint stress and nervous system fatigue.

When incorporating Tempo into my training sessions, I would do so for a specific reason, such as:

  • To add volume in without stressing out the nervous system. Too much max effort lifting can be counterproductive, and tempo training can be a solid compliment to heavy work if you’re looking to put on some size. Using tempo is also self-limiting: You will not be able to lift as much weight when you slow down the tempo.
  • To increase time under tension: Slowing down the tempo will dramatically increase the length of each set. A set of tempo reps can easily extend beyond one minute.
  • To get a massive “pump:” Slowing down reps will create an “occlusion” effect in the muscle, delaying blood from exiting the working muscle. This results in a huge pump and increased metabolic fatigue, both solid stimuli for muscle growth.
  • To get in some training without over-stressing the body: Tempo training isn’t as hard on the body as heavy/max effort lifting. I’d throw temp reps in on a lower intensity/recovery type day to get some volume in without crushing myself.

How Does Tempo Training Increase Muscle Mass?

build muscle fast tempo reps

Performing reps with a slower tempo can cause hypertrophy via several different mechanisms. Most importantly:

  • Increased time under tension
  • Increased metabolic fatigue/stress
  • Occlusion effect

Increased Time Under Tension

Time under tension is self explanatory: The length of time the target muscle(s) are under tension from the exercise being performed during a set.

This is a classic way that bodybuilders have trained for decades to maximize hypertrophy… slowing down repetitions and taking sets to failure.

This isn’t to say that tempo training is the only way to maximize hypertrophy. Heavy reps are equally impactful and necessary for most lifters. Tempo training is simply complimentary to an overall approach to building size and strength.

Increased Metabolic Stress

Rather than giving a lengthy explanation of metabolic stress, I’ll just give you an example:

Take a heavy set of 5-6 reps on barbell biceps curls. Now, contrast that with a set of 15 reps, done at a slow tempo.. say, 4 seconds up and down with lighter weight.

The second set will be brutal, and your arms (and whole upper body probably) will be screaming and on fire. This is metabolic fatigue, caused by accumulation of various by-products of energy production and other factors beyond the scope of this article.

The important point is that metabolic stress is a key marker for muscle growth, causing a spike in anabolic hormones and increased protein synthesis.

Occlusion Effect

Slowing down repetitions without giving the working muscle any rest will lead to an “occlusion” effect on the muscle. This means that blood will be delayed from exiting the muscle as it is forced to remain contracted.

Bodybuilders (and others more recently) have worn occlusion bands to create this same effect, restricting blood flow in the working muscle. Research (such as this study) has shown occlusion training to be effective at stimulating additional muscle growth using lighter weight/higher reps.

The result of the occlusion effect is a lack of oxygen in the muscle, which causes the slow twitch muscle fibers to fatigue quickly, forcing the higher threshold fast twitch muscle fibers to take over.

You’re basically tricking the body into sensing a more challenging stimulus, as if you were lifting much heavier weight. This results in a greater endocrine response (release of anabolic hormones) and increased protein synthesis.

You can grab a solid, inexpensive pair of BFR bands here on Amazon (affiliate link, I’ve used these for years)

3 Methods to Build Muscle Faster Using Tempo Training

I want to give you 3 methods you can use to implement tempo training into your workouts to help you build muscle faster. I’ll include a video demo for each one.

1 – Regular Tempo Reps

The first way to implement tempo training is to simply use traditional tempo reps on one of your lifts during your session.

For this method, simply choose a tempo (3 seconds, 4 seconds, etc..) and perform all repetitions at that tempo, moving both up and down at the desired tempo.

Tempo Incline DB Press

3-4 sets of 8-12 reps should be sufficient. If you want to be a little more hardcore, try taking the last set to failure.

Tempo/Contrast Method

The tempo contrast method is one of my favorites to implement. It combines tempo reps with regular reps within the same set, allowing you to reap the benefits of both tempo and more aggressive lifting.

To perform the Tempo/Contrast method, you’ll choose an exercise, then hit 2 reps at tempo followed by 2 normal repetitions. Then repeat, 2 tempo, 2 regular, until all reps are completed.

Below are 2 examples using the Tempo/Contrast method. Back squat and DB press.

