In our previous article, we answered the question “How long does it take to build muscle?” and gave you some very basic information about training and tips for maximizing results in the gym.
However, as we mentioned, we barely scratched the surface of this topic, as there is much more to it that you can learn from us.
And so, if you are a beginner, concerned with time and reaching objectives quicker, this is the right article for you, as we are about to give you our top 5 tips for beginners, looking to stack on serious muscle mass.
Without further ado, let’s get right into it.
Tip #1 – Stick to the basics
“Compound Movements produce a greater hormonal response than isolation movements. When comparing compound movements to isolation movements, the exercise which stimulates the largest muscle mass will produce the greatest hormonal response. For example, squats will produce a greater testosterone response than bench press. Jacob Wilson, M.S., PhD. Candidate, C.S.C.S” (1)
Many people in the gym resort to complicated training concepts and principles to achieve hypertrophy (muscle growth).
However, these concepts are often misunderstood and meant for totally different purposes.
In the previous article, which we linked you to in the beginning of this one, we talked about supersets and drop sets and how they favor the density of the training load.
As we already learned, density shouldn’t be the main focus when building muscle, but rather intensity.
What this means is that when building muscle, you should focus on heavy (intense) movements.
Such movements are all the basic, compound exercises (exercises that involve more than 1 muscle group).
These exercises should be the fundamentals of every muscle building workout, as using more than 1 muscle group at a time, will quite logically, allow you to lift a heavier weight (favoring intensity).
Below is a table of the most important, basic exercises, to focus on as a beginner.
|Exercise name||Exercise type||Muscle groups involved||Recommended equipment to use|
|Bench press||Pushing||Primarily chest, secondarily triceps and shoulders||Dumbbells or a barbell|
|Back squat||Pushing||Primarily quadriceps, secondarily hamstrings and glutes, stabilized by calves||Barbell|
|Conventional deadlift||Pulling||Primarily back musculature, secondarily hamstrings and glutes||Barbell|
|Rows||Pulling||Primarily back musculature, secondarily biceps, forearms, rear shoulders||Dumbbells or a barbell|
|Pull-ups||Pulling||Primarily back, secondarily biceps and forearms||Bodyweight|
|Parallel bar dips||Pushing||Primarily chest, secondarily triceps and front deltoids||Bodyweight|
As a beginner, you must have these following goals in mind-
- Learn the proper execution of each basic exercise
- Improve basic physical properties- Strength, endurance, strength endurance
- Develop correct eating, sleeping and training habits
Mastering the basic movements will allow you to improve your basic physical properties, through proper range of motion and therefore, start gaining muscle mass.
Other exercises, can of course be added to your workout, but keep in mind that prioritizing the exercises listed above is your best bet.
That is not only because they are fundamentals, but because they have the property to boost the human endocrine (hormonal) system and that will inevitably lead to better muscle growth.
This hormonal boost is solely based on the fact that intense exercises like squats and deadlifts, heavily engage the whole body, creating numerous, favorable chemical reactions.
Related guide: Why Can't I Gain Weight or Mass?
Tip #2- Proper execution
We mentioned that intensity must be your main focus when the goal is building muscle.
However, lifting heavier weights must not be done at the expense of proper exercise execution.
Solely focusing on the muscle contraction and relaxation, through the full range of motion of each exercise, is what you are looking for.
Use heavy weights, but only to an extent, which will still allow you to complete each rep and set from start to finish, properly.
Inertial movements or shortened range of motion must be avoided.
This proper execution will allow you to develop a high level of mind-to-muscle connection and therefore, be aware of the muscles’ work, throughout the whole workout.
It is important to remember that the muscles will grow optimally, if they are constantly working, during each set, which brings us to our third tip for you.
Tip #3- Constant tension
“The data showed that greater muscle time under tension increased the acute amplitude of mitochondrial and sarcoplasmic protein synthesis and also resulted in a robust, but delayed stimulation of myofibrillar protein synthesis 24-30 h after resistance exercise. In: Journal of Physiology, Vol. 590, No. 2, 01.2012, p. 351-362.” (2)
When you look at the way bodybuilders and powerlifters train, the difference is more than obvious.
Powerlifters, who only care about increasing strength, use short-burst, intense movement pace, to get over the weight quicker.
