Beginners Guide to Building Muscle

I’ve been lifting weights so long I sometimes forget that I had a ‘Day One’ when I knew absolutely nothing about how to build muscle. When I was 14 years old, I was over 6 feet tall, but only weighed 135 pounds. My upper arms were the same size as my wrist, and my thighs were not much bigger than my ankles. I was aware that I was skinny and I was very self-conscience about it. I decided I wanted to start lifting weights. My dad bought me a simple ‘Weider’ home weight set and Arnold’s ‘Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding’ (which I still have today). This was all before the internet so I read books and viewed diagrams to figure out the basics. I clearly remember struggling to bench press the standard bar. Despite how difficult it was, I was determined and I never quit. I ended up slowly building muscle and getting stronger. After a year I gained a significant amount of muscle and felt great. I even wrote in to Flex Magazine and they ended up publishing a short paragraph and photo of me at age 15. This started my lifelong passion for fitness. Over the years I’ve learned a few things, but the basics always work. If you are completely new to weight lifting and building muscle, here is a guide and the information that will help you on your way.

Nutrition: This is often the most difficult area for people to understand. I had no problem eating enough food to build muscle when I was younger. I learned much later in life how eat properly nutrition-wise without gaining a lot of body fat as well. More important than muscle is our overall health. While we do need to bring in calories to build muscle, we should look to more natural healthy foods. We all have what’s called a calorie ‘maintenance’ level. This is how many calories we need to bring in daily for things to remain the same. When working to build muscle we need to bring in a ‘surplus’ of calories so our bodies can repair and build damaged muscles after exercise. Our calories come from the macro-nutrients founds in foods: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Not only do we need more calories to build muscle, but we also need the correct percentages of macro nutrients. Here is a basic way to figure out how many calories and macro-nutrients you need to get started. If you have any medical conditions refer to your doctor first. This guideline is for healthy adults with no medical restrictions.

Muscle building macro-nutrient recommendations (and following workout guide below):

Example: 200lb person
Protein: 200lb x 1.5g= 300 grams of protein
Fat: 200lb x 0.65g= 130 grams of fat
Carbs: 200lb x 2.0g= 400 grams of carbs

Note: This breaks down essentially to 30% protein, 30% fats, and 40% carbs.

Calculating macros:

Example: 200lb person
Protein: 200lb x 1.5g= 300 grams of protein
Fat: 200lb x 0.65g= 130 grams of fat
Carbs: 200lb x 2.0g= 400 grams of carbs

Calculating calories:

Protein: 1 gram= 4 calories
Fat: 1 gram= 9 calories
Carbs: 1 gram= 4 calories

Protein: 300g x 4 calories= 1,200 calories
Fat: 130g x 9 calories= 1,170 calories
Carbs: 400g x 4 calories= 1,600 calories
Total= 3,970 calories per day

Food Sources:

It is best to get your nutrition from natural sources instead of processed, packaged, and boxed foods. Here is a short list of examples.

Protein: Eggs, low fat cottage cheese, low fat Greek yogurt, chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef.

Fats: Avocado, cheese, eggs, oily fish, nuts.

Carbs: Sweet potato, potato, rice, oats, quinoa, whole grains.

Obviously, there are many more food choices than what is listed here. Foods vary depending on where you live. I understand some may be vegetarian. It is possible to build muscle without eating meat. The challenge is getting enough protein and not spiking carbs and fats. Vegetarians should still follow the macronutrient/calorie breakdown listed above, but eat the food that fits your diet. You may want to consider using an app like ‘My Fitness Pal’ that helps you track your daily calories and macronutrients.

Hydration:

Drinking plenty of water is important for everyone regardless if you are lifting weights or not. If you are trying to build muscle it is even more important. Water helps form protein, give muscles strength by supplying electrolytes, and lubricate joints. The National Academy of Medicine recommends the average adult male take in 3.7 liters (15 cups) and females 2.7 liters (11 cups). This also includes water consumed in foods. I don’t feel one has to measure out their daily water. Keep it simple and just drink water throughout the day especially before, during, and after workouts.

Supplementation:

People often ask me which supplement they should take. My response is always, “How is your nutrition and workouts?”. One doesn’t absolutely need supplements to get results. The right supplements can help, but only if one is eating correctly and training with intensity. I frequently say, “Extraordinary lifestyle requires extraordinary nutritional support”. While there is an endless supply of supplements out in the world focus on the ones that can make a difference and won’t compromise your health. Look for products that have ingredients fully disclosed, third-party tested, no artificial colors and flavor. Avoid products with the phrase “proprietary blend”. When building muscle stick with the tried and true basics that have been researched for decades

Whey Protein: One scoop should provide 20-25g of protein with only trace fat and carbs. This is ideal to take immediately after lifting weights for recovery. It can also be used between meals to help get your protein count up for the day.

Creatine Monohydrate: This has been around for several decades. It is one of the worlds most tested supplements with a high safety profile. It’s also very inexpensive. Creatine is naturally found in muscle cells and helps produce energy when lifting. Supplementing with creatine gives our muscles more energy and helps muscle gain in a multitude of ways including: increased cell hydration, reduce protein breakdown, and muscle repair. Take as directed. Often it is recommended to take 20 grams the first 5 days (5g four times a day) and then 5 grams daily. I typically get an unflavored creatine and mix 5g with my post workout whey protein shake.