Tempo/Contrast Incline DB Press

You can use the same set/rep scheme as for regular tempo reps, potentially taking the last set to failure. I use these all the time and have gotten solid results from including this method in my training.

Extended Contrast

The third and final example is what I call “Extended Contrast.” In this method, we’ll combine multiple methods within a single set, ending with an isometric contraction that will really test your metal.

To perform an extended contrast set:

  • Choose a weight where you’d probably reach failure in 8-12 reps.
  • Perform 4-6 reps with a 5 second eccentric (way down).
  • When you feel like you’ve only got a few reps left in the tank, begin pressing regular, aggressive reps.
  • When you’re close to failure, take one final rep down very slowly (10 seconds or so).
  • Hold the bottom position isometric contraction for 15-30 seconds.
Extended Contrast Set

These are pretty intense, and I wouldn’t recommend performing more than 1-2 of these in a session.

You can hit 2-3 normal sets or regular tempo sets, and hit one of these as a finisher.

I also prefer to use this method with either DB presses, curls or pulldowns. Some movements would be difficult to perform with an extended isometric contraction at the end.

Sample Session (Chest/Biceps)

Below is a workout sample from the SWOLE TOWN program. I frequently like to mix in these methods in my programming, and if you’re looking for solid programming I highly recommend checking it out.

TRY A FREE WEEK OF SWOLE TOWN.

The last 2 movements (deficit push up/hammer curls) are to be performed as a superset, resting 60-90 seconds after completing both. Videos are below if you don’t know how to perform these.

SETSREPSREST
Barbell Bench
Press
462-3 min
DB Tempo
Hex Press
*4 seconds up/down
**Low incline bench
310-8-Max2 min
Barbell Biceps
Curl
48-8-6-62 min
*Deficit Push ups 3Max90 sec
*DB Hammer Curl312-15
Sample Full Workout (Swole Town)

Conclusion

Here’s a full video on this article if you’re interested:

Adding tempo training into your workouts can have a big impact on muscle growth, and can also serve as way to limit joint stress and over reliance on heavy training.

Remember.. it’s not always about what you do, but how you do it that will have the biggest impact on your results.

With tempo training, we’ve seen that we can increase time under tension, increase metabolic stress and create an occlusion effect, all of which are precursors to muscle growth.

Try adding in some of these methods to your current training split. If it’s new for you, you’ll likely find it quite challenging. But remember, the body does not respond to easy.

I hope you found this article useful. Let me know in the comments below.

Come follow Swole Town over on Instagram (@Swole_Town) and definitely check out the Swole Town programming, delivered through the world’s best training app (TrainHeroic).

Until next time, keep training hard.

You may like: How to get Big arms using BFR Bands

Chest and Arm Workout For Explosive Hypertrophy.

Chest and Arm Workout For Explosive Hypertrophy.

The gyms will be open soon, and you better believe that first day is going to be national chest day. But that’s okay. You’ll be prepared. This chest and arm workout will mark your glorious return to the gym, and you’ll walk out with a massive pump. Let the hypertrophy begin.

Note: This training is taken from my Swole Town program, available through TrainHeroic; the world’s best training app. If you like this workout, come train with the team and get swole af.

Chest and Arms Go Together Like…

Peas and carrots, coffee and cream, alcohol and bad decisions.. You get the idea.

Chest and arms are a natural combination. All pressing movements, like the bench press, dumbell bench press and push ups already work the triceps pretty hard. So, it’s both efficient and productive to work the triceps alongside your chest exercises.

We’re going to work the biceps as well for this workout. And no, it won’t screw up tomorrow’s back day. I’ll show you how, just stay with me.

Chest and Tricep Anatomy

A little anatomy never hurt anyone. If your goal is to build muscle, then your chest and arm workout (and all your workouts) would benefit from having a deeper understanding of how to target specific muscles to get the most out of your training.

Chest Muscles

chest and arm workout hypertrophy

The Chest is actually made up of 4 separate muscles. The Pectoralis Major and Pectoralis Minor make up the vast majority of your chest muscle.

To work the Pectoralis minor, we can use dips and decline presses. Any movement where the body is leaning forward with the arms pressing at a downward angle.

