Don’t know where to start with building muscle? Here is the place. Everything you need to know plus a free workout to start you off.
What’s the right workout for me?
But I’m skinny and want to bulk up.
I’m heavy and want to thin out.
I’m a woman and only do “ladies’ workouts”?
Regardless of what you are looking to do or when you started with your internet based workouts, you’ll be able to gain something from this post.
Getting in shape isn’t as complicated as people and the interwebs make it out to be.
If you boil everything down from the beginning of time until they come up with a “magical pill” it comes down to:
Lift heavy objects
If you can motivate yourself, and eat healthy, that’s 95% of the battle. The lifting heavy objects is the icing on the cake. It’s delicious, sexy icing by the way.
Before I go further, ladies please try to remove the belief that you can’t lift heavy weights because you are afraid to look like a man. Women lack the hormonal profile to pack on muscle like men. Yes, some women do lift weights and in turn look like men. However, there is some extra supplementation happening to cause that man-ish look. Normal women will not look like that- you’ll look more like this:
So now that the men have gone 6 to midnight.
- The anatomy of the workout
- How often should you go to the gym
In the Gym
- Picking the right weight
- How to lift weights and know when you have shitty form
- All things rest
- Best bang for your buck exercises
Outside the Gym
- How to deal with soreness
- How and when to change a workout
- How workouts are written out
- Cycling preworkout
- The Beginner’s workout
Building Muscle 101
THE ANATOMY OF THE WORKOUT
A proper workout will progress in the following manner:
The duration of each phase is entirely dependent on the time you have available.
Before you condemn working out to hell because it’s so complex, let’s break down each phase and what you can do.
The warmup is to prevent injury. Cold muscles don’t respond that well to being put under a lot of stress.
The warmup can range from a light jog to a few light sets of the exercise. The main thing to accomplish here is to get the blood flowing to the muscles you plan on working out that particular day. Really anything that gets the blood flowing will be beneficial. If you plan on jogging, do it for 5-10 minutes. At the point you start to sweat is when you stop.
After the warmup comes the weights. This will be true for 99% of people. The other 1% is marathon runners.
This will ensure that you have the max amount of strength to put on muscle. Remember, this muscle will help you burn calories after the workout where cardio stops when you stop. We’ll get to what to do more in this area later.
After the weights are lifted is when you can do your fancy cardio. This will help your heart, lung capacity and burn a few more calories before you leave the gym.
Personally, I like doing intervals on an elliptical rather than running at once pace on a treadmill. Typically, I do 10 minutes total of 30 sec of sprinting followed by 30 sec of walking.
The final step is stretching. This has been the biggest thing I’ve added to my workout since I started lifting weights 15 yrs ago. Here is why:
When you lift weights you are contracting the muscle to lift the weight and in the lowering portion you are creating tiny tears in that muscle.
After the workout, when you are healing, the muscle spasms and contracts to prevent further injury to itself. After a while of not stretching you muscles become banjo strings.
This leads to different muscles pulling on each other and in turn throwing things out of whack. To prove my point, try stretching your hamstrings next time your lower back hurts.
Remember the stretches you did in middle school gym class? Those are the same stretches you need to do here. Hold the stretch for 20-30 sec and move to the next one.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU GO TO THE GYM
Aim for 2-3 workouts a week at first. We’ll do this for 2 reasons:
Rigging the game so you win.
Starting to workout is learning a new habit. Setting the bar too high when you haven’t developed the new habit is setting yourself up for failure. It’s like saying you won’t get anything lower than a 100 on all the tests all year. If you go from 0 to expecting yourself to go to the gym 5 days a week and you only make it 4, that is considered failing and will give you a negative feeling about the new habit you are trying to create. Instead, stack the deck in your favor. Aim for 2-3 days until you really want to be at the gym for more. 2-3 days will still get you the body you want.
- Let’s not beat around the bush- you’re going to be sore. Give your body a rest between workouts.
Schedule your 2-3 workouts with a day in-between to allow recovery.
Over time your body will be more adapt to recovering and the damage you do to your muscles will be less. At that time, you can aim for more days per week and cut down the rest time.
Clangin and Bangin in the Gym
PICKING THE RIGHT WEIGHT
Check you ego at the door T.O. This is where people get hurt. Like the first time going to a new gym, the first week of a new workout is just a feeling out process.
If you’ve never lifted a weight before, start conservative.
Pick a weight up and do as many reps as you can for that exercise. So if you are doing squats, take the bar and do as many reps as you can. Not only will you be able to find the right weight to use but it’s also a good warmup. Boom multitasking!
Once you have how many reps you can perform with the bar, all we have to do now is scale the weight appropriately. My rule of thumb is this:
For every 2 reps add or drop the weight by 10lb for two limb movements and 5lb for single limb movements. Clear as mud?