From a muscle building point of view however, this is not effective, as the best way to go through each set is with a moderate pace and through the 20-second glycogen depleting window (Check “How long does it take to build muscle?” if you are not sure what this means).
Keeping constant tension and making sure that your muscles are working throughout each second of each set is KEY, when the goal is muscle building.
The constant tension will result in further improved mind muscle connection, as well as better contraction and relaxation rep after rep.
So, given these first 3 tips, we can definitely say that as a beginner, you will not really be lifting super heavy weights, but you will rather make light weights feel heavy, through proper execution, constant tension and mind-muscle connection.
However, making light weights feel heavy won’t cut it, so let us enlighten you with tip number four.
Tip #4- Progressive overload
“Progressive overload is a means of applying varying and intermittent levels of stress to skeletal muscle, making it adapt by generating comparable amounts of tension. The muscle is able to adapt by increasing the size and amount of contractile proteins, which comprise the myofibrils within each muscle fiber, leading to an increase in the size of the individual muscle fibers and their consequent force production (1). The Mystery of Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy. Richard Joshua Hernandez, B.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.” (3)
As we already know, in order for a muscle to grow, it must endure previously unknown tension, to which it adapts and in turn, gets stronger and bigger.
Such new tension can be achieved in numerous ways- Changing weights, changing exercises, changing exercise angles, lowering rest times, increasing repetitions, etc.
However, the most effective way to progressively overload and reach new feats of strength is- Increasing the working weight! (intensity)
This however, should be done gradually and big leaps shouldn’t be taken.
So, one very simple tip from us that will ultimately help you increase levels of strength is – Increase the working weight with 1,25-2,5 kg, once you reach a total number of 33 repetitions with a given weight, for a given exercise, in 4 sets.
It may sound confusing, so let us give you an example
Flat barbell bench press
2 sets- 15,12 repetitions- Light weight, warm up, getting through the full range of motion, preparing the musculature
4 sets- Working weight, aim for a total of 32+ reps for all 4 sets. Start off from 10 repetitions and try to maintain that number in each following set.
Ultimately, before moving up in weight for the exercise, you would have done 4 sets of 10,8,8,8 repetitions with your current working weight.
Increase weight by a tiny bit and start off from a lower number of repetitions and aim to increase that number up to 32+ total, where you will increase weights again.
This is a simple, yet very effective progressive overload scheme for beginners.
Tip #5- Nutrition
Last but not least is the most important factor when it comes to gaining muscle mass- Eating habits!
As proper nutrition is the “make or break” point, during the process of physical development, we will go in-depth on this final, fifth tip.
You probably already know- Food is what is going to fuel your body for those intense workouts and also, recover it afterward.
When it comes to bulking, it is absolutely mandatory to be in a caloric surplus, in order to build muscle and gain weight.
A caloric surplus means consuming more calories than your body requires daily, to maintain its bodyweight.
To help you understand nutrition better and improve it, we will briefly explain to you, about the functions of all 3 macronutrients in our nutrition- Protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
After this short explanation, we will also give you a list of foods to focus on.
Protein- Basic properties, functions, intake
Proteins are the basic building blocks, of the cellular structures of living organisms. The most important thing to remember is their role in our nutrition – to help the human body recover, grow and develop.
The complete, healthy functioning of the human body requires the consumption of a certain amount of amino acids every day. The body derives them by digesting the proteins in the food, which are built up of amino acids.
If the amount of protein in your nutrition systematically lowered, the body reacts to that with slowed growth, loss of muscle and body mass, illness and even death in some severe cases.
If the amounts of protein in the diet are excessively high for long periods of time however, it is believed that the kidney and liver functions deteriorate. This, in turn, leads to the onset of lethargy and shortening of human life.
For active trainees, an intake of 1 gram of protein per lb. of bodyweight is reasonable. This amount will allow the body to recover from active training and sustain its functions properly
“Protein takes more energy for you to digest than refined carbohydrates, and also gives your body a feeling of satiety. Harrvard medical school” (4)
Fats- Basic properties, functions, intake
“Unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, are considered beneficial fats because they can improve blood cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, stabilize heart rhythms, and play a number of other beneficial roles.
