Building strength and muscle mass is a goal that many have (and these two attributes will typically go hand-in-hand), whether the person wants to be healthier, look better, help improve athletic performance, etc. These people all have similar goals of improving as much as they can. With new information about the importance of muscle mass and strength for overall health, starting your strength and muscle gain journey as soon as possible is of high importance. But where to begin? How do you navigate the process? There are so many resources on muscle gain and strength building, and it is easy to get lost in the noise. This blog will lay out tips to help you along this journey and give you a framework to draw a plan.
When starting a new workout plan, it is best to start with light weights and slowly progress your increase in weight. This plan will allow you to work on proper exercise execution and keep your form as precise as possible. In doing so, this will help you prevent injuries. I have seen time and again what ego lifting (using more weight than you can handle with good form) can do, and it has the potential to set your progress back significantly if you are out with an injury. Building strength and growing muscle is a marathon, not a sprint.
One of the fundamental principles of building strength (and muscle) is the concept of progressive overload – meaning you are doing slightly more than last time to progress your strength. For larger muscles like those in your legs (which will typically use compound exercises), progression will last a long time simply by adding more weight to each training session. Say someone is squatting 100lbs for five sets of 5 repetitions during one training session, the next session, they would use 105lbs for the five sets of 5 repetitions and keep progressing in that fashion until they hit a plateau. At this point, they can do a few other things to keep progressing, such as switching to a new set and repetition scheme (4×6, 4×8 – 4 denotes the set number and 6 or 8 denotes the repetitions), or swap out the exercise for another one that shares a similar movement pattern, i.e. replacing a back squat with a front squat. This method is one of the best ways to advance your strength and build a lot of muscle.
For smaller muscle groups targeted through isolation exercises, such as the biceps, this type of progression more than likely won’t work well and won’t be sustainable. While this may work for a while, a person would likely see their repetitions per set drop significantly as time goes on and would render the exercise ineffective for maximally stimulating the biceps. A better progression for these isolation exercises would be to try and perform more repetitions each time you do the exercise, even if it is just one rep. The progression could then look like this: set a target of performing 30 total bicep curls (can take as many “sets” as needed, but the goal should be 3-4), and continue to progress how many total repetitions are performed until you reach another set point, in this case, we will use 50 repetitions. Once this goal number is reached with a certain weight, you can increase the weight by 5lbs and repeat. This process will give you longer progression times without increasing the weight to a point where you cannot perform the exercise correctly.
No matter what type of exercise you are looking to start, one of the most important things is to stay consistent. Sure, life will get in the way at times, but the more dedicated you are to the process, the better your results will be. Sometimes staying consistent on your own can be challenging, so find someone to help keep you accountable with your training. Strength also has a lot to do with how efficient you are at a particular task, and the longer you do something, the better you get at it. Building strength and muscle take your body out of homeostasis, and you have to keep consistent with that training to maintain your current strength and gain more.
Whether you’re a weekend warrior, or someone new to resistance training, building muscular strength is a worthwhile endeavor that will help you throughout your life. Schedule a free assessment with your local Athletico today if you need help finding what exercise is suitable for you or need help with your aches and pains. Free Assessments are available in-clinic and virtually through our Telehealth platform.
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Li R, Xia J, Zhang XI, et al. Associations of Muscle Mass and Strength with All-Cause Mortality among US Older Adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2018;50(3):458-467. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001448