Mass gainer: These can be beneficial for those who have a problem eating enough calories to build muscle. I recommend making your own high calorie blended drink using 2 scoops of whey protein, 2 cups of milk, half cup of oats, 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter, 1 banana, and 2-3 cups ice.

Weight Lifting Basics: Lifting weights with intensity basically damages muscle fibers and with proper nutrition and recovery they build back bigger and stronger.

Terms

Rep: Doing an exercise one time. Performing one biceps curl would be one repetition. In general, for muscle building the majority of reps should be in the 6-12 range. Going lower and higher occasionally is fine.

Set: A series of repetitions one after another without rest. Doing 10 reps of biceps curls and then resting would be one set.

Split: This refers to when you work specific muscles throughout the week. There is no one way to do this. Some people lift weights three, four, five, or six times a week. A few examples of popular splits include:

Three Day:
Monday: Full Body (Legs, Chest, Back)
Wednesday: Full Body (Back, Legs, Chest)
Friday: Full Body (Chest, Back, Legs)

Four Day:
Monday: Lower Body
Tuesday: Upper Body
Thursday: Lower Body
Friday: Upper Body

Six Day:
Monday: Legs
Tuesday: Chest, Delts, Triceps
Wednesday: Back, Biceps, Rear Delts
Thursday: Legs
Friday: Chest, Delts, Triceps
Saturday: Back, Biceps, Rear Delts

Note: The most important workout and split you can do is one that you can do consistently. Abs can be worked 2-3 times weekly with rest days between sessions.

Hypertrophy: Increasing the size of muscle tissue through weight lifting.

Concentric: The lifting portion of a movement. This is when the muscle shortens in length.

Eccentric: Also called negatives. This is the lowering of weights. The muscle lengthens during this portion of a lift. Take advantage of these as research has shown that great strength and muscle can be built during this phase of a movement. Do these slowly with control.

Lifting Guidelines:

Journal: I highly recommend keeping a lifting journal noting the day, workout, exercises, sets, reps, and weights used. Be as detailed as possible. This allows you to be progressive over time with workouts. Mine typically follows this format:

Date, Body part:

  1. Exercise: reps/weight reps/weight reps/weight
  2. Exercise: reps/weight reps/weight reps/weight

Sleeping: Do your best to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. You will be working hard and putting a big strain on your body. The recovery process is when muscles grow so it’s as important as the lifting.

Warming up: It’s always a good idea to warm up before lifting weights. I will typically jog, ride a stationary bike, or jump on a rowing machine for 5-10 minutes before lifting followed by light stretching.

Stretching: Stretching for a few minutes after your warm up is also a good idea especially before working your legs or back. I definitely spend time on my lower back and hamstrings. It’s not a bad ideal to do shoulder ‘mobility’ work before a heavy Chest or Shoulder session.

Breathing: You should exhale while exerting force and inhale while performing the negative (lowering of weight).

Lifting to failure: This means to do as many reps as possible with strict form until you cannot do another rep. Always ask yourself if your form is correct. Are you isolating the muscle you are working? Most importantly be safe!

Exercise Form: Do exercises with proper form not only to be safe, but to get the most out of your sessions. Concentrate on feeling the muscle stretch and flex on every rep. Take the time to study movements online if you are unsure of how to execute them. Getting the most out of exercises is a life long journey. Always be willing to learn more.

Sample Muscle Building Workout

6 Day Split

Day 1: Legs

  1. Squats: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  2. Lunges: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  3. Leg Extensions: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  4. Lying Leg Curls: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  5. Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  6. Standing Calf Raises: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  7. Seated Calf Raises: 3 sets of 10-12 reps

Day 2: Chest, Deltoids, Triceps

  1. Incline Barbell Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  2. Flat DB Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  3. Incline DB Fly: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  4. Military Press: 4 sets of 10-12 reps
  5. Side Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  6. Lying Triceps Extension: 4 sets of 10-12 reps
  7. Triceps Pushdown: 3 sets of 10-12 reps

Day 3: Back, Biceps, Rear Deltoids

  1. Wide Chins or Pulldowns: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  2. Bent Over Barbell Rows: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  3. Deadlift: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  4. Barbell Curls: 4 sets of 10-12 reps
  5. Incline DB Curls: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  6. Face Pulls: 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Days 4-6 repeat days 1-3

Note: Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps each and use a slightly heavier load.

Day 7: Rest

Closing

This information just scratches the surface on the subject of building muscle. There is no one way to develop your best physique. One has to find what methods work best for them by trying and learning new things. This guide just covers the basics and will get you started on your own journey. There are no short cuts to building a mighty physique. It will take hard work and often times be difficult. Those who are relentless and consistent will see results. I have numerous detailed programs (free and premium) for building muscle or cutting on my WittigWorks.com.

Annihilate to Motivate,

Michael Wittig, ISSA CPT
IPE Natural Pro 3x Champ
Fitmark Athlete
All socials: @WittigWorks
WittigWorks.com

 

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