The Secret To Maximising Muscle Growth

By on November 1, 2017

How do I build muscle?

It’s a question that is thrown at me a lot, as a competitive bodybuilder and personal trainer. So let me try and break it down as best as possible.

For an individual to continually see results in the gym, there has to be an element of progressive overload. Progressive overload by definition is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training.

Progressive overload not only stimulates muscle hypertrophy (muscle gain) but it also increases bone mineral density, tendon and cartilage strength. Therefore it is a crucial element if you want to build bigger muscles or gain strength in the gym. Progressive overload requires the gradual increase in three main parameters. These are volume, intensity and frequency.

Volume = Reps x sets x weight.

Intensity = percentage of your one rep max (maximal functional capacity).

Frequency = the number of times trained per week.

Increase any of these three points to see results in the gym. The primary variable that most people will be able to play around with is volume. Especially if you are currently on the maximum amount of sessions, you can put aside for training a week. Intensity should already be set at the correct level if the individual is training to just shy of failure and sticking to the targeted rep range.

So let’s look at volume. As shown above progressive overload through increases in volume doesn’t only include increasing weight; it can be as simple as increasing reps or sets. As long as volume is going up month by month you know, you’ll be building muscle tissue. Take the two examples below:

1. 50kg x 4 sets x 10 reps = 2000

2. 45kg x 3 sets x 15 reps = 2025

Example number 2 contains more volume than the first and so would, therefore, result in a higher degree of muscle hypertrophy as you would be performing more work in the given exercise. This is a straightforward example that shows that you don’t necessarily have to increase the weight to increase volume. In some cases, you can drop weight and sets and still achieve a higher degree of volume.

Let’s look a little deeper into the volume, especially weight.

Weight is typically the most common parameter raised in volume so make sure you’re doing it correctly. Most people I see working out in the gym use a weight that is usually rounded up. 40kg on a bar for bench press for example. The smallest plates in your gym should frequently be utilised. Think about it; you’re not going to magically be able to lift 50kg one week from your bench press. The increases are going to be much smaller. Therefore you should be using the 1.25kg plates (or lower if your gym has it) often to get your numbers up gradually. Small incremental increases weekly/monthly to accommodate steady growth. I’m fortunate in my gym to have plates as lower as 0.25kg so my clients can make the smallest increments to their weights weekly so that they are continually progressing.

So how do I go about tracking all this information?

Many now use phone apps to track calorie intake

Now I’m old school, so I like writing it down physically on my program. But there are some handy apps do all the work for you. A good app is ‘rep count’, you input exercise and reps and sets, and it will record every session and even put it into charts and graphs so that you can see your monthly progression. Either method works fine as long as you are recording your weights, reps and sets.

The main point to take away from this article is to make sure you get used to recording your workouts. Take the guesswork out of your training. The same way you would manage or track calories when trying to drop body fat using apps like Myfitnesspal. This same method and process should be used when trying to build muscle.

Remember, what gets measured gets managed.

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Alex Mateus

About Alex Mateus

Alex is a personal trainer in the award-winning central London PT studio - Shaping Change. He is also a boot camp instructor, nutritionist and Pro Fitness model.