Let’s go back to the squat example. So you do your squats with an empty bar and you can get 22 reps. Your workout calls for 8-10 reps for 3 sets. So to get the appropriate weight for 10 reps that will subtract 22 reps completed by 10 reps desired. Using a calculator and complex math we get 12 as the difference. Then we divide that by 2 to get 6. Since the squat is a 2 limb exercise we multiply 6 times 10 to get 60. So you’d have to add 60lb to the bar to get the around the weight you should be using. Trust me it’s a lot easier in practice than writing it all out.
After you get your desired weight, take it out for a test drive in your workout. If you can get more reps than the workout prescribes then keep going and adjust the weight using the same formula.
Now at the other end of the spectrum, you find a weight that is good for the first set but sets 2 and 3 you can’t hit the desired reps. What do you do? Drop the weight? Nope, do as many as you can and then wait for the next set.
The next time you do the workout use the same weight until you can perform all sets with the desired reps. Then, and only then, will you move up in weight by our 5-10lb model. Moving up too fast will not allow you enough time to build the muscle to lift the weight and waiting too long to move up the weight will not put enough stress on the muscle to grow.
HOW TO LIFT WEIGHTS AND KNOW WHEN YOU HAVE SHITTY FORM
Form is paramount when it comes to lifting weights. I’ll take quality reps with good form or a quantity with shitty form.
See all the mirrors in the gym? They aren’t for swolfies, they are for watching your form – see we aren’t as arrogant a you think.
Learn form from personal trainers or search Youtube for people like him and these guys. Take it slow and take the time to learn proper form now. Once you get the form down then go up in weight. I’ll take weeks to learn the proper form, which I’m doing with front squats right now.
If you are using proper form your joints won’t hurt.
Proper form ensures your muscle and bone structure take the brunt of the abuse not your joints.
Another thing to pay attention to is the time it takes to lift and lower the weight (Time under Tension or TUT). A lot of noobs lower the weight super fast which puts a lot of stress on your body and eliminates the part of the movement responsible for muscle size.
The lowering or elongating portion of the movement is where the muscle tears a little bit and allows for greater size.
Maintain controlled movements through the entire exercise.
If it helps count the seconds to lower and raise the weight. I typically use a 2 second lower and a 2 second contraction. That will ensure your muscles are doing the work and you aren’t putting the stress other places.
ALL THINGS REST
Let’s start with rest periods in between sets.
Can’t get a workout done in the time you have allotted? Have you timed your rest periods or are you too busy checking the Facebook or tweeting?
Resting between sets is based on the reps in that set. Here is a quick guide:
1-3 reps: Rest 3-5 minutes
4-7 reps: Rest 2-3 minutes
8-12 reps: Rest 1-2 minutes
13+ reps: rest 1 minute or less
Rest periods should be to drink water, stretch the muscle and catch your breath. That’s it.
Now let’s move to rest days. On rest days, I like to maintaining my humanness. Rest days are not to sleep all day or binge watch The Walking Dead on Netflix.
Rest days are for doing things that humans thousands of years ago did on the reg. Things like walking, running, stretching and manual labor.
But Dave I’m tired, sore and need to rest my body. I know, me too. That’s why I go to bed at a reasonable hour every night.
Rest days are there to help you recover and the best way to recover is through proper nutrition and getting the blood flowing through moving around. Increasing the blood flow increases the oxygen and blood to the muscles which aides in healing.
By laying on the couch you just prolong the soreness.
BEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK EXERCISES
Machines? Bicep curls? I know situps, right?
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
The best bang for your buck exercises are ones that recruit the most muscles while lifting the most weight in the least amount of time.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the top 6 exercises. Truth be told, if you workout 3 days a week and performed 2 each per workout you would be in better shape than 90% of the people in the gym with you right now. These 6 exercises are always part of my routine.
In no particular order here are the big 6 exercises:
Barbell Shoulder Press
Barbell Bench Press
Barbell Bent Over Row
Just incorporating these 6 will give you a well rounded workout and hit all the muscles, yes even your biceps will get bigger.
Wow That was intense, Now we are out of the gym
HOW TO DEAL WITH SORENESS
We’ve touched upon this a few times already but soreness is a part of using your muscles in a fashion that they aren’t used to. This soreness is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). It’s going to happen regardless of what you do, but there are a few things to help minimize the suffering.
- Ice baths after a workout to minimize the inflammation.
- Proper nutrition. Nothing beats good old fashion protein, vitamins and minerals for muscle recovery.
- A good night sleep. In REM sleep is where all the growth hormone is released to help repair those sore muscles.
- Heat increases the blood flow to area which increases the nutrients and oxygen which helps repair the muscles.
- Massages and stretching helps break the cycle of going from soreness to muscle spasm to contraction to banjo string muscles.
- A light workout – meaning light weights, higher reps – is good for getting the blood flowing.
