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The Fundamentals of Building Muscle

8th Feb 19

Building muscle is one of the most popular fitness goals that there are. Whether you’re losing weight or trying to build body mass, your goal can be anything. One thing is for certain, though, and it’s that building muscle is probably going to be included in your training programme. This can be in any form, but there’s more to it than you may think. These are just a few of the things that you need to be thinking about during your training to make sure you’re doing the right work to see results.

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Starting with the science behind what muscle growth entails, we need to talk about what actually happens when building muscle. There is one primary way to grow your muscle. It is centred around damaging your muscle tissue by overloading with heavyweights. Your body then repairs itself, building the muscles bigger and better than before. This then makes it easier for you to do it the next time.

The growth of muscle generally revolves around what is called muscle hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is essentially the growth of cells that are responding to the stress that you are putting on your body. As your body adapts to deal with the different workloads that you are putting on it, your muscles grow to be able to deal with it. The cells in your muscles get bigger, making them better at dealing with the heavyweight, and this is what get’s you the growth you need.


woman in the gym doing bicep curls with a dumbbell

The movements that you need to be using in your weight training have several different kinds of meaning. Once you’ve got to grips with how you need to be performing repetitions (further in the article), you need to be able to dissect your exercises. The movements are based around the eccentric motion of your muscle(s) where you are usually lowering or relaxing your body, and the concentric where you are contracting muscles to push against whatever resistance you are using. Once you’ve got that all understood, you can move on to the details of your training life.


One key thing to think about when you’re looking at building muscle is how often you are going to train. Your body cannot work non-stop and still needs to find the time to heal itself. So what is the best approach for you to make the most of your work?

You need to make sure that you’re training each area of your muscle group properly. A full workout looking at one or two specific muscles is usually the best idea, with an adequate rest before you train the same group. It sounds relatively simple, but you’ll actually use a lot of muscles in some exercises without even knowing about it, so it’s always wise to plan your workouts carefully. As long as you are giving 48hours of downtime after working a muscle group, you should be good.

Muscle Pairings

Woman using a multigym in the gym

There are a lot of different ways to train when it comes to trying building muscle. You need to tailor your workouts to your own abilities to make sure you’re getting the right results for you, but it can be hard to know what that is. There are tonnes of different exercises for every muscle group and even more variations for each one of those. Choosing the right things to do in the right workout can be a bit of a challenge.

The most common muscle pairings to do in the gym typically are the ones that support one another. Your back and biceps are responsible for most of your pulling motions, and your chest triceps and shoulders are responsible for the pushing motions that you might do. This makes them ideal to be trained together; putting the more significant muscle first so that you can fatigue it before the smaller muscle means you can’t work effectively.

Compound Vs Isolation Exercises

Even when you have these pairings, there are different ways to hit each muscle group, and it is crucial that you’re choosing the right way to do it. Compound exercises and isolation exercises are typically the most effective categories within strength training, and they serve extremely different purposes.

Compound exercises are the better of the two, generally speaking. They offer you a way to generate real, functional strength while hitting multiple different muscle groups simultaneously. That way, you can make sure that you are making the most of your time and workouts. Isolation exercises, on the other hand, are entirely different. As the name suggests, they focus on just one muscle so that you can get a more specified development. This sounds bad, but it actually means that you can concentrate on your weaker or more under devolved areas and get yourself in the best possible shape you can be.

Rest & Recovery

man sat looking out of the window with his hands behind his head relaxing

Rest and recovery are actually just as important as the training that you’re doing. Some will just shrug it off, but it is vital that you know what to do outside of the gym too. This will help you make the best progress that you can and protect yourself from injury in the long run. It gives you time to build muscle back to the condition that it needs to be in to be able to perform properly.

Other recovery aspects are also important, though, like how rest gives you the time to recover tissue in your ligaments and tendons and prevent overuse. There is a massive range of issues that you are at risk of; from overtraining and using bad form, which is what these issues can lead to, making a vicious circle.


Sleeping is another vital pillar of your recovery that you need to be making sure you’re getting enough of. Sleep is when you’ll be getting the growth and recovery in your muscle tissue that you are looking for. You need to make sure that you are getting enough of it if you want the best results from your hard work. If you have any hope of building muscle, you need to be getting good quality, regular sleep. Fact.


couple cooking a heathly meal together in the kitchen

As well as sleeping, there are other aspects that play a part. These are things like nutrition and calorie intake that can have a dramatic effect on your results. If you aren’t eating the right things at the right time, your body will not be able to do what you want it to, and this is where your muscle mass takes a hit. You need to be making sure that you have enough energy before the workout to be able to push yourself. You also need to make sure that you have the nutrients afterwards. That is going to responsible for the growth and the repairing of the muscle where you’ll see the gains.

