Muscle growth 101: what you should know

Why would you go to the gym?

When I look around me when I'm in the gym, I get the impression that not everyone has a good answer to that. I see people exercising with little intention. They perform an exercise, but the weight is too low, the movement is too fast, and the exercise ends before real muscle fatigue is reached. Or the weight is excessively high, but the whole body moves alongside the muscle that is being trained to "help."

It's great that you're in the gym, don't get me wrong, but wouldn't you want to approach it more intelligently?

If we simplify things, there are two different reasons for going to the gym:

  1. Strength as the goal. With powerlifting or weightlifting, the focus is on moving as much weight as possible from point A to point B. This post is NOT about this style of training.
  2. Improved body composition, meaning a higher muscle percentage, so a muscle growth focus. I'll refer to this style of training as bodybuilding for now.

Of course, the additional effect of powerlifting and weightlifting is that you also become more muscular, even though it's a different style of training. However, most people who go to the gym do not do powerlifting (and certainly not weightlifting).

Most people want to look better, and that's a great goal. What's needed for that is a different body composition: less body fat and especially more muscle. So most people would be best off training with a bodybuilding style.

However, what do I mostly see happening in the gym?

The cliché female gym-goer tries to change her body composition by focusing solely on reducing body fat. They do endless cardio and are afraid to increase weights because they fear they'll start looking too masculine. They don't allow themselves to eat enough food and achieve minimal results. And they keep complaining about that stubborn belly fat that won't go away.

The cliché male gym-goer only trains arms and uses heavy weights, and then performs exercises in a technically poor manner because their ego gets in the way (sometimes with grunting noises). These cliché men will certainly achieve more results than the cliché women because they are willing to use heavier weights, but this apporach eventually reaches a limit as well.

So, what should you do for muscle growth?

Jeff Nippard made an excellent video on this topic this week.

Watch it here

I'll give you the summary. Jeff mentions 5 points that contribute to muscle growth.

  • Tension is the primary stimulus for muscle growth. Tension is the force that occurs in a muscle when it's stretched and contracted during strength training. When the muscle is under tension, anabolic signals are sent, essentially telling the muscle to "get bigger!"
  • Technique. To ensure there is enough "time under tension" during exercises, you should perform the exercises with consistently good technique. So, for the exercises on your program, search for YouTube videos on how to perform them correctly. Record yourself and check if you're doing it right. Good technique involves:
    • Focus on resisting the weight during the exercise. People often think that the most crucial part of an exercise is when you need to apply force, but it's the opposite! The part of the exercise where you have to resist the weight is more important. For example, in a lateral pull-down, let the weight come back up in a controlled manner. Controlled really means: taking 2-4 seconds.
    • Range of motion. Perform the exercises with as full a range of motion (ROM) as you can. The muscle tension is highest when it's at its maximum stretch, and this is best for muscle growth. So, if you're doing an incline dumbbell press exercise, let the dumbbells really touch your chest. Pause there for a moment, feel that stretch, and then explosively push them back up.
    • Momentum. Say bye to your ego. If you have to move your entire body to get the weight up during a bicep curl, you're missing out on muscle growth. This applies to all exercises that isolate muscles: you want to move only the part of your body that's being trained. Control the weight and don't cheat by letting your whole body help. If this means you need to use a lighter weight, that's logical.
    • Be consistent. Try to keep your technique consistently the same.
  • Effort. This is where many people go wrong. Most people simply don't train hard enough. If you've been training for years and aren't making progress anymore, this might be a possible reason. If you're a beginner, just looking at a weight makes your muscles grow, so to speak. But this phase only lasts a few months, and then muscle growth becomes a matter of hard work. Uncomfortably hard. Jeff recommends that if you have 3 working sets, you should go to almost to failure for the first 2 sets, with 1 or 2 repetitions left. Then, go to failure on the last set. If you have no idea where failure is for you, you should test it first.
  • Progressive overload. You can't train with the same weights and repetitions week after week; there won't be enough stimulus for your muscles to grow. So, over the weeks, you need to add repetitions or weight.
  • Choose exercises where you can feel a lot of tension. This often leads you to machines and cable machines and less frequently to dumbbells or a barbell. With machines, you can safely train to failure, it's often easier to feel a lot of tension during an exercise, and it's also easier to achieve good technique.

Those were the 5 things you need to know to achieve muscle growth. I'd like to add another pillar to this: eat enough. Targeted training provides the anabolic stimulus, good nutrition allows your body to respond to that stimulus. Muscles aren't built out of thin air; they require energy. So, eat enough calories and protein.

Questions? Feel free to ask! E-mail me on


Laat je vraag of opmerking achter

Alle reacties worden eerst gelezen voordat ze geplaatst worden.
Het e-mailadres wordt gebruikt voor een gravatar afbeelding, en zal nooit publiek gemaakt worden.

Heb je vragen?

Geen probleem. Plan je gratis kennismaking