Serious muscle size is one of the most sought-after goals for men and women looking to maximize their physique.
And it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish this goal in addition to lots and lots of knowledge as well.
But we’d all have to agree that the effort is well worth it because an impressive physique never goes unnoticed and it definitely commands respect from the same-sex while attracting the opposite.
So, we have 6 tips to make note of to ensure you build that Herculean physique without spinning your wheels…
1. Compounds Are King
There’s nothing wrong with isolating a muscle to stimulate it a bit more directly aside from your heavy compound exercises. Heck, these single-joint exercises are even recommended for bringing up a lagging muscle.
But if you want the best bang for your buck then focus on the deadlift, squat (back or front squat), overhead press of some sort, bench press, dip, and pull-up/chin-up.
Why are these movements superior?…
Well, multi-joint exercises using a barbell and weighted belt (dips and pull-ups/chin-ups) especially, allow you to train as heavy as possible which obviously builds maximum strength.
And there’s more than enough evidence to prove that strength = size which is quite obvious to be honest because you’ll never see a jacked individual who can’t lift some decent weight.
Although, it’s not always about the weight (we just had to point this out for certain individuals) when it comes to building your physique because you still have to force growth into the muscle with proper technique (allowing the muscle to move the weight).
Progressive overload should be implemented on a weekly basis (whether through weight or reps but you need a mix of both) and barbell (and weighted belt) compounds allow you to do this more effectively because you can add weight in 2.5-pound increments as opposed to 5 pounds with dumbbells.
And to elaborate more on progressing through doing more reps as opposed to just doing lower rep-training; recent research shows that higher reps (25-35) with lighter loads elicits similar hypertrophy (muscle growth) gains to lower reps (8-12) with heavier loads but only when repetitions are taken to failure. (1)
The same study also noted that low-rep, higher load training is superior for strength which no one could argue. But a mixture of rep ranges is always recommended.
So, keep reps relatively low for the purpose of building strength but don’t be afraid to get up to the 15-20 rep range either. And remember to take your reps to failure.
2. Don’t Skip Traps
The trapezius muscle which is located on the upper back near the shoulders (base of the occipital region of the skull) is one of the main muscles that is synonymous with having an intimidating and powerful appearance.
You’ve probably seen bodybuilders, football players, and strength athletes with these mountains on either side of their necks and you’d have to agree that when developed, heads are going to turn.
But so often, gym-goers and even many athletes forgo training this muscle directly.
Now, the traps play a big role in shoulder and neck movements. So obviously, this muscle should be worked just like any muscle to avoid imbalance.
However, the traps are involved in a lot of compound movements (e.g. deadlift, back work, overhead press, etc.) so whether or not they need direct isolation for additional functional benefits is debatable.
But throwing in heavy shrugs along with your main lifts should be sufficient for optimal trap development.
3. Eat Like You Want To Get Big!
If you haven’t reached your maximum muscular potential (that is if you believe in such a thing) and have remained the same size for an entire year or even six months (unintentionally), then you’re not eating enough.
Now, we’re not saying that you should pig out and gain a pound a week unless you’re an absolute novice who should be taking advantage of noob gains.
But if the scale has read the same (or less) for 6 months to a year, then you’re going to need to add some more calories to your entire day of eating, or enough to where you’re gaining at least a few solid pounds of muscle within this timeframe depending on your experience.
Although, there are some exceptions like if you’re…
- Recomping (gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time which is common for beginners, overweight individuals, or people who haven’t trained in a while).
- Losing fat and maintaining muscle which will make you appear bigger.
But for everyone else, all it takes is a few hundred extra calories every day to build muscle and limit fat gain unless you are bulking in an effort to put on as much muscle as you possibly can in a reasonable amount of time (a little body fat, in this case, is inevitable).
But you definitely want to choose the right foods because if you’ve ever heard the saying “you are what you eat”… well, it’s true.
So, make sure you’re getting in your protein, carbs, and fats from healthy food sources to support muscle growth and to sustain your daily activities.
Check out our macro calculator to determine your needs for the goal of gaining muscle.
Ok, so we can give you advice until our fingers fall off from typing but we’d like to just bring up the fact that a few common reasons why a lot of people can never seem to progress in their training or nutritional goals is because they either simply don’t keep track of their progress, often resulting in doing the same thing over and over again, or they lack the discipline to make gains.
It takes hard work and pushing yourself more and more to force the body to change.
So, it’s time to make your mind up… stay where you are or be committed.
Here’s our calorie calculator to get a good estimate of how many calories you need to gain muscle if you’ve plateaued.
4. Don’t Be Afraid To Bulk
Yes, this piece of advice could tie into the above tip but we wanted to talk specifically about bulking.
