I am a natural bodybuilder and in this article, I will talk about the type of training that has worked the best for me in regards to building muscle. There is definitely not one set way to build muscle and it can be all about trial and error. Seeing what works best for your body type and genetics as an individual. What has worked best for me is progressive overload training throughout various rep ranges. This type of training is very simple, yet very effective. I see training as if you are taking your body to a place where it does not like going which in turn means your body has to change, it has to grow stronger and it has to progress. For example, a guy squatting 220kg for reps is not going to have small legs, just like a guy deadlifting 220kg for reps is not going to have a narrow back.
I do the standard bodybuilding split of training each body part once a week. For each exercise, I do as many warm-up sets of three reps as I need until I feel ready to give 110% intensity for the two working sets. I will perform a lot of warm-up sets on compound exercises, as opposed to isolation exercises. The first working set will be failing in a rep range of 6-10, which will be my heavy set and the second set will be more of a volume set, failing in the rep range of 10-15. During an isolation exercise I will perform higher reps.
I log each session to monitor progress and the goal is always to increase reps/weight over a period of time, without sacrificing good form. I look back on my log book each weekend and set goals for the next week of training. Again, very simple, but building muscle is very simple and does not have to be made complicated. If you are progressing your lifts then you are going to be building muscle.
I also like to mix up my training intensity by adding in rest pauses and drop sets to take the muscle beyond failure. I like to include these intensity techniques if I am training on my own and don’t have a spotter to take the working sets beyond failure with forced reps. If I add in these intensity techniques then I will take out the volume set, as doing intensity techniques on two working sets per exercise would be over training in my opinion. I normally use these intensity techniques on muscle groups that I need to bring up and improve. I also like the pull/push/leg split, where you train each muscle group twice a week, but due to lifestyle and commitments I was not able to make this training system work, without feeling overtrained and not getting in the required amount of recovery.
To make this style of training truly work you have to put 110% in to the working sets and leave nothing left in the tank. I have had many training partners say this type of training looks easy, until they come across the level of intensity needed for the working sets. When I am dieting or in prep I don’t change this style of training until around 4-6 weeks out, which would simply then be due to the large calorie deficit. The training that has created the muscle is what is going to keep it when dieting. I would advise tapering down intensity 4-6 weeks out to reduce the risk of injury, plus I would not be building any muscle at this stage, especially been natural. What I normally do is stop short of failure on working sets and stop the intensity techniques.
It is also important to note that you can only train at this intensity for 6-8 weeks and then it is important to take a deload week. In the deload week I stop short of failure by 2-3 reps and also include plenty of muscle rounds and like to try out different exercises that I would not normally use in my 6-8 week plan. Deloads are important for longevity and also to stop your body from plateauing and burning out.
They say that bodybuilding is a 24/7 sport and that is certainly true in my opinion. To make sure you progress with your training, your diet has got to be 100% spot on, making sure you are eating every 2-3 hours and making sure you are getting regular protein servings in each meal to maintain protein synthesis and not going into a catabolic state. You also need to make sure you are in a small calorie surplus to build muscle, which means you are eating more calories than you are burning. Your diet is crucial to building muscle and it definitely is the main foundation. If I am not increasing lifts in the gym and I know my technique is on point, and I am also not putting weight on, I will then look at my diet and look at areas where I can increase calories slightly.
When building muscle I normally aim to put 1-2 pound on per week. By only putting 1-2 pound on, the weight increase will mainly be muscle, compared with body fat. What works for me with regards to diet is having protein and fat meals away from training and have the majority of my carbohydrate intake around training. I find I don’t get bloated setting my diet out this way and then the carbohydrates get utilised when they are needed the most. The vast majority of carbohydrate intake for myself would be slow release and then I like to have a fast acting carbohydrate source during training, with this source coming from cyclic dextrin. Rest days are mainly protein and fat meals, with a little amount of carbohydrates to keep insulin levels low and appetite high for the high calorie days on training days.
Another important aspect of making great progress is your recovery. This needs to be on point for your muscles to grow and for you to be able to put 110% in to your sessions. In my opinion it is very true when you hear the saying “you don’t grow in the gym, you grow when you are resting”. To maximise your recovery make sure you are having 8+ hours sleep and at least 2 rest days away from the gym a week. Also look at your training split and make sure that you are not training two big muscle groups close together, as you will not be able to put 110% in to each of the sessions.
As I said at the start, there are many ways to build muscle, but for me this way works and it is easy to keep track of progress. Being a natural bodybuilder it is important that I am not overtraining and that I utilize my time in the gym as effectively as I can. That is why I feel the high intensity low volume approach works best for me and if it works for Dorian Yates, who in my eyes is the best bodybuilder that has ever been, then I would hope it is going to work for a novice like me.