Incline bench presses work the Pectoralis major, focusing on the Clavicular head of the muscle (the upper chest).

The pectoralis major is by far the largest and most dominant muscle in the chest. It spans across your chest from your shoulder to your sternum. It is responsible for moving the humerus (arm), and is worked during just about every chest exercise you’ll do.

With just a little variety we can easily hit all the muscles of the chest.

The Triceps

chest and arms workout triceps muscle

The triceps muscle is a little more interesting. It’s made up of 3 separate muscles. The lateral head, medial head and the long head.

To get the “horseshoe,” we need to specifically focus on the long head of the triceps. The long head can be isolated using movements like skull crushers, lying dumbell extensions, overhead triceps extensions and my favorite.. dips.

Well hit them all in our chest and arm workout, so don’t worry.

BFR Bands and Resistance Bands for Explosive Hypertrophy

For this workout, we’re going to use Blood Flow Restriction Bands (BFR) and Resistance Bands. These tools can take your workouts to the next level. You can take it from me, or read the research for yourself.

Occlusion Training with BFR Bands

chest and arm workout bfr

Blood flow restriction training, also known as “occlusion training” has been around for a long time. Bodybuilders have used it for years.

BFR bands are kind of like a tourniquet placed on your arms. Blood flow is restricted, limiting oxygen and blood to the working muscle.

They are meant to be used for high reps (15-30) with lighter loads (50% of your max or less). Normally, the slow twitch muscle fibers would be handling that type of work.

However, with restricted blood and oxygen, the slow twitch fibers cannot keep up. As a result, the fast twitch muscle fibers have to take over.

Finishing your workout with 10 minutes of fast paced BFR lifting will give you the biggest pump you’ve ever had in your arms. That pump is caused by cellular swelling, and is a precursor to increased testosterone and growth hormone release, and increased hypertrophy.

You can get a set of BFR Bands for around $30 on Amazon. I use these, and they’ve lasted me almost two years already. You’ll thank me later.

Resistance Bands

resistance bands build muscle from home

Resistance bands are a great tool to compliment your lifting.

I like to use them primarily because I can get a ton of volume in with them without the joint stress I’d get from using dumbells, barbells or cables.

Resistance bands offer ascending resistance, meaning the resistance increases as the band stretches, towards the end of the movement.

Since people tend to be weak at the end range of motion, this can be very beneficial. (Think about that last few inches of the bench press when you can’t lock out your arms.)

With bands, we can safely throw in a ton of volume for arm training that we otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to get in.

You can get a whole set of bands here at a really good price.

Chest and Arm Workout for Hypertrophy

School’s over, and it’s time to get down to business. This chest and arm workout is probably different from what you’ve done before.

I don’t like copy and paste workouts or workout programs. There have been a lot of advancements in our understanding of how to build muscle and get stronger. This workout uses concepts that might be new to you, but if you want to grow, you’ve got to…. grow!

Here’s the workout. Scroll down for videos and explanations for each exercise and for specifics.

ExerciseSetsRepsRest
A1 – Floor Flyes310-12
A2 – Single Arm Bench Press31090 sec
B1 – Depth Push ups4-53
B2 – Close Grip Bench Press4-552 mins
C – Dips410-1290 sec
D – Incline Dmbl Bench Press38-1090 sec
E – BFR CIRCUIT10 mins30-15minimal
E1 – Dmbl Hex Press///
E2 – Plate Curls///
E3 – Banded Triceps Ext///
E4 – Reverse Curls///
A and B performed as Supersets

1. Warm Up: Floor Flyes/Single Arm Press

Get a good warm up in by doing 3 sets of 10 reps for each. Perform these as a superset, resting 90 seconds between sets. Go light, it’s a warm up.

2. Depth Push ups to Close Grip Bench Press

Research shows that barbell work hits the triceps much harder than dumbells or cables. So I want to make the most of that.

Studies also show that performing explosive push-ups before a heavy bench press can improve your performance. I want to fully activate and stimulate the explosive fast twitch muscle fibers.

Perform 3 explosive depth push ups, then go immediately to the bench and hit 5 reps of close grip bench presses. Work up to the heaviest set of 5 you can get. Try to get there within 5 sets.