The best way to do this is to make sure that your muscle glycogen is as good as possible before your workout. This can be done by eating a healthy mix of foods and ensuring that you are hitting a good level of carbohydrates. You need to be getting protein and healthy fats afterwards for your recovery. A general calorie surplus is needed if you are building muscle so that your body has enough to sustain itself and rebuild the extra size. It does make sense if you think about it. Just ensure that it is the right kind of calories you’re eating rather than just anything you can get your hands on.

Set Styles

Once you’ve managed to get to grips with all of that stuff, it’s time to get a bit more specific with what you’re doing. Strength training is massively well researched, with new techniques coming out constantly. You need to be able to know some of the proven, effective ways that you should be using for yourself. Most of them involve just different sequences of weights or slight variations, which may even disagree entirely with what you think you should be doing, but everything is worth a try if it will help you out in the long run.

The mainly used set styles are the classic 5×5 or 8-12×4 sets. These are the basics of what you need to be doing. This is to make sure that you have used the right weights to overload correctly for building muscle but still be able to keep your technique in good shape and not risk any injuries. They’re definitely solid sets.


man lifting weights on a weight bench at the gym and building muscle

Other than these, though, there’s space for some more intensive variations. Supersets are another popular to-go-to exercising method. They’re basically just a combination of two exercises hitting two different muscle groups. You perform one, do not rest, and then perform the other immediately. This is an incredibly intensive and time-saving way to exercise that could give you the shock you need.

Drop Sets

Someone lifting a dumbbell off of a rack

Drop sets, on the other hand, do exactly the opposite. They require you to use a higher weight than you usually would. Use these for a small number of reps or even to failure if that is the method you’re going for. Instead of sticking with the same weight throughout, you will begin to move down the rack, using lower and lower weights every set until you run out. This type of exercise will cause you to do a lot more sets than usual, forcing your body into building muscle. It will make sure that you can’t take more and will get you the growth and repair needed.


Variations can go further than your set styles too. When you look at different ways that you can vary your repetitions, you open a whole new world of possibilities. These little changes can really make the difference and stop your body from getting too used to the stress you’re putting on it. If your body gets used to the weight it can cause workout plateaus. You will not believe how common that is and how useful these can be to you.


Woman laid on a bench lifting dumbbells with the aid of a trainer, building muscle

When you need to shake things up a bit, negative sets are an amazing avenue to go down. They aren’t as common as other styles, but they are proven effective and a serious game-changer. You just need to make sure that you’re using them properly and don’t just rely on them. Variation is key. The idea is to perform a rep with a higher weight than usual with assisted equipment or even a spotter. You perform the rep as normal when you can do this safely but with a prolonged eccentric movement. This forces you to keep the contraction for longer and really overload the muscle, pushing the body into building muscle.


Another type of exercise you can do is focus on different muscle groups instead of different muscle groups. Plyometrics are an awesome example of how you can do this. They are focused on using intensive and hard-working, complex movements. The kind that is used most for performance-based exercises such as sprinting or jumping. You have to use a powerful, explosive movement and do it a lot of times. When done in the right way, the increased impact of these movements results in you having a huge increase in the short twitch muscle fibres and giving you a new type of growth.

Tracking Progress

woman leaning against a wall showing her muscles

When it comes to tracking your progress, things get slightly more complicated than they do with many other exercise styles. As with everything else, there are multiple routes that you can take to do it. However, there are a few ways that tend to stand out when checking out how you’ve actually been building muscle.


The most common method you can use is to look at the weights you’re using now compared to when you started. It’s always a good idea to track your performance and use benchmarks to see how far you’ve come, providing you’ve trained enough. It helps you look at your strengths and weaknesses to decide where you need to put in the extra work!


You could try before and after pictures over a few months to see the physical changes you have made. This, of course, is less tangible, but it can still be a really good way to build up your motivation. Putting 2 images side by side will show a difference and you will see your hard work is paying off. If pictures don’t cut it, you could measure different areas of your body to track your growth. Measuring the circumference of your chest is a great way to do it, as well as most other muscles when contracted. The choice is yours.

To sum up, there’s too much, to sum up. Weight training is a massively diverse and ever-changing topic. There is very rarely a right or wrong answer, and it does all come down to everyone as individuals. Only you can find out what is good and bad for your training methods. As long as you keep yourself safe, train correctly, rest well, and put in the work, you’ll build muscle over time. If things get challenging, it can be good to consult a P.T. or medical professional to help you get over any challenges. Happy training!


Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.