Guide to Building a home
So you want to get bigger and stronger, like this guy (leopard print leotard optional).
Maybe you’ve always been the skinny guy and can’t gain weight to save your life. Maybe you’re a bigger guy and you’d rather have broad shoulders than a broad waistline. Maybe you’re a female, and you’ve realized that lifting weights with the right diet will give you that “toned” look that everybody is after. Maybe you just want to be stronger and faster.
No matter who you are or what your starting point is, I want to help get you where you want to go.
Building muscle is something I’ve been obsessed with since high school (okay, not obsessed, but it’s where the majority of my fitness research and experience has taken me). I’m not where I want to be yet in terms of strength and size, but I’m well on my way and I’ve definitely had a little bit of success over the past few years. If you’re looking to start building muscle, getting bigger, and becoming stronger, these are the things you need to do:
- Lift heavy things
- Eat a diet based on your goals
We have an entire course (The Nerd Fitness Academy) with bosses, leveling systems, quests, workouts, and a supportive community that virtually holds your hand through your next 12-18 months, but I’ll dig into the important stuff below too.
Lift Heavy Things
If you are going to build muscle, you’re going to need to lift heavy things. This means you’ll need a gym with a great free-weight section. Body weight exercises can be fantastic for weight loss and keeping the muscle you already have, but if you’re serious about weight training you’ll need a gym with a squat rack, bench, barbells, and a spot to do pull ups, chin ups, and dips to be most efficient.
Got access to a decent gym? Good, now we can started.
Because we’re looking to create functional strength and size, we’ll be doing lots of full-body routines with compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. They’re more efficient, they create solid growth and stimulation, and they will keep you safe. Why is that?
Well, when you spend all of your time doing stupid isolation exercises on weight machines (ugh), you’re only working those specific muscles and not working any of your stabilizer muscles (because the machine is doing all of the stabilization work). On the other hand, when you do compound exercises like barbell squats, you work pretty much EVERY muscle in your body, setting yourself up to be strong and injury free.
Each of your routines should have one leg exercise, push exercise, pull exercise, and a core exercise:
That’s IT. Don’t worry about adding in any ridiculous machine shoulder shrugs, iso-chest flys, preacher bicep curls, calf-raises, whatever. Learn these few exercises, get really good at them, and your entire body will get stronger and bigger. Focus each week on adding more weight to each exercise. For example, if you did 3 sets of 5 squats of 150 pounds this week, try for 3 sets of 5 squats of 155 pounds next week.
If you do that, you’ve gotten stronger. Eat right, and you’ll get bigger too.
So what’s a sample routine?
- Monday – Squats, Benchpress, Wide Grip Pull Ups, Planks
- Wednesday – Deadlift, Overhead Press, Inverted Rows, Hanging Knee Raises
- Friday – Weighted Lunges, Weighted Dips, Weighted Chin Ups, Reverse Crunches.
Each day has a leg exercise, push exercise, pull exercise, and some core work. If you want to learn how to do all of the exercises above with perfect form, check out our Strength Training 101 series.
How many sets and reps should I do?
That depends on your goals. If you’re just interested in getting stronger, you can do 3-5 sets of 5 reps, with a focus on lifting heavier and heavier each week. If you’re looking to add more size along with strength, mix up your rep ranges. Sets of 5 reps will build compact explosive strength, while sets of 6-12 reps will build more size but less concentrated strength.
I try to mix it up. This week, I might do 3 sets of 5 reps for each exercise (other than the core exercises), adding enough weight to each exercise so that it’s incredibly taxing. Next week, I’ll do four sets for each exercise, adding weight each time and doing less reps. For example, I’d do 12 reps of an overhead press at 100 pounds, then 10 reps at 105 pounds, then 8 reps at 110 pounds, and finally 6 reps at 115 pounds.
The good news is that no matter which path you take (pure strength, size, or a mix of both), as long as you are adding weight each week you WILL be getting stronger.
ANY path will work, provided you are getting progressively stronger with it! So if you do 5 sets of 5 squats at 140 pounds this week, aim for 5 sets of 5 of 145 pounds next week. Or 3 sets of 10 at 100 pounds, then next week try for 3 sets of 10 at 105 pounds.
Get stronger, which is 20% of the puzzle. The other 80% is nutrition (which I cover later)!
Any other weight-lifting tips?
don’t walk into a gym, slap 45 pound plates on the bar, and then start your routine. Get your heart rate up and muscles warm first by doing a dynamic warm-up of jumping jacks, lunges, bodyweight squats, hip raises, push ups, leg swings, jumps, etc. After that, always start with doing a set or two of lifting JUST THE BAR. Only then should you start adding weight for some warm-up sets before moving into your real sets.
Have focused form – if you’re doing a bodyweight squat incorrectly, you might develop bad habits. However, if you do a squat incorrectly with 405 pounds on your shoulders, you could do some serious damage. If you’re just starting out, check your ego at the door: start with a VERY light weight and make sure you are doing the exercise properly. There is NO SHAME in starting with just the bar. You can always add more weight next week if this week is too easy.
Stimulate, don’t annihilate – I try to always have one more rep left when I finish a set. Some trainers will preach working your muscles to annihilation, but I think that’s just asking for an injury, poor form, and beyond-sore muscles. Your muscles get built while resting, not in the gym, so don’t worry about destroying them completely each day you step in the gym – it’s not worth it.
Change up the time between sets – if you’re doing 3 sets of 5 reps of a really heavy weight, it’s okay to wait 3-5 minutes between sets – you’re focusing on pure strength here. If you’re doing sets up in the 8-12 range, try to keep the time between sets around a minute or so. This will affect your muscles in different ways. Just be consistent between sets and when doing the same workout between weeks to track your progress.