3. Dips

Dips are one of my favorite upper body exercises. I’d argue you can build more muscle with dips than with the bench press.

You’re looking for 10-12 reps. If you can get more than that, add weight with a Dip Belt or a dumbell between your legs. . Hit 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps.

To protect your shoulders, you can come down until your arms form a 90 degree angle, then push back up.

4. Incline Dumbell Bench Press

Nothing fancy here. We want to hit the upper portion of the chest. 3-4 sets of 8 reps. Be explosive when you press the weight up.

5. BFR Chest and Arms Circuit.

Strap your BFR Bands on and get your mind right.

Peform the circuit for 10 minutes. Rest as little as possible. Get in as many reps as you can. Go from one exercise to the next.

On the first set, aim for 20-30 reps. Each set after that, your goal is 15 reps. Remember, with BFR Bands, you want to use lighter weight and get in a ton of reps.

All that volume will lead to big gains, and a massive pump. Crush it.

1. Hex Press:

Squeeze the dumbells together the whole set.

2. Plate Curls:

Grab a plate and curl it until your arms feel like they’re going to fall off. Get a good squeeze at the top.

3. Banded Triceps Extensions:

Keep tension on the triceps by trying not to pause or allow the band to come up too high. Constant movement. If you don’t have them, Invest in some Strength bands!

4. Reverse Curls

Grab an empty barbell, palms facing down and bang out some reverse curls. These really make for an insane forearm pump.

Remove the BFR Bands and marvel at the pump.

Maximize Your Gains

If you’re going to be putting in this kind of work, you might as well reap as much benefit from it as possible. Here’s a few things you should definitely be doing to make sure you maximize hypertrophy and recovery.

If you’re looking for some badass back workouts, check this article out

1. Use the Right Supplements

You don’t need to go crazy on the supplements. There are a few that can give you an edge that I’d recommend.

  • Creatine increased power output, strength, recovery
  • L-Citrulline – Found in many pre-workouts, it is converted to nitric oxide in the body and improves blood flow. i.e, gives you a massive pump. Which of course, leads to more hypertrophy
  • Protein – If you aren’t getting at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight from food, then use a supplement.
  • L-Carnitine – Improved fat burning and increased androgen receptors (better use of testosterone = more muscle).

I recommend getting supplements from Bulk Supplements. It’s cheaper, you get way more, and it’s high quality, pure ingredients vs. the mixtures you get in pre-made supplement formulas. Your results will be better when you know exactly what you’re taking and how much.

Get 5% off your order from Bulk Supplements

2. Eat Before Your Workout

Eating before your workout has been shown by research to have just as much impact on muscle building and protein synthesis as eating after.

During a workout like this chest and arm workout, you want to make sure you’ve got plenty of amino acids and carbohydrate in your body. This tells your body not to burn up muscle, and sends a stronger signal for muscle growth.

It also leads to better recovery after your workout. So, try to get in 20-30 grams of protein and some complex carbs 1-2 hours before your workout.

3. Take Rest Days Seriously

More is not always better. 4-5 workouts a week like this chest and arm workout is more than enough to stimulate massive hypertrophy. If you’re new to working out, 3 days might even be enough.

Prioritize rest and recovery. That’s when you actually build muscle, when you’re resting. Watch a movie, take a nap. Relax. You’ll come back feeling stronger and will build muscle faster.

4. Eat Enough to Build Muscle

You have to eat a surplus of calories to build muscle. There’s no way around it, unless you’re pumping yourself full of anabolic steroids.

Eat more. Get enough protein. Studies show 0.7 grams per pound of body weight of protein is adequate for most people.

Don’t lift like a beast then eat like a squirrel. Your body won’t build muscle that way, and you’ll be wasting a lot of effort.

Conclusion

I hope you actually put this workout to the test. I’d be excited to hear how it went. Let me know in the comments, or by email at Contact@supastrong.net

Here are a couple other articles you might find helpful:

As always, I hope this article helped you get a little closer to that best version of YOU!

Mike (Supastrong)
Mike (Supastrong)

Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach and personal trainer. I’ve run boot camps and served as the wellness coordinator for a fortune 500 company. Currently a Federal Agent in San Diego, CA, and an Infantryman in the Army Reserve.

