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Saturday August 18, 2018

Maximum Muscle Building Part 1This article is part 1 of a 4 part series which will cover all aspectes of Muscle Building from diet to workout. Be sure to read them all!

Pretty much anyone who's ever picked up a weight has done so with one goal in mind – to build muscle. All of us can remember what first attracted us to bodybuilding, for me it was seeing Arnold on the cover of his book, “Education of a Bodybuilder”. Oh, sure, I dabbled with weights before; we had a Universal setup in my Junior High School gym and my dad had some dumbbells in the basement. Yet the first time I saw Arnold, I was hooked. Ah, but if only I knew then what I know now! Back when I started, everything was “Weider”, you know, all the Weider principles and supplements – the Weider mags led you to believe you could look like Lou Ferrigno by using Weider products and following the “Weider principles”. Steroids? Hadn't heard of them, they were not even mentioned in the mags of that time (1980). I wish I had the kind of information available then that we have today. With that in mind, I have written this series on building muscle. Even with all the valid information available, many, way too many, lifters just do not understand the proper way to go about achieving their goals. A point to be made right now is that this series assumes you are a natural bodybuilder. While I have nothing against steroids or those that use them, I myself have never used them and all my writings are done from a natural standpoint. Having said that, any steroid user can benefit from this series. Steroids mainly allow much faster results and much better recovery but the basics of lifting for size are the basics – they don't change.


Having said all that, let's dive right in to this series!

Many times on the net I see some guy on a forum come up with “lift big and eat big, building muscle ain't rocket science”. Well guess what, that couldn't be more wrong. In fact, training to get the best results is a science and does take quite a bit of thought and planning – if you want to do it right, that is.

This article series will start with some basics and work through to more advanced levels. If you know some of this stuff, bear with me for a while. The first requirement to building muscle is an understanding of some basic concepts.

Are you a beginner, intermediate and advanced bodybuilder?

This is the first question to ask, as any routine you do should be geared to your experience level.

Beginner –a beginner is brand new to training, and hasn't yet achieved any real muscle gains.  In most cases, they are, or should be, focusing on learning proper exercise form, learning basic nutrition and learning proper routines for this stage. Having said that, beginners will make fast progress once they get going because the stimulus of lifting weights is new, the body wants to adapt to this new stress and get back to a state of homeostasis, or balance and to do so, beginners muscles will respond quickly. For me, 6 months of consistent training is an average timeframe to be classified as a beginner.

Intermediate - An intermediate has achieved beginner progress, adding around 10-15 pounds of muscle, possibly more. Intermediate lifters should understand at least the basics of how to eat and train correctly. At this point, gains will slow. On the other side of the coin, often bad habits that have been learned are ingrained and it becomes much harder to learn to do things right unless the lifter realizes this and wants to relearn some things. In this case, 6 months to maybe 2-3 years is typical for an intermediate.

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Advanced - An advanced bodybuilder is at the stage where gains – both strength and muscle - have dramatically decreased. At this level, they are less concerned about trying to add weight to the bar and more concerned with using creative training techniques to stimulate new growth.

While length of time does define these levels, so does understanding what you are doing. You can have a guy that's worked out for years who's never once changed his routine, does everything wrong and has made little progress – he's a “advanced bodybuilder” only by the fact he's exposed his body to a training stimulus for several years. Yet from a knowledge standpoint he's really a beginner, he doesn’t understand how to train. You have to establish a solid foundation of muscle but you also have to establish a foundation of knowledge before you move to more advanced levels.

