Discover the fundamentals on how to lift weights to build muscle in this definitive weight training guide for beginners.
Success in building muscle mass depends on two pillar elements – Nutrition And Resistance Training. You must be in a caloric surplus to gain weight, but in order for this weight gain to be muscle, you must be training with weights.
Weight training, which is the most effective form of resistance training, is vital for building muscle in combination with proper nutrition. Additionally, lifting weights should not only be used in a muscle building program. It’s also very important to include weight training in your fat loss program as a means of maintaining muscle so that you are able to lose fat without losing muscle.
Where Should You Lift Weights To Build Muscle?
The best place to lift weights is where you are able to get your workouts done properly, and allows you to follow a routine consistently. Most people get optimal workouts in a well-organised gym because gyms have all the equipment for doing all kinds of weight training exercises. However, if you prefer to workout at home for personal reasons, you can create your own mini-gym at home with limited equipment and use creativity and exercise substitutions to get your workouts done. To be able to do hundreds of weight lifting exercises, all you’ll need is a simple home setup that includes a variety of dumbbells, a barbell set, a power rack and a fully adjustable bench.
The Importance Of Following A Weight Lifting Routine
To build muscle, you need to stick to following a weight lifting routine, which would typically involve a certain amount of workout days per week. The reason is, building muscle is a cumulative process. Each workout session builds upon the previous session for the muscle to grow stronger and bigger.
When you work the muscle hard enough in a workout session to break down the existing muscle tissue, you have to give that muscle enough time for rest and recovery, but the muscle will also compensate by growing slightly bigger in size as well. As you consistently follow your routine and keep repeating this process, eventually, over time the muscle will get noticeably bigger in size.
Frequency And Duration Of Workout Sessions
It’s recommended to keep your workout sessions within 60 minutes in duration.
The number of workouts you should do per week would depend on the type of training routine you are using, which should fit your body type, specific goals, experience level and personal schedule. There are different types of weight lifting routines. There is the “full body workout routine” that involves working all your muscle groups in each workout session, and there is the “split routine” that involves working different muscle groups on different days of the week.
An important thing to keep in mind is that your muscles don’t grow during your workouts, they grow after your workout sessions when they are properly rested and recovered. Therefore, you must allow sufficient recovery time for your muscles to repair themselves each time you train them. If you don’t allow your muscles to properly recuperate, it could halt your progress, cause you to over train or cause you to get injured.
This is one of the important factors that designers of weight lifting routines must take into consideration. Alternating working the muscle hard with sufficient recovery time is the key principle of lifting weights to build muscle mass. Your aim should be to train hard in each workout for no longer than 60 minutes, then get out of the gym and let your muscles rest, repair and grow.
Weight Lifting Routines: Full Body And Split Routine
As I mentioned above, designers of weight training routines for building muscle must take the work/recovery principle into consideration at all times. So if they are designing a full body workout, where all your major muscle groups get trained in one workout session per day, they would usually allow 2-3 non-consecutive workout days per week.
Here’s An Example Of A Full Body Workout Routine
For split routines, different muscle groups (body parts) will get trained on different days. Due to this, there can be workouts on consecutive days but the routine must allow sufficient recovery time between body parts.
Here’s An Example of A 3 Day Split Routine (Your entire body gets worked over 3 days with different muscle groups getting trained on different workout days)
Monday – Quads, Hamstrings and Calves
Tuesday – Chest, Back and Traps
Wednesday – Off
Thursday – Off
Friday – Shoulders, Triceps and Biceps
Saturday – Off
Sunday – Off
Full body workout routines are usually used mostly by beginners, while intermediates and advanced lifters use body part splits. However, beginners may also use split routines based on their goals. And intermediate and advanced lifters may use full body workouts based on their goals.
Beginners and intermediates usually train three days per week. Advanced trainers usually train four or five days per week with a 1 or 2 body parts per day split routine.
Workout Routine Guidelines For Different Fitness Levels
Beginners: Three workouts per week on nonconsecutive days with a full body workout.
Intermediate: Three or four workouts per week on a 2-day split routine; half the body one day, half the next (each muscle group worked no more than twice per week)
Advanced: Four or five days per week, on a 3-day or 4-day split routine, each muscle group worked once every five to seven days.
Number Of Reps And Sets
A rep (short for repetition) is the raising and lowering of the weight when performing an exercise. And a set is the number of reps you do for an exercise.