How to Build Muscle.  The Full Guide to Gains.

How to Build Muscle. The Full Guide to Gains.

People use the internet to find answers. When it comes to information on how to build muscle, the web is full of misinformation.

My goal is to lay it all out so you have a full understanding of:

  • How the body builds muscle
  • Why the body builds muscle
  • Which exercises and workout methods build the most muscle
  • How to eat and what supplements to take to build muscle

Note: This article contains affiliate links. Only products we’ve deemed valuable are listed, and are at no additional cost to you.

How Does the Body Build Muscle?

Muscle Fibers

There are about 650 skeletal muscles in the human body. Muscles are made up of tubular muscle cells called muscle fibers. These in turn are made up of myofibrils and sarcomeres. Filaments within the sarcomeres slide against each other, contracting the muscle and pulling our bones, which we would commonly call “movement.”

The body is believed to be able to build muscle 2 ways:

1. Muscle Hypertrophy

Hypertrophy is the increase in size of the muscle fibers. This can happen by increasing the diameter of the muscle fiber, or the length of the sarcomeres.

What Causes Muscle Hypertrophy?

  1. Mechanical Tension: Lifting weights creates tension within the muscle tissue. This tension is detected by sensors within the muscle, triggering events that lead to increased protein synthesis.
  2. Metabolic Stress: Think of the burning sensation you feel when you do a set of high reps. This is metabolic stress, caused by the accumulation of lactate and other metabolites in the muscle. The environment created by metabolic stress signals increased protein synthesis (and tends to give you a “pump.”)
  3. Muscle Damage: It has not been conclusively shown that muscles grow due to damage incurred during a workout. In theory at least, muscle fibers damaged from an intense workout would signal increased protein synthesis. They would then be rebuilt bigger and stronger. Studies have not shown this to be true.

Hypertrophy is an increase in size of the muscle fibers you already have. It does not mean you’ve added new muscle fibers.

2. Muscle Hyperplasia

Hyperplasia means the addition of new muscle fibers. Whether or not this is even possible in humans is a subject of great debate. There are conflicting studies and no conclusive evidence that we can actually create new muscle fibers as a result of physical training. (without drugs).

Even if it is possible, it is not the primary way we build muscle from exercise and weight lifting. When we work out in a specific way, we trigger a series of events that lead to increased protein synthesis, causing hypertrophy of our muscle tissue.

Semperfitnutrition-hulks

Why Does the Body Build Muscle?

build muscle biceps

Our bodies do not build muscle so that we can look good at the beach. Bigger, stronger muscles are built gradually in response to repeated stress being placed on the body.

Bigger muscles are essentially an adaptation to stress. In order to continue building muscle, new and more challenging forms of stress (exercise) must continuously be applied. This can mean heavier weight, more reps or new exercises.

In short, our body will build muscle when it is forced to do so by the repeated demands placed on it, and when it has the extra resources to do so. It takes a lot of energy (calories) to maintain and especially to build new muscle. For this reason, a caloric surplus is necessary.

Now we need to get into more practical topics and how you can apply this knowledge to your own workouts to build muscle.

Related: How to Get Bigger Arms: Supastrong Big Arms Program

What Causes the Muscle to Grow?

lift weights for fat loss

It’s important to understand that it is the environment within the muscle that signals increased protein synthesis (muscle growth). When we work out in a specific way, we purposefully create an intramuscular environment that will allow us to build that muscle.

Remember we said that muscle hypertrophy is caused by mechanical tension and/or metabolic stress. (we’re leaving out “muscle damage” as it is not clear that this actually causes hypertrophy.)

Mechanical Tension

When we lift weights, we create tension within the muscle as it contracts and stretches. Think of a biceps curl. The biceps contracts, pulling the load up, then stretches as you lower the weight back to the starting position.

There are 2 important points to understand about tension as it relates to building muscle:

1. Greater tension results in more muscle growth

When we lift heavier weight, we lift it more slowly. This causes more high-threshold motor units (muscle fibers) to be recruited. The same phenomenon can be seen during the eccentric phase of a lift. Slowly lowering the weight in a biceps curl causes much greater tension in the muscle than the concentric portion of the lift.