WHEN AND HOW TO CHANGE A WORKOUT
If you’re new to exercise, you should initially take a longer period of time before switching things up.
The body undergoes an adaptation phase where the muscles, nerves, and hormones have to get accustomed to the new norm of learning movement patterns, getting the brain to recruit the right muscle fibers, and neuromuscular (nerve to muscle) coordination. This phase typically takes upwards of 6 weeks, and true benefits from a program can extend beyond this initial stage.
It would be too soon to change things up in a case like this.
For the intermediate lifters in the group, you should consider changing your program as soon as your muscles begin to adapt themselves to a certain style of training.
The typical time frame I like to use is 6 to 8 weeks.
When you notice a major strength plateau, or a lack of physical results, it’s time to switch things up.
Changing things up doesn’t have to be ground-breaking. Just focus on progressive overload.
No progressive overload, no growth. Doing the same exercise in the same rep range with the same weight and getting discouraged by your lack of progress is like getting discouraged you aren’t going anywhere sitting in a rocking chair. This is because only by placing ever-increasing demand on our body can it grow and adapt. There are a few ways to progressive overload, such as
- Adding more weight
- Doing more reps/sets
- Decreasing your rest period
- Making the exercise more difficult
See it’s not that hard. Changing any one of these 4 things will jumpstart your stalled workout.
HOW WORKOUTS ARE WRITTEN OUT
Whether you get your exercises from Stronglifts.com, magazines or through this website they all are written in the same way.
We have reps, which is the repetitions you lift the weight.
Finally, we have sets which is how many different times you perform the reps.
For illustrative purposes, look a couple of headings down.
For simplicity sake, there are 4 different types of rep ranges and corresponding muscle adaptions. I won’t go too deep in the rabbit hole with the biology of the adaptations because honestly you don’t care and I’m cool with that. If you’re interested, shoot me an email.
Sometimes you’ll see something like this:
Now you’re thinking WTF is that nonsense? Let’s break it down and give you what’s written between the lines.
Reps: 1st set: 12
2nd set: 10
3rd set: 8
4th set: 6
What’s written in between the lines is that for every set you will add weight like we did above in Using the Right Weight. This is common once you hit that intermediate level and is great for muscle development.
I always get questions from my friends on supplementation and what they should be taking.
I, and most fitness experts believe, that supplementation should be kept to a minimum.
Supplement companies and the GNCs of the world will have you think otherwise. All I’m going to say is that I always find people that are making money off me don’t always have my best interests in mind.
With that being said here is what I recommend for supplementation:
Casual weight lifting- If you lift to be active and healthy
Protein- Take after the gym (Skip the blend from above from here on out)
- Whey protein- look for a whey protein isolate and concentrate mix
- Product: Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein
- Preworkout- Wild guess when to take this.
- Product: MusclePharm Assault
Serious Weight lifting (competitions or profession)
- Casein Protein- At Night
- Product: Optimum Nutrition Casein
Vitamins and other essentials
- ZMA- Helps recover at night also helps you sleep. Take at night.
- Product: MusclePharm Z-Core PM
- Creatine- gives your muscles a bigger gas tank. Take in your post-workout shake.
- Product: Creatine Monohydrate
More than this is excessive and only makes more crap for your body to filter out. Despite what people say in your local GNC you don’t need anything more than this. I’ve gained 15lbs of muscle and gotten lower ab veins on whey protein and preworkout alone.
Don’t blame or give credit to supplements, it’s you that determines your results.
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Certain supplements need to be cycled. Preworkout is one of those. Over a period of time you build up a tolerance to caffeine and the other stimulants. Pretty soon you are taking the preworkout for the preworkout and not the effects it should have.
A good rule is to use it for 4 weeks then cycle off for 2 weeks.
This will help keep your caffeine tolerance in check and get the most bang for your buck with preworkout.
Finally it’s here. The beginner’s workout to get you going. This is a very basic workout to help you get into the flow of things and learn some of the big 6 exercises. Use this for 6-8 weeks, progressing the weights like we talked about in the Using the Right Weight section and you’ll be good to go. After those 6-8 weeks throw your own little tweak in there from the When and How to Change Your Workout section. Next thing you know you’ll have your own blog about fitness.
Squats or Leg Press 4×12,10,10,8
Romanian Deadlifts 3×15,12,12
Seated Calf Raises 3×15
Exercise Ball Crunches 3×15
Barbell Shoulder Press 4×12,10,10,8
Dumbbell Bench Press 3×12,12,10
Assisted Dips 3×12
Planks 30 sec hold for 2 sets
Assisted Pull ups 3×12,10,10
Barbell Bent Over Row 3×12,10,10
Dumbbell Incline Curl 3×12
Side Plank 20 sec hold for 2 sets
If you want this workout in a pdf to take to the gym, just click here.
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Featured image courtesy of squat-rack.com.