Realistic Expectations

In this day and age of 265lb behemoths, most lifters tend to set unrealistic goals for themselves, or at the least may not realize that these super huge guys got that way with the help of some very anabolic drug stacks. If you are a natural trainer, you have to lower your expectations to more natural levels, meaning a natural lifter doesn’t usually look like Jay Cutler. There are various charts, calculations and things that will help you determine your optimal natural size and strength. Often they are based on such things as bone size – smaller boned or smaller framed individuals can expect to lift less and weight less than large boned ones, but it's all in relation to your size. While you can find some fairly involved calculations to determine this, here's an easy calculation that makes life much simpler:  to calculate your maximum Lean Body Mass (LBM) - Your LBM is everything in your body besides fat, so it includes your bones, organs, muscle, and blood.

(Your Height in Inches -70) x 5 + 160 = Maximum LBM

In this equation, starting at 160lb you add 5lb for every inch you are over 5’10”, or subtract 5lb for every inch you are below 5’10”. In order to figure out your total weight, just figure out your goal fat weight. For example, if you had an LBM max of 160lb with a goal of 10lb of fat, or 6%, you would have a total body weight of 170lb. The 6% is calculated like this: 10lb of fat divided by 170. Most bodybuilders usually carry more like 12% than 6%. This would have you weighing 182 with 22 lbs. of fat. Now, if you just happen to know your body fat level, this calculation becomes all the easier. This approiach may seem a little confusing to some but trust me, it's an easy formula to use and it's within 10 pounds of the more complicated calculations.

Another,even simpler approach is to take 100 pounds as a baseline and add 10 pounds for every inch over 5 feet.  So if you are 5’10”, as in the above example, using this method you would weigh 190 pounds. This example does not take into account fat weight.  One thing this brings up is the idea of “bulking”. It used to be, way back in the old days; guys would add weight, or “bulk up” - which really meant get fat, by as much as 100 pounds, then diet down hoping to have added a few pounds of new muscle. What a waste! In this day and age, you try to gain lean mass, which means adding very little fat while adding new size. We’ll cover this idea more in the section on nutrition.

Here are some basic strength estimations for easy reference:

 Squats: at least 150% of your bodyweight

 Bent Over Rows: at least 125% of your bodyweight

 Bench Press: the same as bent rows

 Overhead Press: at least 75% of your bodyweight

Muscle Fiber Types

Any complete discussion of building massive muscle has to include muscle fiber types and recruitment. The different fiber types and the rep ranges required to train them are a key part of many routines out there and an understanding of this ensures complete development. Basically, there are three types of fibers:

Type I: Slow Twitch Fibers.

These fibers are slow to contract, they are endurance fibers, and they have limited size/strength capacity. They also contain large and numerous mitochondria which aid in their oxidative metabolism (or, use of oxygen). They also have a greater number of capillaries, which means they are better for nutrient delivery. This is one reason behind "pump" training. They respond best to reps in the 15-20 range. These types of fibers are resistant to fatigue but produce a low level of force output.

Type IIa: Fast Twitch Fibers.

Fast Twitch Fibers are further divided into two categories: type IIa and type IIb.

Fast twitch fibers produce the most muscle strength and have the best growth potential. They are the fibers primarily responsible for muscle size. However, they also have a slower nutrient rate of replenishment due to having a smaller number of capillaries than slow twitch muscle fibers. They seem to respond best to reps in the 6-8 range.

Type IIa:

These fibers promote explosive power for a very limited timeframe. This makes them ideal for weightlifting. These fibers rely heavy on the glycolytic energy system (there are several energy systems that power the body, this one uses the method of anaerobic glycolosis to produce ATP). Type IIa fibers are less resistant to fatigue, produce more muscular force, and contract at a faster speed than slow twitch fibers.

Type IIb:

The type IIb fibers are the fastest twitch fibers but fatigue the fastest. They are responsible for the most power. These fibers are involved in any activity that requires an all-out burst of power; they act for a very short timeframe, typically around 7.5 milliseconds.