This is why bodybuilders have always focused a lot on the eccentric portion of their lifts.

Practically, this means 2 things:

  1. Lifting heavier weights, in the 1-5 rep range, will cause greater tension than lighter weights. You’ll recruit more high threshold motor units.
  2. Focusing on the eccentric portion of the lift will cause more tension, again recruiting more muscle fibers. Take note that this also causes a lot of additional stress to the body, and can quickly lead to overtraining and fatigue. It’s a tool, not something you have to do all the time. It’s also not necessary for growth. Again, just a tool.

2. Fatigue and muscle growth

When you perform multiple sets, the muscle will become fatigued. When the muscle is fatigued, the muscle fibers being recruited will not be able to keep up. As a result, additional muscle fibers will be used to continue lifting the weight.

For this reason, programs using schemes like 5 sets of 5 reps are very effective. They create a high amount of tension using relatively heavy weight, and also involve fatigue as you get to the 4th and 5th sets.

Metabolic Stress

front squat metabolic stress

Imagine doing a set of high rep squats, let’s say 20 reps with moderately heavy weight. At the end of that set, your legs (and entire body) would be begging for mercy. That feeling is caused by metabolic stress.

Lactate and other metabolites have accumulated in the blood and within the muscle, causing an acidic environment and making muscular contractions more difficult.

You’d also likely have a pretty good “pump,” in your legs caused by blood and plasma being shuttled into the muscle and volumizing (expanding) cells.

This environment caused by metabolic stress sends a powerful signal for muscle growth, given the load being used is adequate, generally at least 60% of your 1 rep max or greater. Anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone are increased, as is protein synthesis.

Which Workout Methods are Best to Build Muscle?

shoulder press Back

We’ve already discussed that the type of workout you perform places specific stress on the body, forcing it to adapt by building muscle.

More specifically, we learned that the type of workout we do creates a specific environment within the body and muscle, which signals increased protein synthesis and muscle growth.

So what type of workout is optimal for building muscle?

High Reps (12-15)

Training with high reps (more than 12) has been shown to be less effective at building muscle than lower rep ranges.

This is probably because the lighter weight used simply cannot recruit the highest threshold (most powerful) motor units. Using less than 60% of your max does not create adequate tension in the muscle to signal growth.

Using these rep ranges will lead to muscle endurance and possibly a small amount of growth due to metabolic stress.

Blood Flow Restriction Training (BFR)

An exception to this would be if you’re using occlusion training, which involves using bands around your arms or legs to restrict blood flow.

BFR training has been scientifically shown to increase muscle growth and strength when using high-rep/light weight training.

Here’s a set of BFR Bands that are high quality and affordable from Amazon

Low Rep/Heavy Weight (1-5 reps)

There’s no disputing that using a low rep/heavy weight strategy can build muscle. 5 x 5 and other similar programs have been used by some of the best bodybuilders, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Reg Park.

Generally, lower reps and heavy weight lifting is optimal for gains in strength. By lifting heavy weights in the 1-5 rep range, you’re training the nervous system to recruit more muscle fibers, making you stronger.

What’s somewhat lacking in the lower rep ranges is the metabolic stress necessary for optimal muscle growth. With low reps, the body relies almost entirely on stored energy (phosphocreatine) to complete the lifts.

This causes you to need longer rest periods (2-5 minutes) in order for your body to replenish that energy, which results in less metabolic stress in the muscle. You cannot shorten your rest period without limiting your performance.

The Optimal Muscle Building Range

Biceps Curl Front

Research has shown that the 6-12 rep range with moderately heavy weights is the optimal style for building muscle.

Training in the 6-12 rep range forces the body to rely on anaerobic glycolysis for energy. This means the body must use glucose, which is then converted into lactate. This causes the buildup of lactate and other metabolites in the muscle. You’ll remember that we defined this as metabolic stress, which causes muscle hypertrophy.

The result of this increased metabolic stress is increased testosterone and growth hormone production and increased protein synthesis post-workout. Not to mention a huge pump, which is also thought to promote muscle growth.

Training in the 6-12 rep range with moderately heavy weight and relatively short rest (1-2 minutes) results in the most anabolic environment in the body. This means it will send the strongest signal to increase protein synthesis and build muscle.

