Before you dive in and select a weight training program to use, it's vital you understand exactly what it takes to build muscle. Knowing the process that takes place in the body will help you better plan out your program and diet so you get right on track with seeing the results you're going for.
Building muscle encompasses three main phases, training stimulus, rest, and nutrition. If any of these three principles are off, then you're going to be hindered and results will not be up to par.
Here are the main things to know about each.
1. Training Stimulus
The training stimulus encompasses everything you do in the gym, weight training related and non. It's important to realize any physical activity you do, including weight training, will impact your results and count towards your overall results.
The Overloading Stimulus
An overloading stimulus by definition is a stressor that is placed on the body that it has not been encountered before and cannot be fully handled with ease. When this overloading stimulus takes place, the body must respond in some way. Your hope is that it responds by getting stronger and larger (this happens if the other aspects below are in alignment).
There are many ways to accomplish an overloading stimulus. You can lift more weight, decrease the total rest you take, increase the rep range you're using, pair exercises back to back, alter the body position slightly while performing the actual exercise—the list goes on.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to overloading your body. It's being sure you change up the stimulus on a regular basis that's important. The body is highly adaptive and if something isn't changing, it's not responding in the manner you would like.
Balancing Cardio Training
Next, you need to be sure you are balancing your cardio training with your weight lifting workouts. Most people fall into one of two groups of thinking with this. Some firmly believe that all cardio should be avoided, while others think that they can minimize fat gain by doing loads of cardio training.
The best answer falls somewhere in the middle. You need to remember that if you are doing cardio then energy the body uses to build new muscle tissue is being taken away. When too much cardio is done, especially at very high intensities, it's generally too much to recover from and will make building muscle difficult.
Some cardio is good as it will maintain your appetite levels and help increase the nutrient delivery to the muscles, but if fat gain is your biggest concern, you're better off looking at changing your diet slightly so you aren't providing as high of a surplus.
Working Through Rep Ranges
The different rep ranges you can work in will also impact the types of results you experience. Generally, when you are working in the rep range of eight to twelve reps, you're going to be better primed to be adding size. When you work in the lower rep range of four to six reps, you'll be more focused on strength development.
This isn't to say you won't get some increases in strength with the upper rep range and increases in size with the lower rep range, as you will, just that it's important to choose your rep range in accordance with your primary focus.
Consider also alternating between rep ranges from month to month, workout to workout, or even within a single workout session (depending upon your exact plan structure).
Next you have the second component of building muscle—rest. This is something most people make mistakes on when figuring out their training program. They figure that the more work they do in the gym, the faster they will see results.
This is not the case, however. What you must keep in mind here is that the muscles actually grow stronger and larger when you are resting. When you are in the gym, you're actually tearing them down, making them weaker. Understanding this point is extremely important.
If you are going into the gym and powering through a workout session before you are completely recovered, you're not building new muscle tissue, you're breaking down already broken down muscle tissue. Do this often enough and you'll soon find yourself losing muscle mass.
So, as you can see, rest is just as important as the training you do in the gym. You should have at least one full day off from your workouts a week, if not two or three.
Finally, the last component to building muscle is your diet. You can't build a house without bricks, so likewise, you can't build more muscle without the amino acids and energy to assemble that muscle tissue.
Far too many people get scared that they are going to start gaining body fat and as a result don't eat enough calories. This just causes them to go around in circles, never really gaining any appreciable amount of muscle.
Yes, you will likely gain a small amount of fat while building muscle. It's extremely hard to avoid this and a bit more fat can actually help the process (since it can support healthy testosterone levels to an extent). There is no need to be gaining pounds and pounds of fat though; that would signal that you're simply eating too many calories to begin with.
So sit down and have a good solid look at your training program and diet. Be sure it's well planned out with an overloading stimulus, enough rest to allow the body to recover, and that you're supplying enough (and the right types) of nutrition to see results. Not making the effort to plan is really going to come back to get you in the long run, so do not skip these steps.