Muscle Fiber Recruitment

Muscles produce force by recruiting motor units, or, a group of muscle fibers stimulated by a motor neuron, which in this context can be defined as a neuron that sends impulses from the central nervous system to a muscle in response to training. Regardless of the workout intensity, slow-twitch motor units are recruited first. If the workout intensity is low, these motor units could be the only ones recruited. If the workout intensity is high, such as when lifting heavy weights or using intensity techniques, slow- twitch motor units are recruited first, followed as needed by fast-twitch IIa and fast- twitch IIb.

Inside the Muscle Cell

Now, let's look at the three major components that make up a muscle cell (or fiber):

  1. Myofibril: which accounts for about 20-30 percent of the cell size.
  2. Mitochondria: which accounts for 15-25 percent of the cell size.
  3. Sarcoplasm: which accounts for 20-30 percent of the cell size.

The remainder of each muscle cell is made up of capillaries, connective tissue, fat deposits, glycogen and other subcelluar substances.


muscle fiber typesThe myofibril allows the muscle to sustain a maximum contraction for maximum power and strength; they are actually the fast twitch fibers. The use of fast, explosive reps in the range of 6-8 stimulates the myofibril to grow. This combination of explosive reps and a 6-8 rep range is a good combination for size and strength gains in the myofibril.


The mitochondria, when developed, increases the endurance qualities of the muscle cell by bringing in more blood and oxygen.


Sarcoplasm is a protein liquid substance that saturates and surrounds all of the components in a muscle cell. They basically bathe the myofibril with nutrients such as oxygen, water, amino acids, glucose and creatine.

Sarcoplasm increases in proportion to increases in the myofibril and mitochondria.

Muscle Growth (Hypertrophy) theories:

•           Hypertrophy – Hypertrophy can be defined as the process of increasing muscle cell size through the use of resistance training. There are typically two theories of muscle growth: sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar.

•           Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy – Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy can be defined as an increase in the muscle cell’s sarcoplasmic fluid without an accompanying increase in strength. Typical terms you will see that refer to this are “cell expansion” and “cell volumization", this is the premise for quite a bit of supplements currently available and the entire pre-workout category of supplements, as well as the sarcoplasmic muscle growth theory actually means causing the sarcoplasm to swell beyond normal. The muscle is then signaled to grow because of all the nutrients available to help cause this effect. This is training for the “pump”.

•           Myofibrillar Hypertrophy -Myofibrillar hypertrophy can be defined as a cellular increase in the contractile proteins actin and myosin, resulting in size and strength increases. It can be said that sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar hypertrophy don't really occur independently. A complete training routine takes these two theories into account.

So to recap, in this section we’ve seen the different muscle fiber types, the components of a muscle cell and the primary muscle growth theories. Each of these impacts your training and dictates how you approach workout design. So we see that building muscle is a little more involved than simply “train, eat sleep”.


The Importance of Progression

One of the primary keys to progress is progressive overload. Simply put, you have to make ongoing, consistent progress in your training sessions. For your first several years, that will mean adding weight to the bar, typically when you hit a target rep total for two workouts in a row, you add 5-10 pounds, depending on the exercise. One other way is to add weight every workout in small increments – like 2.5 pounds - stopping only if you can't hit your reps.  While you may see some controversy to this – and if you're new you'll see a little controversy to pretty much everything – increasing strength means increasing muscle size. A stronger muscle is a bigger muscle. This is how your body adapts to the overload demands that are placed on it. However, you can only get so strong and after a while you'll need to look to other ways to keep progression in your workouts. Here are some common ways to keep progression:

add weight consistently

do more work in the same time

do the same work in less time

increased intensity of effort

Now, having said that, most lifters train to get stronger for years.  However, for complete muscle development, several factors come into play.      