Which Exercises are Best to Build Muscle?

Female Squat strength

It is widely accepted that for muscle growth, the big, compound exercises are superior for building muscle. While people still debate this, there is really no question about it.

Big, compound movements like the deadlift, squat and overhead press use several different muscle groups in unison. This results in:

  • Moving more weight
  • Using more total muscle
  • A greater anabolic response:
  • Greater testosterone and growth hormone production

Most bodybuilders and powerlifters would tell you that big, compound movements are superior for both size and strength. These lifts include:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Standing Overhead Press
  • Bench Press
  • Pull up/Chin up
  • Barbell Rows

Workouts should generally start with big lifts, and end with isolation type lifts. Prioritize the most important and beneficial exercises at the beginning, when you have the most strength and energy.

Related: The 3 Best Program for Size and Strength

The Importance of Getting Stronger

bench press

People often don’t prioritize getting stronger. The problem with that is that you’ll eventually plateau and your body will require heavier weight in order to grow. At that point, if you don’t get stronger, you’re probably not getting any bigger.

Remember why the body builds muscle. It’s an adaptation to stress. You have to continue increasing that stress over time in order to continue growing.

If you increase your bench press by 30 pounds, you can then perform every rep of your workout with heavier weight. This would result in additional (new) stress on the muscle, which would result in growth.

Periodizing Your Training

Since strength is so important, it is critical that you switch up your training periodically to focus on getting stronger. Just because the 6-12 rep range is optimal for building muscle, that doesn’t mean you should work out ONLY in that range.

It’d be far more productive to do something like this:

10 Weeks
Hypertrophy focus
6 Weeks
Strength Focus
6-12 rep range
High volume
5 x 5 (or similar)

Periodizing your training doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon gaining muscle in order to get stronger. You simply need to shift your focus a bit to keep the body responding and adapting. 6 weeks of strength training can allow you to come back into another hypertrophy cycle stronger.

Nutrition

muscle building nutrition

Your nutrition strategy is paramount when trying to build muscle. One of the most basic tenets of building mass is that you must maintain a positive energy balance. This means eating calories in excess of what you need to maintain your current size.

Without extra resources, your body cannot and will not build muscle. Building and maintaining muscle requires a lot of resources, and our bodies will place those resources elsewhere unless we maintain a surplus.

How Many Calories Do You Need To Build Muscle?

This varies from person to person. It’s helpful to know your body, and you will in time by trial and error. A simple equation to get a rough idea of how many calories/day you’ll need to build muscle and gain size is:

  • Multiply your weight in pounds by 18.1
  • Multiply your weight in kg by 40

So, if I weigh 220 pounds, I’d need around 4,000 calories/day to gain weight.

How Much Protein Do You Need To Build Muscle?

If you’re working out and creating an anabolic environment in the body, it’s crucial to have enough protein available throughout the day to allow your body to build muscle.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, unless you’re taking anabolic steroids. Multiple studies have found no additional benefit to consuming more than 0.7 grams/pound of body weight. Several studies showed that even less than this is adequate to build muscle.

It’s also a myth that the body can only digest 30g of protein from each meal. When eaten along with other macronutrients like carbs and fats, it can take a lot longer to digest protein. Therefore, more than 30g can be utilized over several hours from a big meal.

Generally, as long as you’re getting an adequate amount each day spread out over 4-6 meals, you should be fine.

THE HIGHEST GRADE WHEY PROTEIN ON THE MARKET

Pre Workout Nutrition

Eating a meal high in carbohydrate and protein 60-90 minutes before your workout can have a positive impact on muscle growth and workout recovery. Studies have shown that pre-workout consumption of protein can have the same effect on muscle growth as post workout consumption.

Consuming carbohydrate and protein before a workout can result in faster glycogen replenishing and increased protein synthesis, speeding up recovery and helping to build muscle.

