23 May The Single Most Important Factor in Building Muscle
No matter what your goal is, everyone should be in the gym for one reason: to build muscle.
The problem is, in an industry filled with misinformation, fads and never-ending new ‘tricks’, people don’t know what to do any more. And so they get stressed out and paralyse themselves into questioning whether they’re doing things the right way.
They start asking:
Should I be resting 1 minute or 2 minutes?
Should I train four days or six days?
Should I be doing dumbbell presses on a 42 degree or 47 degree incline?
Should I be doing supersets or trisets or giant sets or mega-cluster sets?
It’s an easy trap to fall in to, and it’s something I’ve found myself doing on countless occasions in the past.
But then I remember the times when I’ve actually made progress, and what’s been the single most important factor contributing to it. And it always boils down to the same thing.
If you want to build muscle, you need to focus all your effort on setting personal bests on compound exercises in a wide variety of rep ranges (5-10 for upper body, 8-20 for lower body).
What does this mean?
If you’re a woman who’s after bigger glutes and you deadlift 60kg for 8 reps, your number one focus should be on increasing that to 80kg for 8 reps
There’s one caveat though.
As you increase your deadlift from 60 to 80 kilos, your technique must stay picture perfect. Anything less doesn’t count, and won’t bring you the results you’re after.
It’s easy to get caught up in progressive overload lifting and throw technique out the window. But if you want to make this work, perhaps we should rephrase the bottom line as:
You need to get stronger in a wide variety of rep ranges while maintaining picture-perfect technique.
This isn’t easy. And it’s why people give up and search for a newer, fancier and more complicated solution, only to find they end up making no progress for six months.
Using Goals for Growth
If you want to make progress in your physique, you need to maintain a long-term focus at all times.
That’s why I like setting goals for clients who are aggressively trying to change their bodies.
Here’s how you can do it.
Pick 2-3 exercises from each of the following categories that you can perform safely and with perfect technique: upper body press, upper body pull, quad dominant and posterior chain.
For example, in each category you may choose the following:
Upper body press:
- Low Incline DB Press
- Incline BB Press
- Standing Military Press
Upper body pull:
- Bent Over Row
- Neutral Grip Chin Up
- One Arm Row
- Back Squat
- Leg Press
- Hack Squat
- Romanian Deadlift
- Lying Leg Curl
- Glute Ham Raise
Test out your 5, 8 or 12 repetition maxes on each and over the next 12 months aim to progressively push these as high as you can while maintaining perfect form.
Keep a logbook, track your lifts and make sure that each month you look back you’re seeing significant progress.
I can guarantee that if you can add 20kg to every lift you’ll look like a different person.
The One Thing
One of the best books I’ve read in the past few years has been ‘The ONE Thing’ by Gary Keller.
The question he constantly asks is ‘what’s the ONE thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?’
If building muscle is your goal, there’s only ONE thing: keep getting stronger.
If you want to read more about progression, and how to continuously improve, read this guide here.
Remember, if you’re lifting the same weights as you were 3 years ago, it’s likely you look exactly the same.