Muscle building is hard work, many people fail miserably and results don’t happen overnight (yes, I know you knew all that). Many people fail to build muscle because they are simply not ready to build muscle. You see, muscle gains come in spurts. You can have periods of almost no growth and then all of a sudden – bam! You start growing. If you want to pack on muscle as fast as possible, here are 8 primers for explosive muscle growth.
1. Get healthy
Never forget that training is a stressor. You need a healthy body to be able to properly train AND recover from that training. Performance and body transformation needs to be built on a foundation of good health.
- If you have any kind of health issues (e.g. illness, nutrient deficiencies, low aerobic fitness, high blood pressure, sleep problems, hormone issues, orthopedic problems, etc.) pick up the phone and make an appointment with an appropriate health care professional.
- Make a list of all the things you know you should do for good health (click HERE if you need ideas). Put a check mark beside the ones that you do consistently and an “X” beside the ones you don’t do. Of all the ones with an “X”, pick what you think is the most important and start forming a habit with that today. When that one is normal for you, start with the next most important health habit.
2. Get moving well
After you have a foundation of good health, you also need to make sure also have quality movement. Think of your body as a high-performance sports car. What would happen if you added a bigger, more powerful engine to a car with misaligned wheels and a bent frame? With every new client and athlete (and even online clients), I always start with some type of assessment or movement screen. Even if all you want to do is get HUGE and you don’t care about performance, you need to move well. Remember, muscle building is going to require an improvement in gym performance. It will require lifting some scary weight for a decent amount of volume. If you are a dysfunctional mess you will get hurt before you get big.
- Get to the root cause of these dysfunctions by adjusting your lifestyle. For most people, this means sitting less and not spending all day hunched over their phone.
- Instead of sitting on a bike, use your warm-up time to do corrective exercises.
- Don’t load movement patterns that you can’t do properly. For example, if you can’t do a proper squat, fix the movement pattern – don’t just throw a bar on your back. If you don’t have the thoracic extension (upper back flexibility) to raise your arms overhead without hyperextending your low back, don’t do overhead presses until you can.
- Get a coach to help you find and fix your dysfunctions
3. Get sensitive
No, I’m not talking about getting in touch with your feelings or having a good cry (unless you need to and that’s fine). I’m talking about insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a powerful anti-catabolic hormone that helps prevent muscle breakdown. It is also important for getting nutrients into your muscles. If you have good insulin sensitivity, your body can use the extra carbs and nutrients you eat to fuel intense training sessions and build muscle. If you are insulin resistant, your body will just store more body fat.
- If you are carrying extra body fat, get lean first. If you want help with this, check out my book Athletic Training for Fat Loss.
- If you think you might be insulin resistant, talk to your doctor.
- Consider getting a blood glucose monitor and check your morning fasting glucose levels.
- Reduce high-sugar and processed foods.
- Eat healthy fats.
- Do regular strength training (this is great for improving insulin sensitivity).
- Try to walk for at least 30 total minutes per day (all at once or split up). Personally, I like Stan Efferding’s approach of doing a 10-minute walk after meals. I find it also helps with digestion and improving mental productivity.
4. Get in touch with your feelings
Just because you are doing an exercise that is supposed to target a particular muscle, doesn’t mean that you are effectively stimulating hypertrophy in that muscle. If you can’t a feel a muscle, you can’t build it.
- Have an honest look at your physique. If you have lagging muscles, you probably struggle to effectively feel those muscles when you train.
- Practice flexing your muscles (especially the problem ones) regularly throughout the day
- Pay attention to that mind-muscle connection in the gym. Don’t just lift the weight from point A to point B, focus on intentionally flexing your target muscle(s) to move the weight.
5. Get your best exercises list
Proper exercise selection will make or break your ability to build muscle. Don’t blindly follow the masses. Find your best exercises that pass this test:
- Feel the target muscle
- Use a good amount of weight
- Easy to progress
- Don’t hurt your joints during or after
- Use the test above and make a list of the best exercises for you for each muscle group
6. Get strong
Don’t make the mistake so many guys make in thinking that strength is just for Powerlifters and athletes. If you are trying to build muscle without freaky genetics or drugs, you had better be willing to move some serious weight. I’m not talking about all those sloppy, partial ranges of motion, ego stroking reps that guys use to show off on social media. I’m talking about moving a lot of weight with proper form, through a full range of motion, with good mind-muscle connection for 5-8 reps.
The obvious question is, how strong? This is tricky to answer. While they can give a general guideline, I’m not a big fan of generic strength charts. There are too many structural factors can influence your success in a particular lift. In addition, you will get your best muscle building results when you use your best exercises – which may not be traditional strength standards like the back squat, bench press, and deadlift.
The best gage for good relative strength for a non-competitive lifter is what I call the impress test:
If someone who had decent training experience was to have a good look at your current muscle mass and then watch you lift, would he/she be impressed by how much weight you can lift? If the answer is yes, then you have decent relative strength. If the answer is no, then you need to get stronger.
- If you have been doing a lot of high-rep pumping work, take 1-2 months and focus on getting stronger with sets of about 5 reps. Then, go back to whatever rep range works best for you building muscle.
7. Get your nutrition baselines on point
Building muscle requires proper nutrients to support your health, training, and recovery. It requires sufficient protein and a calorie surplus. Once you have these things on track, you are primed for muscle growth.
- Start by logging your food for 3-7 typical days of eating (the more days, the better). I get my students and clients to use Cronometer because it not only gives you calories, proteins, fats, and carbs but also vitamins and minerals.
- If you regularly see vitamin and mineral deficiencies, do a quick Google search for foods you like that will help correct these deficiencies.
- Make sure you are getting about 1 gram per pound of protein. Then if you need more calories, you can add carbs and/or fat.
- Track your weight during this time. If your weight is stable, your average calorie intake is likely your maintenance level. Keep increasing your calories until you start seeing the scale move – this is how many calories you need to eat (at least for now) to gain muscle.
8. Get your life together
Stress produces cortisol and too much cortisol makes it impossible to build muscle. As with physical health, getting your life in order creates the best opportunity for muscle growth. It gives you the time, energy, focus and resources you need to be successful. This is a big one and I quickly moving outside of my expertise. Here are a few ideas to get you started...
- If you believe in God, seek to know and follow God better.
- Take quiet time each day to think, pray and/or meditate.
- Prioritize sleep.
- If you have any tense relationships, try to meet with these people and see if you can work things out.
- Surround yourself with quality people who will have a positive influence on you.
- Surround yourself with people who care enough and have the guts to call you out when you are getting off track.
- Invest in books, courses and/or coaching to help you grow in needed areas.
- Develop habits to improve your organization and time management.
- Do something to serve or give-back.
Don’t make the common mistake of short-term thinking that plagues the fitness industry. Just because you want to build muscle now, doesn’t mean that is the best way to long-term results. Prime your body, then you can enjoy successful muscle building.