Most advanced lifters understand that strength, varying rep ranges, time under tension and intensity all factor in to ultimate muscle size. Factor in to that the fact that your body adapts to any new routine within a few weeks and variety becomes critical. Rep range variations target different muscle fiber types, promote the “burn” - a key requirement for natural GH release, and promote the pump, the foundation for the sarcoplasmic theory of muscle growth talked about above. Intensity techniques carry those two thoughts farther and insure your muscles are working hard enough to promote growth. Often, as you hit strength ceilings, the alternative to increasing weight is to make the set harder instead of heavier. Training to failure comes into play and I do advocate the at least sometime use of going to and even beyond failure on some sets. Time under tension is a theory that is not completely accepted but dictates that the longer your muscles are under tension, the more fibers are recruited and the more potential for growth. The approach of extended sets really brings this theory into play so it's covered whether you support it or not. Hormonal manipulation is also one of the keys to muscle growth. As indicated above, GH release can be affected by the use of rep ranges and intensity techniques that promote the burn. Exercise selection comes into play and this is where it ties into testosterone production. The use of the big basics promotes increased testosterone production, the whole body must come into play to impact natural hormone production. I list the best exercises for this below.

 So as you advance or if you are reading this and are beyond the beginner stage, I advocate a routine that uses mostly compound movements, maintains a core strength base using 4-6 reps, with some higher rep “bodybuilding” sets and the use of a rotating exercise approach as well as the rotating use of extended set techniques. This satisfies all aspects of muscle growth: weight progression, varying rep ranges, intensity, hormonal manipulation and variety.

Exercise Selection                                                                                                          

Arnold at squat rackGiven the need for consistent strength increases, exercise choice becomes important. Compound or basic exercises are the best for building muscle quickly. These are multi joint exercises such as squats, deadlifts and bench presses. The reason working these as opposed to exercises that isolate a muscle is that you can handle much more weight, you bring into play many more muscles and you're working the body functionally. Think about it, when you perform a task, such as lifting a 35lb bag of dog food; several muscles come into play and work as a unit to get the job done. Compound exercises affect overall growth and give you the biggest bang for your buck. One other critical aspect, especially for natural bodybuilders, of using compound exercises is the effect they have on your body's natural anabolic hormone output. As mentioned above,these types of exercises cause significant increases in hormone levels thereby promoting quicker muscle growth.

Here's a list of the most effective compound exercises:

Squats – typically considered the single most important exercise you can do, it incorporates some 200 muscles and even though it's mainly a lower body exercise, it's been said that squats can cause a 10% increase in upper body growth.

Deadlifts – sometimes considered superior or at least as good as squats, deads affect the entire body as well.

Power Cleans – the great forgotten movement. A whole body movement that, in my mind, is right there with squats and deads but a difficult movement to master and an extremely taxing exercise.

Bench Press – the “King of Upper Body Exercises” - a great chest, deltoid and tricep movement. We've all heard the “how much can ya bench?” mantra. In this case, when looking at chest development, the upper chest should not be overlooked and that does happen often because too many lifters focus solely on the flat bench press.

Overhead Press – a great upper body mass builder that primarily hits the deltoids.

Bent Rows – a great back, bicep and rear deltoid exercise.

Chins – a great pulling movement that hits the back and arms

Dips – an excellent pushing movement, you can target more of the chest on this, or less chest and more triceps.

These movements make a great foundation for anyone looking to build muscle quickly. Typically, there are variations on these; I'll include many of the variations in the routines section.

This section has covered a lot of ground. In upcoming sections, we will look at nutrition, supplementation. The next section will cover routines as well as recovery, set totals, rep performance and training frequency.

Articles in the Anabolic Surge Series

1. The Anabolic Surge Series – Building Maximum Muscle

2. The Anabolic Surge Series - The Workouts

3. Building Maximum Muscle Nutrition

4. Building Maximum Muscle – Supplementation

Strength and Training Expert Jim Brewster

Thanks for reading, Jim Brewster

Visit my website:

Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with questions or comments.


0 #1 DrewBear 2012-08-19 14:54
Good article can't wait for 2,3,4. Good basics covered, though that equation of max LBM tells me I am just 1 pound away from "maxing out" haha we shall see.

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