I’ve previously written an article on how to build strength, but what if you’re more interested in bulking up and building bigger muscles?
Read on to maximise your muscle gains!
The Science Behind Hypertrophy
Interested in a much more in-depth article on why these rules work?
This article on how to gain muscular strength with calisthenics explains all the major factors that affect hypertrophy and how they can be maximized.
1. Eat a Calorie Surplus
If you’re looking to gain muscle size, you must eat in a calorie surplus – eat more than you burn.
Eat anywhere between 200 and 500 extra calories a day; the more you eat, the more you’ll gain.
However, you’re also likely to put on more fat in the process, so try not to eat too many extra calories.
Calorie counting is the best way to do this, whilst it can be a bit time consuming, there are now good apps such as MyFitnessPal that will make the process a little easier.
2. Perform Reps of 5 to 10
You need to perform enough reps to ensure your largest muscle fibers reach enough mechanical tension to induce hypertrophy.
However, if you perform too many, then you may hit CNS failure before you hit enough reps to induce hypertrophy.
Aim for at least 5 reps and ideally no more than 10.
3. Do 2 to 5 Sets
If you do just the one set, this won’t be enough to initiate hypertrophy; too many and you’ll start to lose form and have to make the exercise easier.
2 to 5 sets of the same exercise is the optimal amount for building muscle.
4. Take 1 to 2 Minutes Rest Between Sets
You want to ensure that your muscles are not recovering too much between sets.
Too little rest and you’ll start to build endurance, too much and they will recover too much.
Rest for periods of 1 to 2 minutes.
5. Aim For Muscle Failure
Unlike building strength where we want to avoid muscle failure, reaching muscle failure is an essential component to building bigger muscles.
Perform all sets at or close to failure.
6. Get a Minimum of 8 Hours Sleep
Sleep is when your testosterone is recharged; it’s also when our muscles repair and grow bigger.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, then you’re not going to get the most out of your training.
8 hours sleep is the number we should all be aiming for, this can be topped up with naps when possible.
Read this in-depth article on how to get better sleep if this is an area you would like to improve.
7. Take Creatine
Creatine is one of the most studied supplements and has been demonstrated to not only increase your strength output but also to improve muscle mass.
As always consult your Dr before commencing a new supplement to ensure you have no allergies.
8. Control Your Stress Levels
Whilst this one is easier said than done, managing your stress levels is a very important part of building muscle.
When we get stressed, we release the hormone cortisol – often referred to as the stress hormone.
Cortisol reduces your testosterone levels, which will reduce your muscle gains.
As your muscles grow they will get tighter; this can lead to injury or impede your ability to perform movements that require a good range of motion.
Be sure to stretch all the muscles that you are working on.
Stretching has also been demonstrated to reduce cortisol levels.
10. Isolate to Further Improve Your Muscle Gains
Calisthenics is known for some very high level feats of strength, but you’re not going to build any muscle by holding a human flag for 10 seconds!
I suggest whilst your focus is on building muscle, to put your skill moves to one side.
Reps and sets with enough time under tension are the proven way of building muscle.
Big compound movements such as one arm pull-up progressions will get you far, but they won’t cover every single muscle region.
Add isolation exercises into your workout to ensure that all muscle regions are covered.
11. Improve Your Mind-Muscle Technique
The Mind-muscle technique is the act of using your mind to increase muscle activation during a movement.
Studies have shown this method to improve muscle activation, which in turn will increase your muscle growth.
Start by doing some basic activation exercises before your main movements.
Then during each exercise focus on activating the prime movers of the movement.
For example, if you’re performing a pull-up, do some scapula pull-ups beforehand to activate; then during the pull-up focus your mind on activating the lats.
12. Limit Alcohol Intake
Probably not a popular one, but drinking too much alcohol will affect your muscle growth by:
- Dehydrating you makes it harder for your muscles to retain water.
- Limiting your testosterone growth and actually increases your estrogen levels.
- Slowing down protein synthesis.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drink (unless training is your life), but you may want to consider cutting back a little during a bulk.