Build muscle fast with these top tips for maximizing muscle growth.
There are many ways you can make your muscles grow. From proper form to drop sets, we go a little deeper than your typical "bro science." Whether you are training for strength or training to build muscle, these methods with work all the same. All aboard the gain train!
Building muscle explained.
I’m assuming the commonly accepted advice of 8-12 repetitions for muscle growth stems from many different scenarios, but most resemble this format:
During a personal training session or in a personalized training plan, the client states they want to build muscle.
The client is simply told to do X amount of repetitions for muscle growth without having the underlying information as to WHY they are supposed to do this amount.
When the client is under the direct supervision and control of an experienced trainer, what the client doesn’t realize is how many other factors of the training session the trainer is controlling (sets, repetitions, time under tension, rest, etc.).
If you are simply looking to be told “Do this,” to get results then there is nothing wrong with that. Pay a good trainer, get results, and the world keeps turning.
The science behind fitness is deep and difficult to understand, which is why we pay people to train us, so we don’t have to do all the studying ourselves.
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For the most part, if you hit the gym and complete 8-12 repetitions per set you will likely see muscle growth as a result.
I will caveat this by saying it depends on your current level of conditioning.
Someone who comes from a completely sedentary lifestyle is bound to see improvements in muscle size, tone, condition, overall body composition, etc. almost no matter what they do, if it’s more than what their previous lifestyle allotted.
However, if you are a tenant of the weight room you may need some more finely tuned adjustments to your training plan to fine tune your results.
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Another common tip I’d like to address is “To build muscle you need to do less weight and more reps,” or something similar.
While this is true, I want to make sure you are viewing the statement from the correct perspective. If I were to ask you, “What is a normal amount of repetitions,” what would you say?
Most people say somewhere around 10-12 repetitions, and this was exactly my perspective too.
If 10-12 repetitions are the norm, when your gym bro tells you to do “Less weight and more reps,” you are now going to lower the weight you were previously using and begin performing 15 or more repetitions.
Now let’s look at the appropriate amount of repetitions for different goals. Look at the Hypertrophy training for increasing muscle size.
Type of Training
Increase Muscular Power
Increase Muscular Strength
Increase Muscular Size
Increase Muscular Endurance
Your perception of a normal amount of repetitions is already in the range for hypertrophy.
So, when you’re told to do “less weight, more reps” you now move into an endurance type of training where little to no muscle will be grown, it will simply be conditioned.
Now let’s talk a bit about weight. A common problem is using too much weight, which can result is injuries and can be very dangerous.
Another common problem that isn’t as widely address is not using enough weight. I see this all too often in the gym.
Take the scenario described above. You normally perform 10-12 repetitions, but not to failure. You simply pick a weight, rep it out, and put it down. It might burn a little, and you might get tired, but it’s not all that challenging.
Then you hear “less weight, more reps” for muscle growth. You now begin using even less weight than before (a weight that wasn’t challenging enough in the first place to induce growth and change) and start doing more reps.
Now you’re doing an even more inaccurate amount of weight at an even more inaccurate rep count. You’re now caught in a wild goose chase and you won’t get the results you desire.
TUT stands for “Time Under Tension.” For maximum muscle growth, the goal is time under tension or a certain amount of time under tension, not necessarily a certain amount of repetitions.
We use a rep count as an easier method of gauging the amount of time we accumulate under tension. But you must follow a few guidelines for it to work.
Muscle is grown more-so on the eccentric motion (the lowering of the weight). This means more focus should be given to the lowering of the weight (while the muscle is under keyword: TENSION!) rather than the actual lifting of the weight on every repetition.
Use a slow, controlled lowering of the weight and a sudden, explosive raising of the weight. This is the ideal strength curve.
Finally, the repetition goal for hypertrophy (growth) is 6-12 repetitions. But it can’t be just any old set of 6-12 repetitions. You must reach muscle FAILURE, or close to it, within that range.
With all the above put into action, THEN it’s as simple as making 6-12 repetitions your goal for maximum muscle growth.
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TUT stands for “Time Under Tension.” For muscle growth, the goal is time under tension or a certain amount of time under tension, not necessarily a certain amount of repetitions.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY! Be consistent with the above guidelines. If you pay attention, you may find some holes in your training, if you are not getting your desired results (if you don’t hold unrealistic expectations).
Don't count on motivation, count of DISCIPLINE!
You may find you need a shorter or longer rest period between sets, or you may need to challenge your muscles with more weight, so you begin to fail at the lower limits of the hypertrophy repetition range. Just be consistent and adjust as needed.
Apply these tips while training to maximize your muscle growth:
- Increase Time Under Tension – Our number one tip for increase muscle gains are to increase your time under tension. Focus more on lowering the weight slowly to increase the amount of time your muscles are under maximum tension.
To MAXIMIZE time under tension, train with our premium quality resistance bands!Pro Tip: Try counting reps on the down instead of on the up to help ingrain this concept.
- Reach Muscle Failure Every Time – Tip number 2 to maximize muscle growth is to reach muscle failure. The only way a repetition range prescription works is if you fail within that range.
Reaching muscle failure means you are place adequate stress to your muscles to induce change and growth. Perform 6-12 repetitions in this manner to increase muscle size.
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
- Don’t Let the Fire Die – Tip number 3 to maximize muscle growth is decrease rest times. The burn you feel when you lift weights is the build up of lactic acid.
A good rest period between sets is usually around 30-90 seconds. However, if you rest so long between sets that you can no longer feel a little of the burn from the previous set you could be resting too long.
Pro Tip: Use a timer on your phone or on your watch to time your rest periods. This will hold you accountable and keep you moving at an appropriate pace.
