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My Tips for Gaining Serious Muscle

There's a lot of focus in the fitness world on fat loss and gaining or maintaining a healthy weight, which while very important, is not the centre of everyone's goals. Gaining muscle is beneficial for everyone, man or woman and can help with functional strength in everyday life, boost the number of resting calories you burn and help to achieve aesthetic goals. As a Personal Trainer, I speak to a lot of women who are afraid of gaining strength and muscle because they think it will make them look 'manly' or 'bulky', but this is far from the truth - for more info have a read of my blog on this: https://www.samsterlingfitness.com/post/i-don-t-want-to-get-too-bulky.


I have trained many clients with the goal of muscle gain and have successfully written programmes with this in mind, but saying that, there are many different approaches that different Personal Trainers will use in order to build muscle with a client. My tips in this blog are purely based on my own experience and what has worked for myself and my clients in the past.


FITT principles are the basic pillars of training which are manipulated to achieve the desired goal, and this stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type. Altering these variables within the programme and making small adjustments based on the individual will allow any training programme to be tailored to each person, but there are still basic guidelines that I go by when training my clients. The first of which is Frequency; each muscle group should be trained with 10-15 working sets per week, roughly split between 2 sessions per muscle. This can be achieved with a number of different workout 'splits' (push/pull, upper/lower, bodyparts etc) but the more specific the focus is that's put on each muscle rather than muscle groups, the more growth that will be seen in that individual muscle. A byproduct of this is growth in the overall muscle group - for instance, some growth will also be seen in the whole leg when training glutes or quads. When it comes to the number of workouts per week, this all depends on the split chosen and the number of working sets you are getting in within those sessions. It doesn't matter too much as long as the programme suits the individual and those working set targets are reached, whilst also recovering properly from each session.


Intensity is a more difficult variable to measure. In short, for muscle growth intensity should be high. This can be perceived in different ways, but is mostly centred around load and effort. In my opinion, load should be at around 85% of your 1rm, and when finishing your set, you should only have another couple of reps left in you - you definitely shouldn't be able to do another 5 reps. Intensity shouldn't be overlooked; two people performing the same workout can have very different results if the intensity is different, and if the intensity isn't there even with the best programming in the world, the client won't get the results they are after.


Time can cover a few different elements, including length of workout, time under tension/tempo, rest time and length of sets. If sticking to the set ranges of 10-15 this should determine the approximate length of your workouts by itself. The number of reps should stick within the range of 8-12 on the whole, however both higher and lower rep ranges are useful and should be programmed for some exercises, and this will decide the length of the sets. Rest time in general should be kept to around 1-2 minutes between sets, and it's really helpful to time this to ensure it's stuck to!


Type refers to what sort of exercise and which specific exercises are programmed. It goes without saying that resistance training is required for muscle growth, and weight training exercises for the whole body should be used. In my opinion, from the 15 working sets per muscle group per week, roughly 10 of these should be compounds (squats, deadlifts, bench, pull ups etc) and the remaining 5 can be accessory work such as bicep curls or cable kickbacks. This helps to build a balanced and functional physique whilst maximising the potential muscle growth, and also ensures that a strong core is built.


Training is obviously key to muscle growth, but other elements are vital for hypertrophy. If your training is on point but your diet is lacking, very little to no growth will be seen. A calorie surplus is paramount, and I advise around a 400-600 surplus. A higher surplus can result in fat gain rather than muscle, and any less will not be sufficient for growth. Protein is also important and I think that as a general rule, around 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight is a simple guideline to follow.


I hope this has clarified a few points if you're looking to build muscle, but if you have any questions, do get in touch. It is a confusing concept and is easy to get lost in huge numbers of different opinions, so for any Personal Training enquiries in the Canterbury area or programming enquiries, contact me using the details on my website.

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