Muscle Building Tips for Beginners
As a beginner you are vulnerable to bundles of misinformation more commonly and easily found than good quality information in the fitness industry. Usually it is poor information with a hidden agenda aimed at getting you to buy a shortcut, generic, badly constructed guide that will leave you in no better position than when you started; i.e. a detox tea or celebrity ‘4 hours to no tummy whole body super-mega blitz’, in which they will upsell their equally ineffective fat burning and appetite reducing supplement bundles. See more on fitness fads and what to avoid here. And more-so for men it encompasses a gigantic, veiny, behemoth of a man telling you that you need to get bigger, you will be happy if you are bigger, and you will be more powerful and successful too! Simply buy this guide and forget I’m clearly on performance-enhancing drugs.
So, to break away from rubbish, overcomplicated and often inaccurate information, here are our top muscle building tips for beginners!
Don’t neglect proper conditioning:
This means you will likely have to work on both your shoulder and hip mobility, and your all round flexibility before increasing the weight and working the full range on complicated lifts like squats, deadlifts and bench press (compound lifts which all use more than one joint). This will allow you to lift more weight more safely, and reduce your risk of injury. It may also help improve posture, alleviate some aches and pains and improve performance in other sports and active hobbies.
Don’t train like a bodybuilder:
You simply do not need to be doing an hour plus, with each set to failure, on one body part per session. As a beginner you can reduce the volume per body part for each session, and increase the amount of times you train that body part per week. This will also stop the debilitating muscle soreness associated with the high volume/intensity sessions, which detract from other workouts during the week. Muscle protein synthesis (the building of muscle cells) will only last 24-48 hours after your session, so training once per week means you could be wasting at least 5 days of precious muscle growth time!
A lot of the top bodybuilders will be on performance enhancing drugs to enable them to be at the top of their game, which isn’t stopped given many competitions do not test for steroids, diuretics and or fat burning agents. This means they can sustain protein synthesis for a prolonged period, so can withstand the massive muscle damage and recover from it, which is experienced with intense single body part training.
See an example beginner’s training split here.
The right volume for the best results:
Pairing muscles such as the chest, shoulders and triceps, or back and legs will allow you to get achieve enough volume in a 45 minute gym session- this also allows you to utilise the volume from muscle overlap in compound exercises too. Then you simply have to ensure you leave at least 48 hours between training the same body part twice. Aiming for 40-70 good quality reps per session on the body parts you are working is ideal, and around 80-200 reps per muscle group per week. See an example back and legs session below:
- 5 x 4 reps of deadlifts
- 3 x 10 reps leg press
- 2 x 10 reps hamstring curls
- 3 x 10 reps of lat pull down
- 2 x 12 reps seated close grip row
- 3 x 10 reps barbell bicep curls
- 5 x 10 reps calf extensions
We use the optimal amount of volume in our guides, which are ideal for both beginners and experienced trainers looking for an educative, detailed and user-friendly guide for their aims!
The evil elephant in the room: carbohydrates:
DO NOT GO NO CARB. Stop listening to those suggesting it is the be all and end all to build muscle or to lose fat. Studies have shown that a combination of both protein AND carbs after training allows for better muscle gains vs protein consumption alone, such as a protein shake and nothing else after training! Supplements offer no advantage over a meal in the majority of cases, so concentrate on first honing your diet before considering the inclusion of supplements. Besides, speak to anyone who abstains from carbs or foods they like, and I guarantee the majority of them have massive binges on these foods they wish they included in their diet.
See our non-bias overview of what supplements to use for convenience and performance here.
Eat enough food to grow and sustain your training:
If you are not building muscle size, but are increasing the weights lifted and dedicated to training, then you should evaluate your diet. Are you eating enough protein to allow protein synthesis to be optimised? Are you eating enough carbs before and after your training sessions for performance, growth and repair? Are you consuming at least 20-25% of your calories from fats?
Some basic dietary rules to follow are:
- Consume 1g of protein for every pound of body weight, and space this out evenly over 4-5 meals.
- Eat 90-120 minutes before training, and within an hour after your session. Then space the remaining 2-3 meals out evenly over the rest of the day, generally 3-5 hours apart.
- Eat at least 20-25% of your daily calories from fats. Fats are 9 calories per gram, whereas protein and carbs are around 4 calories per gram, so remember that you can gain fat from too many calories from fatty food sources- regardless of it being a ‘healthy fat’.
- Eat the majority of your carbs in your pre and post workout meals- around 50-70% dependent on your aims.
- If you are vegetarian or vegan, aim to source at least 15-20g of protein at each meal, and supplement this with a serving of leucine. Replace the lost calories from the lack of protein with either carbs, fats or both.
The key points here are to eat enough calories, then slowly up your protein across each meal evenly until you hit 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. Then you can start adjusting fat and carb amounts and timings to suit your dietary preferences and for optimal growth and performance.
You do not have to ‘eat clean’:
A revelation to many, and a point many leading fitness trainers will refuse to consider: the fact that you can include traditionally ‘bad foods’ in your diet daily and progress towards your goals- be these muscle gain or fat loss! A good rule to follow is sourcing at least 80% of your food from traditionally good, wholesome foods, and including up to 20% of your calories from perceived bad/junk or simply not as universally healthy foods you crave. This method of dieting increases the longevity of a diet, and increases your chance of long term success in results and in regards to nutrition- and also means you can avoid foods that you detest when you realise they don’t have magic superpowers that propel you towards your goals more quickly!
Please see more on flexible dieting here, and more on eating styles including ‘clean eating’ here. We feel flexible dieting allows you to learn more about calories, portion control and eating long term for health, results and most importantly enjoyment and sustainability!