How To Build Muscle (The Right Way)

Four months ago I joined a gym.  Before that I had gone over a year without stepping foot in one. I had withered down to 160 pounds.

My goals were to gain weight in the form of muscle and increase my functional strength.  I decided to start the StrongLifts 5×5 program.  I choose this program because it focused strictly on compound exercises.  The program consists of just five exercises: Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, Overhead Press, and Barbell Rows.  You workout out three days a week, scheduling at least one day of rest between workouts.  Every workout you perform squats, and then you alternate the other exercises.

Here is an example of a StrongLifts 5×5 schedule:

Workout A:  Squats 5×5, Overhead Press 5×5, Deadlifts 1×5

Workout B: Squats 5×5, Barbell Row 5×5, Bench Press 5×5

Week 1: Monday – Workout A; Wednesday – Workout B; Friday – Workout A

Week 2: Monday – Workout B; Wednesday – Workout A; Friday – Workout B

When I started the StrongLifts 5×5 program I struggled to squat 135 pounds.  My bench and deadlifts weren’t much better.  The day after my first StrongLifts workout my muscles felt like jello.  It was clear that my long hiatus from the gym had turned me into a limp-wristed weakling.

The olympic barbell gave me a harsh wakeup call.  I started hitting the gym with a renewed sense of purpose.  I made slow and steady improvements with every workout.  I increased all five exercises incrementally, usually adding at least 5 lbs to my lifts every week.  By the three month mark, I was now squatting 230 pounds with ease and deadlifting more than twice my body weight.

I have since switched to Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program which is almost identical, except it’s 3×5 instead of 5×5.  Both programs will have similar results.

But before you start lifting let me give some words of advice so you don’t make the same mistakes that I made.

-Join A Real Gym: You’re not going to find olympic barbells, squat racks &  bench press at commercial gyms like Planet Fitness or Anytime Fitness.  Stay away from any gym’s that frowns upon grunting and carrying around one gallon water jug.  Gyms like these will neuter you and keep you from making any real gains.

– Practice Proper Form: Performing compound lifts with proper form can strengthen muscles, bones, and tendons.  However, if you perform compound lifts incorrectly you can cause yourself serious injury.  Not paying close enough attention to form is something I was guilty of from the start.  I have recently changed up my squats form to get my ass lower to the ground a.k.a ass to grass method.  I suggest watching Alan Thrall’s Youtube videos to see how it’s done.

– Eat More: Two months into StrongLifts I noticed I was hitting a plateau.  I also noticed that that I wasn’t gaining any weight.  It became glaringly obvious that I wasn’t eating enough calories to build muscle.  If you don’t take in more calories than you burn than you won’t gain weight.  If you’re doing compound lifts your going to be burning a lot of calories.  I suggest keeping a journal of calories you eat in a day.  I aim to eat 3,000-3,500 calories on workout days.  This is based on my weight.  If you want to find out a rough estimate of how many calories you should be eating to gain weight just multiple your body weight by 18.  Of course, this formula isn’t set in stone but will give you a good idea where to start.  Eating more really works.  It’s no coincidence that when I started eating more I was able to push past my plateaus.

– Eat Right: You should be eating more but you shouldn’t be gorging on McDonald’s.  You want healthy calories.  You want 30 grams of protein per meal, caloric dense meals, and healthy fats.  Oh yes, you should also be eating fruits and vegetables.  Fruits and Vegetables may not be dense with calories but will provide your body essential nutrients.  If you want to learn more about muscle building foods check this out.

Let me end of by saying that I’m not a professional body builder, nutritionist, or personal trainer, nor do I play one over the internet.  If your serious about building muscle and gaining strength I high recommend checking out Mark Rippetoe’s blog or StrongLifts 5×5 before you start lifting heavy.  It’s all you really need to know about strength training.


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