Start with the Basics: A Beginner’s Guide to Building Serious Muscle

So you’ve decided to embark on the mission of building muscle, huh? True, there is nothing like the feeling of peeling off your shirt on the beach and catching a glimpse of those looking over at you as your round and sculpted shoulders catch the sunlight and help to highlight your rippling pecs. But where to start? It all seems overwhelming at first, but it’s a lot simpler than you think.  It’s time to get to work, let’s do this!

The fact is, the rules for building muscle AREN’T all that complicated, but many people jump into the gym and start hoisting weight with little or no knowledge at all of what the heck they are doing! This can lead to injury and will almost definitely lead to inconsistent if not incredibly slow progress. I mean, if you are just beginning to lift weight to build muscle, there is no need to kick off with forearm curls…you gotta stick to the compound movements, lift fairly heavy and KEEP IT SIMPLE…

This guide will help you understand the basics required for building muscle and allow you to create a workout plan designed to help you build muscle on every part of your body. If you follow the guidelines and stay consistent, you will be filling your sleeves with solid, hard muscled arms in no time. Are you ready?

Rule #1: Go heavy-Ok, don’t get scared. I am not talking about hoisting 500lb deadlifts on day 1. The point here is that in order to kickstart your body into MUSCLE BUILDING mode, you will need to lift heavy enough to force your body to perform the work needed to TEAR AND REPAIR, which is required for building muscle. You see, when your muscles perform work to a degree that causes them severe stress, small tears form in the muscle…these tears are then repaired to ensure the muscle gets BIGGER to handle this increased workload, thus, your muscles get BIGGER.

Rule #2: Perform Compound Movements (NOT isolated ones!)-OF COURSE you want bulging biceps, but when starting to build muscle for the first time, the last thing you want to do is isolated curls with one dumbbell! This is a tough pill for most to swallow but if you can stick the basics and do what WORKS, you will make quick progress. You WILL get to the point where you are doing individual exercises for individual muscle groups, but for now, let’s pack on the muscle using COMPOUND movements and kickstart the muscle production into gear.

Compound movements are exercises that involve multiple muscle groups to perform an action. Here are the ones you want to focus on, almost SOLELY, as you begin your muscle building journey:

Squats-Often called the KING of exercises, this “man-maker” of an exercise earned this moniker well. Squats are an incredibly effective exercise and work every muscle in the lower body AND many in the upper body as well. They can be performed a variety of ways including a straight bar behind the neck, held in front of the body in a “clean” position, or with various holds using dumbbells or kettlebells. As you are starting out, you will want to learn the form properly, preferably with the help of a personal trainer. The goal is to lower your body into a squat position as if you were going to sit down on a chair or couch, so your thighs are parallel to the ground (or even lower) and then raise up again until your body is straight. This movement is taxing ESPECIALLY as the weight increases. Make squats the FOUNDATION of your muscle building lifts, and you will start seeing the results quickly.

Deadlifts-Deadlifts are your #2 go to and are close to squats in terms of their ability to build muscle over your entire body. While squats focus more on the front of your legs (your quadriceps or quads) Deadlifts focus more on your posterior chain of muscles including your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. They require excellent form to so learning this form is crucial to begin moving serious weight AND building serious muscle. You can start light with dumbbells or kettlebells and eventually move up to straight bar deadlifts. For the uninitiated, your biceps AND abs will get a serious workout while doing deadlifts…trust me.

Bench press-Next we have the bench press. This movement is certainly geared towards building your chest, but the additional benefits make this a perfect foundational exercise. Bench presses will work your pectoral muscles (chest), deltoids (shoulders) and Triceps extremely effectively. As you progress in weight, each of these muscles can be hit effectively by ONLY doing the bench press. Mixing your hand position from close together to further apart will put varying stress on your chest and triceps and is great for hitting each area more effectively during your workout (close grip for triceps, further apart for chest)

Pulldowns/pull-ups-We can’t forget the back! Pullups are an awesome back and bicep workout but if you can’t do them yet, just jump onto a pulldown machine and get to work. Pulldowns and pull-ups work your entire back AND your biceps. You can build big ole guns JUST doing this movement so make sure to add theses to your routine.

In addition to the fact that all these exercises hit a variety of muscles, BECAUSE they work so many areas and force the body to do INTENSE work, they also help to release GH or Growth Hormone. This chemical is crucial to muscle growth as it helps to increase the body’s absorption of protein which helps to build muscle. It also helps to utilize the body’s stores of FAT as energy, so you can build muscle WHILE burning fat. Pretty cool substance, eh?

Rule #3:  EAT-In order to build muscle, your body must have a sufficient source of calories AND protein. Muscle building requires energy. Don’t skimp on the food while you are packing on the bulging muscles. Stick to high quality foods, NO junk or excess sugar, and go a little heavier on the protein side of things. No need to be too specific with the number of grams of protein at least initially, just eat clean, and don’t skimp on the calories.

Rule #4:  REST! -While you may be eager to see massive amounts of muscles added to your frame, you MUST not overwork your body, or it will never happen. Muscle is built when you are RESTING, not while you are working. Sure, your arms may inflate like balloons during your workout, but that is not added muscle, it is a temporary PUMP that occurs when you fill your muscles with blood from exercise. Your muscles rebuild and recover during sleep and when you are relaxing so make sure to include PLENTY of rest throughout your week. A good routine when you are just starting your muscle building journey would be:

Day 1: perform 3-4 sets of all of the above exercises with 8-10 repetitions per set.

Day 2: rest

Day 3: Repeat day 1


This type of split routine can work great while you are starting out but as you get stronger and can handle more sets and reps, you might consider a routine such as:

Day 1: Squats, Deadlifts

Day 2: Bench press, pull downs

Day 3: rest

There you have it! If you are serious about putting on muscle, the above will absolutely get you started and can even comprise your entire YEAR 1 journey! Just add weights, reps and sets as your body adapts, rest when needed, and BE CONSISTENT. You will need a new wardrobe in no time as those muscles of yours push against your clothes and create a brand new MUSCULAR you! Good luck on your journey and I hope this guide serves you well!

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  • Very informative and well written. Thank you

    Brenda Maclean
  • Great info, I’m just getting back into my fitness after some time off with a new baby so looking forward to building back some lost muscle!

  • Great info and something I will follow and do as my body heals.

  • Great info for first steps! I’ve read a few different fitness techniques and have a somewhat intermediate amount of knowledge but I learned some new things here great content


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