How to increase lean muscle! Part 1

Resistance training, i.e. hitting the gym in the spare time you afford yourself, is incredibly important to increasing lean tissue! You knew that… so you are probably wondering what the hell are you meant to be doing in the gym to make it happen!

Three take home points for you to take away from this article:

  1. Train without bias for reps, sets or style. This means there is not a set rule that 6-8 reps means muscle growth and 15 reps upwards will help you lean up!
  2. Set up your training like this:
  • Incorporate heavier lifts at the start of your workout (if you can safely move the weight for around 4-8 reps keep progressing the weight).
  • Spend a few sets on damaging muscle (the good type that we repair and grow with correct nutrition). Use reps of 8-12 and really slow down the movement.
  • Choose other exercises that relate to creating and maintaining tension (this is where more intricate technique is paramount, performing upwards of 12 reps)

 3. Commit to training X number of times per week, whatever the number ensure this is something you can incorporate into your week, rather than moving your life around training! Then log EVERYTHING!

Finding your own path

Recognise that your training capacity is unique to you, if you are looking to develop in Mr Olympia or Cristiano Ronaldo overnight, you need to reassess your goal! If you are a busy person that can only commit to three days a week, trying to mirror a professional bodybuilder or sportsman will leave you feeling battered and bruised with little to show for it! Train smart!

Training without bias for reps, sets or styles can have a dramatic effect on results. The myth that 6-8 reps grows muscle and 15 reps or more means you will lose more fat is completely untrue!

The reality is, if you want to grow lean tissue, you are going to have to use multiple techniques within any given training session. The idea is to create as much mechanical tension, muscle damage and metabolic stress as possible. I just said a whole lot of words that probably don’t make any sense, so I will break this down!

Mechanical tension is essentially the amount of force you put through a muscle (how much you can lift).

Metabolic stress is developed within your muscle when you don’t lockout in a movement or avoid resting between reps.

Muscle damage can be created by slower reps, training muscles in a full range of motion and maintaining tension in stretched ranges.

If you can start to train with this in mind, you can start to select exercises, reps and sets that are more in line with your goal of building lean tissue!

Your Plan

You know you need to train to build muscle but you may not be sure which are the best exercises to start with or how many reps you should be aiming for!

Always start with some sort of activation work. You may have been in the routine of stretching before lifting, ditch this! You need to focus on warming your muscles up and activating muscle groups, especially the lower traps or getting your glutes firing before lower body day… (Don’t worry there is a link for both of these below).

Structure each session starting with heavier lifts focusing on moving load through a particular muscle (load being increased weight) that you can progressively overload. This is a principle where you try to do a little more weight or a few more reps on the same weight each session. For example, take an incline chest press. You are trying to lift the heaviest load you can for around 4-8 reps. You achieve 8 reps and feel comfortable pushing a few more out, you get to 10. You know next time you can add more weight to this and achieve the 4-8 rep mark.

Progressive overload can go very wrong. If you get carried away with numbers and forget it is your muscle that is meant to move the weight rather than momentum. You will have seen crazy form in the gym, the guys that bounce the bar off their chest or end up looking like contortion artists as their hips and feet seem to enter into a movement primarily focused on the chest!

With progressive overload, always keep in mind that your intended muscle needs to be the primary driver of the weight. It is unlikely after you have trained for a sustained period of time that you will suddenly increase your maximal lifts by 10 or 20kg in one week! Smaller increments are often more in line with your strength gains!

Your next exercises are your initial activation and heavier lifts will then centre around metabolic stress and muscle damage. I tend to programme in movements that you can stay locked into during this area of the session, often using resistance machines. For example on a chest day we may be looking at a plate or pin loaded chest press. You can load the muscle and ensure you are not locking out or resting between reps, reaching muscle failure and safely evacuating if you do fail on a press! Aiming for a rep range higher than 12 can be really challenging when you stay focused on contracting your muscle rather than achieving a number target!

Depending on how many times I will train a muscle group per week, for example if I am training 4 or 5 times that week on a push, pull and lower routine, I will include 3 to 4 slower eccentric (lowering phase of a movement) lifts where I challenge muscles in full range of motion (avoiding injury through proper assessment of what this actually is for me personally). If I am training only 3 times that week, I will aim to do full body sessions, which means working on eccentrics will be limited to one or two exercises of the routine as opposed to 3 or 4 if I am training more frequently!

Your Commitment

As you can tell this article isn’t about being a ‘BEAST’ in the gym. I do not condone crazy styles of training for most busy guys as having worked with hundreds of people in corporate jobs, management positions and business owners, I know that training in the gym will be a time to relieve stress and it is a commodity! So find the frequency that suits you, you don’t need to train 7 days a week to build muscle, work out what you can commit to and adhere to it!

Is it 3,4 or even 5 days a week? Build this into your diary, just like you would with any call or meeting! I prefer training first thing in the morning, when my mind is clear, and I am fully focused on one objective… Training each muscle to the point of concentric or eccentric failure!

In business you are assessed on your performance and you are rewarded if you continually perform better. Consider that they didn’t record any data on your performance and each time you went into an appraisal, you had no idea if you had improved or regressed! Well this is what your training is like if you do not log your sessions. You will have no idea whether you are lifting more weight, performing more reps or recovering quicker unless you track this with a log book of kinds. My preferred method of logging is an app called ‘RepCount’. This allows me to easily compare my performance each session and know where I need to start my working sets from! It also allows me to monitor my total volume each week, which is a great tool for ensuring over the course of the week I have lifted more per session or per muscle group than previous weeks!

Once you have a baseline to work from in terms of weights used, reps performed and recovery you can really start pushing yourself each session! Imagine one day you hit the gym after a stressful day at work and a poor sleep. The likelihood is, if you haven’t got anything to motivate you that you will end up doing a few less reps or not even do some exercises and leave early! This log book can be a powerful reminder of just what you are capable of! So don’t think of this as a chore, think of this as your extrinsic motivator that will push you into doing those extra few reps where the real gains are!

This is part 1 of your guide to increasing lean muscle! If you found it useful, please share it! Part 2 and 3 will give you the structure you need to work on outside of the gym to really begin to see huge strides forwards in your quest for more muscle mass and an improved body composition!

Glute Bridge from Juggy Sidhu on Vimeo.

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