- Find Your 1 Rep Max (1RM) – Tip number 4 to maximize muscle growth is to train based on your one repetition maximum.
The best way to aid in your weight selection is to aim for 60%-80% of your 1RM. This weight should force you into the hypertrophy rep range, only allowing you to complete 6-12 reps.
If you can get more than 12 reps, add some weight and conversely if you are struggling to hit the low range of hypertrophy you may need to drop to 50% of your 1RM.
The end goal however should be that 60%-80% range.
- Rest Pause Sets – Our fifth tip to maximize muscle growth is utilize rest pause sets.
Another way to REALLY challenge yourself is to use a method called rest pause. After you reach failure, rack the weight and take about a 10-20 second break, then perform another few repetitions to failure.
This will really spark some growth as your muscles will want to adapt to this new load and stress you are putting on your muscles.
Negative Repetitions – Tip number 6 to maximize muscle growth is to incorporate more negative repetitions.There are a couple ways you can incorporate the benefits of negative reps into your training.
The majority of muscle growth happens during the eccentric motion of the exercise, or the stretching of the muscle.
Method 1: At the end of your set when you’ve reached failure and cannot raise the weight on your own (and ONLY when you cannot raise the weight on your own) have a spotter lift the weight up for you;
OR “cheat” the weight back to the top of the repetition. Then focus on lowering the weight very slowly, taking anywhere from 4-6 seconds to lower into the bottom of the rep.
Do this as many times as you can until you can no longer safely and slowly lower the weight.
When “cheating” to get the weight back to the top of the rep, do so safely. Also, try to squeeze and hold the weight after cheating back to the top.
If you are to the point where you can no longer squeeze and hold the weight at the top or control the weight down it may be time to stop.
Method 2: Utilize the safety equipment around you to allow yourself to safely dump the weight onto a rack (if necessary, like on bench press when you are under the weight).
Once you reach failure and cannot lift the weight on your own, dump the weight onto the safety catch and quickly move to a position from which you can lift the weight back onto the start rack.
For example, on bench press I set the side bar safety racks in a position which will allow me to reach my full range of motion but will also keep the weight from crushing me if something went wrong.
When I reach my point of failure, I will dump the weight onto the safety rack, get out from under the bar, stand over top of the bar and basically deadlift/high pull the weight back onto the starting rack.
I then get right back underneath the bar and conduct a long, negative rep. I repeat this as much as I can.
Pro Tip: Utilize this technique of negative repetitions to reach the hypertrophy range of reps after you have reached failure. This may allow you to add a little more weight, causing you to fail just short of the hypertrophy range. You can then perform negative reps using any of the methods described above to take you into the prescribe range. (i.e. 4 regular reps with no help + 4 negative reps = 8 reps total)
- Form is King – Tip number 7 to maximize muscle growth is to focus on your form.
There’s nothing more cringe worthy than seeing horrible form on an exercise, especially when there is a large amount of weight attached. Bad form can lead to long last injuries.
So PLEASE, take the time to learn the proper form on every exercise you perform. Learn to flex the muscles involved.
If you cannot properly flex the muscle on command while staring at yourself in the mirror you will not be able to properly flex the muscle during the repetition which will lead to many things including lost gains.
Pro Tip: Don’t be weird about it, don’t over exaggerate, and don’t look for attention while doing it…but practice flexing the muscles involved in your current exercise. Also, practice the motion of the exercise with an added focus on flexing the involved muscles at the top of the lift. Do these small drills between your sets. If you look at this as a sport and yourself as an athlete, you will find yourself practicing these little things more often. Professional athletes don’t just show up on game day and play. They have focused, systemic practice all season long. Apply this principle and you may find yourself making gains in size and strength just from increased skill level on a lift, not just from gains in muscle size/strength.
- Avoid Pausing at the Top of the Rep – Tip number 8 to maximize muscle growth is to stop resting at the top of the movement.
Since the goal is to keep your muscles under tension, you want to avoid pausing at the top of the rep at all costs.
This is typically the easiest part of the exercise. Now if I’m being real with you, I from time to time will find myself pausing momentarily at the top of a lift before hitting my final rep or two.
But it is only for a second to give myself a chance to take a big breath and prepare for the pain I’m about to feel. However, do not make a habit of this. You do not want to pause in between every rep is the point I want to emphasize.
- Two Words…..DROP SETS! Our ninth tip to maximize muscle growth is to use the hell out of drop sets.
Few things spark muscle growth through hypertrophy training like drop sets.
Drop sets are often called other catchy names like running the rack, buffet training, strip offs, or Steve's favorite, trough feeding (looking at the rack of dumbbells like a food trough, you're a manimal, and you're about to eat).
The premise is simple, start by selecting a weight that you can do 10-12 good reps with.
The 11th and 12th reps should be significantly hard to the point that the 13th is not doable.
At this point you would drop to a lighter weight and go for another 10-12 reps, repeating this until you reach true muscle failure.
This can be done in a multitude of ways to include dropping by a certain 15% of weight (this could look like starting with 225lbs on bench press for set 1, dropping to 200lbs for set 2, and ultimately to 170lbs for the third set, if you dropped by 12% each set) or simply going down the dumbbell rack in a buffet style way (decreasing 5lbs per set).
Machines are one of the easiest to do this with because they require the least amount of work, just simply removing and reinserting the pin.
Also, to follow the trough feeding mentality, standing in front of a rack of dumbbells is another great way to do drop sets. (Just don't be that guy who stands right on top of the rack so nobody else can get by you, or get other dumbbells. Always be courteous and exhibit basic gym etiquette.)
While all of the methods listed are sure to add size through hypertrophy training, none will get you as close to ultimate muscle failure as drop sets!
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