You’re logging regular strength sessions, but not seeing any results. So frustrating. So, what’s the secret when it comes to knowing how to build muscle? Well, contrary to popular belief, three protein shakes a day is not the answer.
Although lifting weights naturally plays an important part, ‘making gains’ is about more than what happens in the gym.
We caught up with AYBL Athlete, Neeny on her own lifting journey to help you get to grips with everything there is to know about building muscle. Add that to our own expertise on progressive overload, discover the best way to build muscle naturally and safely here.
Psst… Check out Neeny in our all new Flare Collection - perfect for your lifting pursuit.
WHAT IS MUSCLE HYPERTROPHY?
Muscle hypertrophy is the increase and growth of muscle mass through resistance training. When you’re lifting heavier weights for eight to 12 reps, you’ve entered the ‘hypertrophy phase’. Anything over 12 reps builds muscle endurance.
There are two types of muscular hypertrophy:
- Myofibrillar: growth of muscle contraction parts.
- Sarcoplasmic: increased muscle glycogen storage.
WHAT IS PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Over time, your body adjusts to the demands of your training sessions, which may result in a workout plateau. To continuously improve performance over time and avoid hitting a plateau, you need to continually push yourself harder - but within your own limits.
By definition, progressive overload is when you gradually increase the weight, number of repetitions, frequency or intensity of your training sessions.
The last few reps of each set should be a struggle - if they’re not, it might be time to think about upping your weight.
It’s important to bear in mind, the longer you’ve been training, the harder it is to make gains. While gym newbies might see significant results within the first few months of training, a seasoned gym veteran won’t progress as quickly.
HOW QUICKLY SHOULD YOU EXPECT TO BUILD MUSCLE?
Building muscle isn’t a quick process, and there are lots of different factors that can play into how quickly you can build muscle, including genetics.
Research has found with good nutrition and consistent training, the average person can build around 0.5% - 1% of their muscle from total body weight per month. So, if you weigh 70kg, you should aim for around 0.35kg to 0.7kg of muscle gain per month.
5 WAYS TO BUILD MUSCLE NATURALLY
1. SLOW DOWN YOUR REP SPEED
The speed at which you lift and lower weights can affect the outcome of your workout. Too often people fixate on the number of reps and rush through their sets, but when you lift for hypertrophy, it’s important to move slowly.
Muscles grow when they are under tension for longer periods of time, so slow and controlled reps mean longer time under tension for that muscle. Slowing down your rep speed also allows you to concentrate on using proper form and really feel the muscle working.
2. GRADUALLY LIFT HEAVIER
Establishing a training schedule is a solid start when it comes to packing on muscle, but if you’re not continuously challenging your muscles, your body will get complacent.
If you want to build muscle and strength, progressive overload is non-negotiable. But how much (and when) should you up the ante when training for progressive overload?
Research shows a 5% - 10% increase each week is a good benchmark. An increase beyond that amount could increase your risk of injury. And while high-rep sets have value, don’t be afraid to do less reps with a heavier weight. As you progress through your resistance training journey, your new strength will allow you to lift heavier weights for more reps.
3. TRAIN MULTIPLE MUSCLE GROUPS AND MIX IN SUPERSETS
Sure, bicep curls are fun, but if you truly want to build muscle, you’ll need to challenge more than one muscle group. Working through multi-joint movements, such as squats and deadlifts, is key to building muscle mass.
Supersets are also another great way to increase your training volume and hypertrophy without spending more time in the gym. We recommend supersetting antagonistic muscle groups, including chest and back or biceps and triceps to take your training to the next level.
4. DON’T NEGLECT REST
While this step might seem counterproductive, getting enough rest is absolutely paramount. Muscles need roughly 48 to 72 hours of rest in between sessions.
Top tip: Splitting up your training days based on lower- and upper-body exercises can help you maintain three to five days of training a week.
Sleep also plays an important role, as this is when your muscles and tissues restore and replenish. During sleep, your brain is resting with very little activity, so your blood supply available to your muscles increases too, delivering extra oxygen and nutrients so they can heal and grow.
For top tips on how to regulate your sleep, read more here.
5. EAT HEALTHY FATS AND PROTEIN
Despite what you may have heard, you don’t need to be eating the entire supermarket meat counter to build muscle, but you do need to eat protein regularly to ensure you hit optimal muscle protein synthesis (the process of building muscle mass). To achieve this you should be looking to eat at least 0.75g per kg of bodyweight per day. The easiest way to do this is to eat a whole protein source with each meal.
Eating healthy fats will also help you build lean muscle mass, as they improve fat loss and overall health. Make sure you balance your fat intake, eat healthy fats with every meal and avoid artificial trans-fats.
READ MORE: The Best High-Protein Vegan Foods
Now, over to Neeny…
WHAT EXERCISES DO YOU RECOMMEND TO BUILD MUSCLE MASS?
In order to build muscle mass, you need to take the muscle through its fullest range of motion. This means picking exercises which challenge the muscle in both their ‘longer’ and ‘shorter’ muscle lengths. For example, choosing hack squat and leg extensions to work quads will work the quad in both its lengthened and shortened ranges. Other examples include: RDLs and hamstring curls for hamstrings, and dumbbell presses and flyes for pecs. By doing this, you are working with intent and making sure you’re building mass across the whole muscle.
WHAT MISTAKES DO PEOPLE COMMONLY MAKE WHEN TRYING TO BUILD MUSCLE MASS?
People often think that more volume is better. Realistically, you only need between 10 and 20 hard sets per week for any single muscle group. So, pick your sets and exercises wisely and go hard on those by training close to failure and implementing progressive overload each week. This means performing either more reps, more sets, with heavier weight(s) or at a slower tempo, as opposed to doing lots of sets which are nowhere near close to failure, and are basically ‘junk volume’.
More isn’t necessarily better - quality of exercises and reps over quantity.
DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER TOP TIPS FOR BUILDING MUSCLE MASS?
Be patient. Be consistent. Don’t be afraid to eat.
Building muscle mass takes a long time, so patience is key. You may not feel like you’re making progress, but if you’re doing these things, you will see results.
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Building muscle mass has a whole string of benefits, including improved posture and bone health, but possibly the most favoured benefit is that it helps to burn fat. This is because muscle is a metabolically active tissue, which means the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism and the more fat you burn.
If you’re ready to get after your goals, Flare is here for your big lifts, and even bigger wins. Remember, the only person who can change your life is you.