Before we further let us first say that bulking is certainly not for everyone.
Some people prefer to stay lean, others don’t mind if the muscle-building process takes longer, and/or it’s not ideal for those with certain health issues which is completely understandable.
But for the person who is healthy, desires to pack on as much muscle as their body will allow, and doesn’t mind getting up to 20% body fat, then bulking is a very effective way to achieve your best gains in the shortest amount of time possible.
And that doesn’t mean you should dirty bulk and gain a pound or two every week (not what we’re saying at all).
Oftentimes, this is just an excuse for someone to pig out any chance they get. Although, some people can really benefit greatly from it and gain even more muscle than a slow, clean bulk although we simply won’t recommend going dirty for most people.
But, if you’re in a small surplus of calories with an acceptable macro ratio and train your butt off in the gym several days a week with enough intensity and a decent amount of volume, you’ll be on your way to looking like a pure beast.
And during the bulking process, you’ll eventually stop progressing so this is where you’ll need to add even more calories.
Eventually, your sleeves will stretch to their max and you’ll just look much bigger and more intimidating as a result.
Now, we’d like to note that yes, you can build muscle without a caloric surplus. But… your gains will take much longer if you’re ok with that.
However, bulking (whether clean or dirty) is truly the best way to reach your potential faster.
5. Do Your Accessories/Assistance Work
Accessory exercises are very important for your overall progress because you need every advantage and benefit that you can get from your training.
These movements not only help to improve your big lifts but you also want to make sure you’re preventing and taking care of imbalances while also training for maximum function.
It’s easy to neglect the little details but it’s in your best interest not to.
Ok, here are a few good accessory movements…
We’re big advocates of the face pull because it’s an amazing exercise for training your upper posterior chain and preventing/correcting imbalances.
We often talk about how there’s more pushing than pulling in addition to bad form in many routines but this can cause issues if not realized and tended to.
Well, the face pull is a must-have exercise for training proper posture and strengthening the muscles of the upper back.
Core and full-body stability is required for performing at your max with any lift or physical activity.
Well, the pallof press is one of the best exercises we could possibly do for improving this area of function and there are many great variations which target helps to develop stability against rotation, lateral flexion, and extension.
This exercise also teaches how to maintain scapular retraction which is very valuable when performing any big lift.
The Pendlay row is a great exercise for explosive concentric strength and it’ll really help to develop more back strength for the deadlift.
The benefit comes from not being able to use momentum and you won’t get as much of the eccentric (stretch) component.
So, you’ll perform a normal bent-over row and drop the weight to the floor for a second before resetting and then performing another repetition.
The glute bridge is one of the best posterior chain exercises out there. It involves either lying on the ground or elevating your torso on a bench and using your hips to thrust the weight upward.
You can really add weight to this movement to build your glute muscles (because who doesn’t want a nice butt?), and there are plenty of great variations using both your bodyweight and additional resistance.
Close-grip bench press
The close-grip bench press aims to strengthen and build the triceps. It’ll carry over into your bench press, overhead press, and other tricep work. Plus, if you really want to pack on the size to your triceps (which make up 2/3 of upper arm mass), then this should be a staple.
Pause reps/dead stop exercises
When you come to a pause during any exercise, you’re allowing your muscles to reset so that you can continue by engaging all muscles involved in an explosive and powerful manner.
You won’t be able to use a lot of weight but you’ll sure as heck improve your concentric strength and efficiency. So, for example, if doing a pull-up, you’ll pause for a second or so during the dead hang. This will allow you to gather the involved muscle groups to power through the movement using pure concentric strength.
Check out these 6 must-have dead stop exercises for improving performance.
6. Lean Out
If you have a decent base of muscle and carry a little extra body fat then losing some of that top layer will not only make you look more fit but you’ll look bigger even if you’re actually not.
That’s because well-developed muscles combined with low body fat will create an illusion (almost 3D-like) in addition to increased vascularity that will make you stand out big time from the general population.
How low can you go?…
Well, if we’re talking about body fat percentage then 10% (for men) is a pretty good number for increasing vascularity while down to 6% is getting very low and you probably wouldn’t want to go any lower.
But even 12-13% will allow your muscles to pop and not everyone wants to get to 10% or below.
The number for acceptable body fat range in women (unless competing) will be a little higher like 16% and anything around 10% (although there are exceptions).
Well, that’s all we have for you at the moment but we feel that our 6 tips are valuable for achieving that commanding physique which so many desire to have.
There’s nothing groundbreaking here but we feel it’s important to remind those who aren’t as advanced in their training that there are proven methods for achieving an impressive physique without spinning your wheels.
Making physical changes to the human body isn’t for everyone but these tips should help you to make real progress.