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How to set up your training for muscle growth

6 muscle building principles that can get you growing!

Look around the internet and you will see a plethora of articles saying you should do this and that to get jacked.

With so much out there on one topic, it becomes more and more confusing to try and determine what will work best.

Rather than analyzing every single detail, I suggest looking at the common themes between all of the programs, and experienced lifters who have tons of muscle on them.

Principle #1

Exercise selection.

When designing any training program, you must keep the goal the goal.

When determining which exercises to use, you should pick the ones that allow you feel the target muscle.

For example, if you want to do dumbbell rows to grow your back, but all you feel is biceps, you might want to switch to something different.

Another important point for exercise selection is making sure the target muscle is the muscle that is getting fatigued.

Squats and deadlifts are a great example of this.

These two exercises can fit well in a muscle building program, however many people complain that they feel it way more in their lower back than their legs.

If you want to grow muscle in your quads and glutes, but your back is destroyed after each set, consider a leg press, or hack squat.

You will be able to spare your back, while providing a great muscle building stimulus for your legs!

Principle #2


Volume refers to the total amount of sets, reps, and weight being lifted.

It can be calculated by multiplying the sets, reps, and weight. You can also just do the total number of sets times reps.

Volume matters because without a big enough training volume, our muscles will not get the signal to grow.

Most muscles need anywhere between 10-20 sets per week to grow.

Certain muscles may take a little more, while others can be maintained with less.

What this looks like is as follows.


Barbell bench press: 3 sets Incline dumbbell bench press: 3 sets

Dumbbell chest fly: 3 sets


Barbell bench press: 4 sets Incline dumbbell bench press: 3 sets

Dumbbell chest fly: 3 sets

For the chest, this equates to 19 total sets per week. For some of you this may be the right amount. For others, maybe you need a little less.

The best way to determine the right amount for you, is start with 2-3 sets and track muscle size and strength.

If nothing changes after a few weeks, consider adding a set. If you are getting stronger and building tissue with 3 sets per exercise, then you are in a good spot.

The reps you can choose vary as well.

I have found most people get really good training in the 8-15 rep ranges.

This provides a good mix of mechanical tension and metabolic stress, two key factors associated with building lean muscle.

Principle #3

Progressive overload.

Progressive overloading is a fancy exercise science term that gets thrown around a lot.

Basically, it means making your exercises and workouts hard over time. At least this is my oversimplified version.

Specifically for building muscle, adding more reps, weight, or sets is going to be your best option.

Most people try to jump too quickly in their progressive overload, and end up plateauing or worse getting hurt.

I don't want you to be that person, so you should do this instead.

Stay with the same weight until you can get the target reps, for all of the prescribed sets.

For example, if I have you do 3 sets of 12 reps on a pull down, and you do 3 sets of 12 reps with 150 lbs. You are going to move up in weight.

The next time you do the pulldown, you will do 160 and aim for 12 reps.

If you get 10 reps, stay at 160. If you get 2 sets for 12 reps at 160, and one with 10 reps, stay until you get 3 sets of 12 with 160.

I like this strategy because it clearly defines when you increase your weight, and it allows you to simultaneously use weight increases and reps for you progressive overload.

Principle #4


This is arguably the most important one on this list.

This is a requirement when it comes to building muscle.

I don't mean that you should be crawling out of the gym each time you workout, but you should have some sets that really challenge you.

At least 1 of your sets should require you to dig deep and push yourself to complete the last few reps.

The reason why this is important is because the body needs a big stimulus to make it grow muscle.

The stimulus that we are talking here is a combination of mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and to a lesser degree, muscle damage.

A challenging set with good technique will be a combination of all three.

My favorite way to gauge how hard the set is is the rep speed.

In a set of 12 reps, if the last 2 reps are moving at the same speed as the first 2 reps, than you may not working as hard as you could.

Go up 5 lbs. and try the set again. If the last two reps feel like they are moving through mud, then you are at the right effort!

Principle #5


Nutrition is such a big player in your ability to grow muscle.

Protein and carbohydrates are your best friends here.

Protein should be a little more than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight.

For example, if you weight 180 lbs., aim for between 180-190 grams of protein. This wil give you enough of amino acids to build up the protein your muscle needs to grow.

The extra protein will guarantee you are getting in a caloric surplus so you can grow moe muscle.

Carbohydrates are helpful for building muscle becuase they help us fuel our workouts and help us recover.

Muscle building workouts rely heavily on the glycolytic energy system, which relies a lot on glucose.

The glucose not only supports the workout, but also helps us to replenish our glycogen stores so we have enough in the tank for our next workout.

The combination of protein and carbs can create a great anabolic environment for you to grow a ton of muscle.

Principle #6


Recovery is necessary to help us actually build muscle.

You may have heard that the muscle building process happens after the workout.

Which is pretty true for the most part.

Being able to recover through things like hydration, nutrition, and being able to de-stress is going to level up your ability to grow muscle.

Sleep, finding ways to des-stress, and good nutrition will help the most in your recovery after your workouts.

I hope these 6 principles were able to ease your confusion on muscle building.

If you are stuck in a plateau or you currently don't know where to start, always look at the basics.

Are you doing the basics well? If not take a few weeks to scale it down, simplify it, and see what happens.

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