Unsaturated fats are predominantly found in foods from plants, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. Harvard school of public health” (5)
Fats (or lipids, derived from the Greek word “Lipos”, meaning oil, fat) are used by the organism for a number of things – regulating body temperature, storing energy, maintaining healthy skin, protecting important organs and tissues from injury, softening temperature differences, metabolism support for protein and fat digestion, etc.
It is also worth mentioning here that fat, as a macronutrient, will not make you fat.
As we have mentioned before, any food (even salads) can make you fat, IF an excess of calories in your daily intake is consistently present.
Keep your fat intake at 0.35~0.45 grams per lb. of bodyweight.
Carbohydrates- Properties, functions
Last but not least, your main fuel- Carbs!
“Plants make starch and cellulose through the photosynthesis processes.
Animals and human in turn eat plant materials and products. Digestion is a process of hydrolysis where the starch is broken ultimately into the various monosaccharides.
A major product is of course glucose which can be used immediately for metabolism to make energy.
The glucose that is not used immediately is converted in the liver and muscles into glycogen for storage by the process of glycogenesis. Any glucose in excess of the needs for energy and storage as glycogen is converted to fat. Chemistry libre texts. Oct 2, 2013” (6)
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the human body. Unlike proteins and fats, they are not essential, for that exact same reason (because they are used for energy).
Fats and proteins however, are the next choice of energy for the body if a deficit of carbohydrates is present.
Carbohydrates on the other hand, although less energy-dense compared to fats, are the preferred source of energy for the body, simply because the body breaks them down easier.
Glycogen, stored in the muscles, is the most potent energy source for the body, when it comes to strength training.
As we mentioned in “How long does it take to grow muscle”, muscle growth requires glycogen depletion inside the muscle.
Knowing this, we can conclude that doing those heavy, intense workouts optimally, would require solid carbohydrate loadings, prior to each training session.
The muscle building foods
If you want to learn more about the importance of food quality, have a look at our article on Calories vs. Food quality
Below is a table of our top picks of fitness foods for muscle building.
Combining products from this list, you can make up a whole nutrition plan that will be full of variety and abundant of macro-dense foods.
|Chicken||Primarily protein, secondarily fat|
|Beef steak||Protein and fats|
|Pangasius||Primarily protein, some fat|
|Salmon||Primarily protein, some fat|
|Eggs||Protein and fats|
|White rice||Primarily carbs, some protein|
|Brown rice||Primarily carbs, some protein, more fiber than white rice
|Kidney beans||Carbs, protein|
|Oats||Primarily carbs, some protein|
|Avocado||Primarily fats, secondarily carbs and some protein|
|Fat milk||Carbs, protein, fats|
|Fat Greek yoghurt||Carbs, protein, fats|
Now knowing the functions of the 3 main macronutrients and the contents of the listed foods, you can build a simple nutrition plan.
Calories will not be necessarily counted and you can go rather instinctive. In a sense, you will listen to your body.
The simple nutrition structures
Breakfast- High fat, high protein, moderate carbs
Lunch- High carbs, moderate protein
Pre-workout (60-90 mins) -High carbs
Post workout- High protein, moderate carbs
Dinner- Some protein, some carbs, veggies
Approaching your nutrition plan in such a way will first allow you to fight cravings, as the high protein and fat breakfast will keep you sated for hours.
Furthermore, in a short time frame, you will load up on carbohydrates, which will provide you with energy for the workout and other daily activities.
Towards the noon, the amount of food is significantly smaller and is oriented towards slow-digesting proteins like eggs, beans, dairy products and casein whey supplements.
Having a decreased amount of food hours before bed, will allow you to get 100% quality out of your sleep.
Sleep is also an important part, when it comes to recovery and muscle building.
It is however quite the extensive subject, so if you would like to learn more, check out our article “Sleep for gains”.
In a nutshell, as a beginner you need to primarily focus on mastering the basic exercises.
Mastering means – correct execution, using the working musculature only- No inertial movements, just keeping constant tension through the full range of motion of the exercise.
The next goal on the priority list is to increase your strength and endurance, which will therefore lead to muscle gains.
All of this must be accompanied by a nutrition plan, tailored specifically to your age, weight, activity levels, goals, etc.
If you find it hard to calculate your nutrition plan and make it easy to follow, don't hesitate to contact us for personal assistance.
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