The number of reps you use will impact the muscle differently, and it will correlate with the size of the weights you are able to lift. To gain strength without muscle size you’ll want to train with very heavy weights in the 4–6 rep range. For increasing muscle size you have to do more training in the 8–12 rep range with moderate weights. And if you want to stimulate more blood flow or muscular endurance, you will have to do reps in the 15–20 rep range with light weights.
Many weight training programs for building muscle will make you train in multiple rep ranges based on body parts for balanced muscle development in strength and size. The reason weight training programs use ranges for rep prescriptions is to help the user know when it’s time to increase the weight for progressive resistance.
The number of sets per exercise will vary based on the design and primary aim of the program. However, it’s important to do enough work volume in each workout to activate and fatigue enough muscle fibers to trigger maximum growth. The number of sets you do per exercise will also correlate with the duration of your workout session. Therefore, you don’t want to do more sets than necessary to make your workouts too long.
Most weight training programs will use multiple exercises and multiple sets per exercise. Usually, they’ll have two to three exercises for three sets per exercise. However, some programs may use special training methods, so the set, reps and exercise structure may be different than the commonly used guideline.
Performing Your Reps (Tempo and Intensity)
The common advice for rep speed (tempo) is to lift the weight slowly and under control. The general guideline for beginners is to take 2-3 seconds to raise the weight (concentric muscle action) and three to four seconds to lower the weight (eccentric muscle action). The important thing is to lift safely with proper form and induce the right tension on the muscle.
One of the factors that determine the intensity of your training is how hard you push through your last reps in a set under fatigue. If you’ve selected the proper weight size, the last two or three reps in your set should be very difficult to perform. Pushing through these hard reps and reaching the point where you can’t do another rep in the set is called “training to failure”.
It’s important to push through your last reps in a set for maximum muscle fiber tear, but training to failure is a controversial topic in the bodybuilding community. Some people recommend it and some people are against it. However, the truth is, you do not need to train to failure to build muscle effectively. The important thing is to keep lifting heavy weights in the correct range and consistently making progressive overload happen to build muscle.
Performing Your Sets (Rest Intervals)
For every set that you perform, there should be a short rest period before you start another set. This will give you some time to recover from your fatigue from the previous set just enough to perform the next set ahead with enough energy. How long you should rest between sets depends on your specific goals and program design. If your primary aim is to build muscle, it’s typical for rest periods to be 60 seconds.
If you are training a large muscle such as legs, you may need longer rest periods (90–120 seconds) between sets for a good enough recovery. If your primary goal is to gain strength, then you can benefit from extending rest between sets to as long as 3–4 minutes.
On the other hand, if your primary goal is to burn fat with weight training you will benefit by reducing your rest intervals to as little as 20-30 seconds. This approach is called increasing training density, and it increases the energy expenditure of the workout, which will burn more calories. The other benefit is you save time by getting more work done in less time. However, the disadvantage is that short rest intervals limit the amount of weight you can use, so they’re not optimal for maximum strength gains.
Weight Lifting Exercises
There are many different weight training exercises you can use to train each muscle group to build muscle. Some exercises are used to target one specific muscle, they are called isolation exercises. And there are other exercises that are used to target multiple muscle groups which are called compound exercises.
The type of exercises you do will depend a lot on your experience level and goals, and how your program is designed to accommodate your needs. However, the most important exercises include basic movements such as squats, deadlifts, rows, pull-ups and presses. These are the most effective exercises because they are compound, multi-joint movements to build up multiple muscle groups.
Isolation exercises like leg extensions and small muscle group exercises like concentration curls can be a part of any weight training program. They’re especially useful for bodybuilding.
The Progressive Overload Principle
Progressive overload is right up there with a calorie surplus as the most important factors of building muscle mass. When you start training with a certain workload (weights, sets, reps etc.) the muscle will get used to it after a while, so it is no longer effective.
At this point, you must change the stimulus needed to overload the muscle again. The training experience must be greater than what the muscle has experienced before in order for it to grow bigger. You must stick to doing this progressively (progressive overload) until you get the muscle size you are after.
There are many ways to overload a muscle, such as lifting more weights, doing more reps, decreasing rest intervals, slowing rep speed and increasing time under tension. Any type of overload can produce some type of positive impact on the muscle, but the boss of them all is simply adding weight to the bar.
If you are a beginner you should always focus on adding weights to get stronger fast, but you may not be able to increase the weight in each workout. Rep ranges should be used as your guideline for progression. If you are using the 8-12 rep range, you should not continue using the same weight if you are able to do more than twelve reps.
This is a basic guide on lifting weights to build muscle. Hopefully, you’ve learned the fundamental principles of this important aspect of muscle building.