How to Get Started With Building Muscle and Strength

How to Get Started With Building Muscle and Strength

1. Define your goal(s) and be realistic about them

If you’re reading this, your goal is either to build muscle/hypertrophy or strength. At 10,000 feet, these are the same thing. The number of repetitions you do per set can vary depending on your primary target, but for the most part these go hand-in-hand. Set achievable goals. For example, don’t expect your bench to go from 135 to 315 in 3 months. Set smaller goals, and then when you reach them, pat yourself on the back and then set new goals.

2. Pick a routine and stick to it

There are a lot of good routines out there, and they are all, more-or-less, the same. Commonly used ones are starting strength, strong lifts and 5x5. These routines all vary in some exercises, sets and reps, but they all employee the same big compound lifts as their foundation. Once you pick one, stick with it. You may not achieve your desired goals immediately, but if you’re consistent and determined, you will get stronger and bigger. You should expect to stay on a routine for at least 3-4 months and as long as 8-9 months. Consistency is key. If you find yourself hitting a plateau, you should consider a reset.

3. Get used to “the big 5”.

The big 5 compound lifts are the barbell bench press, barbell squat, barbell bent over row, barbell deadlift and barbell press. There are variations of all of these, but they are the centerpiece of any muscle and strength routine. You should be doing all of them and skipping none.

4. Pick the right weights to start with

There is no exact science to where you should start. It depends on your baseline strength, experience and history. If you have no experience, start with the bar and do 5 reps. Work your weight up slowly on each exercise until you start slowing down with those 5 reps. For example, bench the bar (45 lbs) x5, then add 10-20 lbs increments till you get to a point where that set of 5 is challenging. This is a rule of thumb and use your discretion. It’s always better to start low at the beginning and work your way up.

5. make sure to use proper and safe form

This is key. Most injuries in the gym are preventable. Most injuries are caused by bad form or fatigue that leads to bad form. If you’re not sure, ask for help with your form. You can ask someone who looks like they know what they’re doing, a trainer or gym employee, or watch youtube videos.

6. Give yourself recovery days

It’s important if you want to find success that you allow your body to rest after a big workout. This means eating appropriately, drinking water, and getting adequate sleep. On top of that, in order for muscles to grow and get stronger, they need time to rebuild. When you lift, you’re tearing muscle fibers and your body needs time to repair them.

7. pace yourself

If you’re trying to build, you want to have ample time between sets. This allows for muscle recovery in the short term. The rule of thumb is generally 2-3 minutes. It’s not an exact science and less time may be necessary. You should also pace the rate at which you increase your weight. If you bump it up too fast, you’ll increase the risk of hurting yourself. Too slow, you may be discouraged and have sub-optimal growth.

8. Use a Weight Journal

I can’t emphasize this enough. A lot of people “think” they can remember, but few actually can. For the best, most systematic progress, you should track your weights. You can write down reps and weights for each exercise. The next time you do that lift, you can force yourself to go up in weight (or reps if your routine allows). This is one of the big mistakes amateur weight lifters is to not track their progress.

9. increase your protein and total caloric intake

This article isn’t directed at diet, but there is one rule of thumb about gaining muscle and strength and that is you have to eat. You have to increase your total calorie intake because your total demand is going to go up. Muscle’s can’t gain strength and size without adequate nutrition. More importantly, they need protein. So start eating more protein. The goal is to eat more, healthy food. That said, eating fast food is better than not eating. In summary, eat like a horse.

10. Try to find a partner

Lifting is tough. Building muscle and strength can be difficult. Having a partner will help you stay motivated and focused. You can push each other to work harder and achieve your goals faster. You can also critique each other’s form and make sure you are maximizing your sets and reps safely.

11. Use free weights, not machines

I added this one on to the end just to be clear. Any good muscle building routine relies on a squat rack, a bench, a barbell with some plates and a dumbbell rack. You don’t need anything else. Equally as important, is to recognize that the chest press machine does not do challenge your chest as much as a barbell bench. The seated leg press can’t replace the barbell squat, and neither can the smith machine for that matter. Stay away from machines, stick with the free weights.

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