Muscle Building Frequently Asked Questions
1. How many reps should I be doing? How many reps you do for each set is dependant on your muscle building goals. If you want to simply grow huge muscle mass, aim for 8-12 reps per set, with the last rep at fail. If you are more concerned with getting strong as hell, a lower number of reps at higher weight is best. Doing between 4-6 reps is ideal, and taking lots of time between sets to rest. My favorite strength building plan is also the simplest – 5×5. Regardless of your muscle building goal, the most important part of building bigger muscles is to progressively overload each week. Meaning you should be adding weight and/or reps each week to create new muscle growth.
2. I don’t want massive, bulky muscles. Any suggestions? If you are more interested in that lean, muscular look that is characteristic of Hollywood actors like Brad Pitt and Ryan Reynolds, aim for reps in the range of 8-12 while still training for failure. Doing more than a dozen reps gives you a great pump, but a great pump is not a prerequisite for powerful muscle growth.
3. Should I be going to the gym every day? Certainly not. You shouldn’t be lifting more than 4 times per week. Lifting more than that makes it very difficult for your muscles to recover adequately. Your muscles don’t grow while you are at the gym – they grow on your off days.
4. What are the best exercises for getting bigger? From my own personal experience, a healthy mix of compound and isolation moves are the best. I’ll usually start with the big, greasy compound moves like squats, bench press, dead-lifts, shoulder press and (weighted) chin-ups. For my 3rd and 4th exercises for any given body part I will use isolation moves to really target the muscle.
5. Do I have to warm up? No one is going to make you warm up. But you should. By the way, warming up is not stretching. Warming up means exactly that, getting blood pumping. Arm swings, moderate cardio for 8-10 minutes (especially on leg day).
6. How long should I be working out for? No longer than 45 minutes to an hour. At around this time is when your body releases catabolic hormones (cortisone) into your system. This stuff is pumped into your system to make up for the loss of muscle tissue that is being damaged while you work out. You know that feeling of over-training, like you are lifting and lifting for naught? This is the catabolic state. It’s working out for negative returns. To get big, awesome muscles doesn’t mean you need to spend three hours in the gym. Quite the opposite, actually.
7. Should I stretch between sets? Absolutely. There has been research that has shown that your muscles are 30% stronger when you stretch your target muscles for 30 seconds between sets. Doing so keeps your muscles elongated and less prone to injury.
8. Do I need a trainer? Not necessarily. But some instruction is necessary for first timers. Also, having a professional can help you navigate the maze of machines at your gym and can help put a personalized plan into place for you that is mindful of your current fitness level, age, sex, and more.
9. What is the deal with protein? How much do I need to be taking per day? As a rough guideline you should be ingesting 1-1.1 grams of protein per pound of body-weight. For a 200 pound person, this would mean 200-220 grams of protein. Best times of day to take it – first thing in the morning, and within 30 minutes of completing your workout.
10. How much should I be eating? You need to be ingesting more calories than you are expending to insure muscle growth. Simple as that. There are tons of calculators online that can tell you what your daily calorie intake is when accounting for age, sex and activity level.
11. Can I build without gaining fat? Yes and no. Putting on only muscle is very difficult, and truthfully, is a lot more trouble than it is worth. Gaining fat as well as muscle is a healthy way to get big and jacked. Once you have reached your desired muscle levels that is when you go into a cutting phase to lower your fat levels. Just because you are going to put on a little fat doesn’t mean you should go around eating sugar-laden crap. Having a healthy diet – while still exceeding your daily caloric intake amount – will give you the best results.
12. How fast should I be performing reps? You see those guys that whip their arms and legs around the gym, using the momentum of their body to throw what seems like a lot of weight around? Well, not only do they look ridiculous, but they are giving themselves a great opportunity to really injure themselves while also stagnating muscle growth. Form should be first and foremost on your mind. You might not lift as much as the flailers, but I guarantee your muscle growth will surpass them very quickly.
13. Do I need to do cardio at all? That depends on your current fitness levels and your muscle building goals. I enjoy cardio cause I like getting a big sweat on and enjoy getting outside on the bike or for a run, but it is entirely feasible to get jacked without a single minute of cardio. If you are really looking to lean out, obviously cardio is going to help you achieve that look.
14. What days should I train my body parts? Again, up to you and obviously dependent on your schedule. You want to space out your upper body workouts as much as possible to insure max recovery. There is no right or wrong answer for this one, as each of our schedules and recovery needs are unique.
15. What’s the best time of day to train? Any time you can make it. Ignore the talk about morning workouts being better then evening workouts and vice versa. Making it to the gym is priority number one, and the second priority is giving your muscles adequate time to recover. For example if you went to the gym and blasted your chest on a late Monday night, you probably wouldn’t want to hit the gym first thing in the morning on a Tuesday at 5am. Remember, recovery is essential for quick muscle growth.
16. Should I track my workouts? Yes! I highly, highly encourage you measure and track your workouts. How precise and detailed you are is obviously up-to-you, and with some experimentation you can find what works best for you. In my workout log I track water consumption, how much I slept the night before, and how much I lift at the gym. Remember how I was talking about progressive overload earlier? Tracking all the different weights you lifted last week makes knowing exactly what to lift today a whole lot simpler.