Supplements

Whey protein

While supplements can definitely help build muscle, the majority of them are nothing more than placebo-pills. There are a handful of supplements that have been shown to have measurable effects on muscle building:

  • Creatine: Creatine is basically stored energy in your cells used for high intensity effort like a heavy lift or a short sprint. Supplementing creatine saturates the muscle, potentially allowing you to get extra reps with heavy weight.
  • L-Citrulline: Converts to nitric oxide in the body. Increases blood flow by dilating blood vessels. Increases “pump.” 6 grams is necessary for the full benefit.
  • L-Carnitine: Controversial fat-loss benefits, can also increase androgen receptors, which bind to testosterone.. helping build muscle.
  • BCAA’s: If your pre and post workout nutrition are on point, you have no need to use BCAA supplements. In the absence of a pre- workout meal, use 5-10 grams of BCAA’s during your workout.

BulkSupplements.com

Getting Calories From the Blender

It can be hard to get enough calories to build muscle every day from your diet. For this reason, the blender can be your best friend. Using whey protein, fruit, peanut butter and whatever else you like, you can get a huge amount of calories and protein quickly.

Here’s one smoothie I’ve used for years:

how to build muscle smoothie

Recovery

muscle building cardio

Prioritizing recovery is just as important as any training or diet consideration. We don’t build muscles while we’re at the gym, we build them when we’re resting and sleeping.

Muscle growth occurs when we’re not training. That means on days away from the gym. Spending too much time at the gym or doing too much high intensity training can flood your body with catabolic stress hormones like cortisol. This results in many undesirable effects, including muscle wasting.

Make sure to prioritize days away from the gym. Getting a massage has been shown by research to speed up recovery. Other activities like playing a video game, watching a movie, or anything relaxing can also have a beneficial impact on allowing your body to recover and regenerate (and build more muscle).

Limit Conditioning and Cardio

Too many people out there are trying to achieve multiple goals at the same time. They want to get bigger, get stronger, lose weight, get leaner, get faster… I digress.

Attempting to build muscle, then going and performing an hour of intense cardio will cause interference. You’re giving your body mixed signals based on the the environment you’re creating in your body.

In order to build muscle, you must maintain a caloric surplus and create the most anabolic environment possible. Excessive cardio will pull energy away from building muscle, spending it instead on your cardio sessions and especially on recovering from them.

Will that 5 mile run hurt your muscle gains? Yes. Is it worth it? That’s really up to you and your priorities.

In short, don’t ignore your cardiovascular training and health. Just don’t overdo it. If your priority is building muscle, then focus on building muscle. You can’t do it all at the same time. The human body just isn’t designed that way and you’ll only hurt your gains.

Better Cardio Options For Muscle Building

There are some forms of cardio that are complimentary for those trying to get bigger and stronger. Here are a few examples below. You want to limit activities with a strong eccentric component. This will make them easier to recover from. Here are some activities you can hit fast and hard.

  • Sled push/pull: Push a prowler/sled. Rest. Repeat.
  • Hill Sprints. Sprint 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds. Repeat desired reps. Go home with tail between legs.
  • Assault bike intervals. Max effort for 15 seconds, slow effort for 45 seconds. Repeat for 10-20 minutes.

It’s important to include some cardio in your weekly split. Aerobic fitness can help you recover faster, and has too many health benefits for me to list here. In short, do some cardio, but stick to methods that are complimentary to your primary goals, and keep it fast and furious.

Related: 10 Ways to Boost Your Recovery

Conclusion

Building muscle can be a lot of work. But if it was easy, everyone would do it!

To build muscle, you need to maintain a caloric surplus and apply stress to the body that increases over time (progressive overload). To maximize muscle gain, we should use compound movements to elicit the greatest anabolic response from the body.

We should aim for the 6-12 rep range using moderately heavy weight, which gives us the most balance between mechanical tension and metabolic stress, creating the best possible environment for muscle growth.

You should always have en eye on getting stronger, and should make sure you’re getting adequate calories and protein to keep the body building muscle all day long.

Lastly, we have to make sure we prioritize recovery. Muscle is built while we’re resting. Relax, play some video games. Watch some netflix.

I hope this article was helpful, and as always, I hope it helped in some way to get you a little closer to that best version of you!

Mike (Supastrong)
Mike (Supastrong)

Bioforce Certified Conditioning Coach and personal trainer. I’ve run boot camps and served as the wellness coordinator for a fortune 500 company. Currently a Federal Agent in San Diego, CA, and an Infantryman in the Army Reserve.