Walk into any gym these days and you’ll see people doing things that would make the muscle heroes of yesteryear drop from an aneurysm as they try to figure out what they’re looking at. From crazy, joint-destroying exercises to wild, multitasking balancing acts on yoga balls, it can feel like walking into a circus sideshow. The sad thing is that the people walking in there to build bigger muscles get sucked into all the new-age exercises without realizing you have to lift big to get big.
That’s not to say there isn’t a place for all the ropes, balancing balls, and giant rubber bands. It’s just that nothing beats old-school iron when you want to pack on muscle mass. Some gyms have only modernized equipment and machines that work well for isolation movements and other sports-specific activities, but it can often be tough to find the real weights. Most of the modern equipment are high-quality pieces, but they often better suited for general fitness and flexibility – important traits, but not the key to increased muscle size. Great add-ons to most training routines, but not the area you want to focus most of your efforts.
If you’re lucky enough to belong to a gym that has real muscle-building equipment like Olympic bars, plates, power racks, and a nice selection of dumbbells, then you’re in the right place. You need to lift big to get big, so it takes good, old-fashioned hard work and heavy iron. No, you don’t always have to train like you’re trying to break personal records, but if you want muscle, you will need to challenge yourself by lifting more and training to failure.
Whether or not you get a personal trainer, you’ll definitely want a spotter at the very least for your heavy training days. A training partner would be ideal, as you’ll both have a full-time spotter on duty and can help motivate and challenge one another.
Choose the right tools for the job
As with any project, you need to choose the right tools for the job you’re trying to accomplish. If your goal is to build muscle, don’t do endurance work or exercises that require you to balance on a ball. Multitasking in the gym won’t get you anywhere other than potential Youtube gym-fail videos – choose your goal and work toward it by using the right tools.
So, what should you be doing to build muscle? The internet is a treasure trove of training routines, which can be great, but it also means that everyone out there thinks they’re an expert just because they have a few Instagram followers. You already know you have to lift big to get big, so choose a routine that focuses mainly on big, basic movements, because they work.
Include squats, deadlifts, presses, and other big exercises to help build the foundation. You can think of them as the original “core” exercises if that helps — nothing works your core like big, multi-joint exercises that require muscle synergy.
Train heavy or go home?
You do need to lift big to get big, but lifting big and training heavy aren’t necessarily the same thing. It’s the “big” exercises that help build serious muscle and even help increase your body’s natural hormonal output, but the “Train heavy or go home” mentality isn’t always the right mindset.
Yes, you want to lift some seriously heavy weights, but that shouldn’t always be your goal. Different muscle fibers react differently to various training input. Certain muscle fibers respond better depending on heavy weights versus time under tension, but that’s a whole other story for another time.
The big, basic movements should be at the core of your muscle-building training routine, and you should always train with 100% effort, but that doesn’t have to mean breaking personal records every time you go to the gym. That’s a recipe for injury and for reaching a plateau. The saying should really be “Train smart or go home.”
Lift big to get big tips
- Use big exercises as the main movers in your routine
- Supplement the big exercises with isolation and full-range movements
- Vary between heavy weights and longer time under tension
- Always train with 100% effort
- Switch up your routine every 4-6 weeks (but keep the big exercises)
- Train smart
- Follow all that hard training with quality calories and premium protein
To build quality muscle, you need quality training and nutrition, so put in hard work in the gym but don’t let your ego get the best of you (you won’t grow when you’re injured!). Don’t skimp on the calories when you’re trying to grow muscle, but don’t trick yourself into eating everything you see – eat to grow muscles, not a big belly.
If you train hard and smart, eat well, get enough rest, and stick to it, you’re guaranteed to start seeing changes. Stay tuned for our Get-Big Basic Training Routine coming soon.