How To Build Strength And Muscle

By Emily Abbate
14 March 2019
GQ Lab
Animation: Tibor Kárpáti
Five ways to keep your gym routine on-point

1. Start with the basics

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a stellar physique.

“If you’re looking to put on a decent amount of size but you have no proficiency with basic movement patterns, make sure you fix that first,” says Nike Master Trainer Joe Holder. Focus on mastering things like loaded squats, deadlifts, lunges, and presses – all of which challenge a number of different muscle groups at once – to get started. "Isolation exercises really shouldn’t be the heart of your program," he adds. In other words, biceps curls can wait.

2. Get strong (size will follow)

Muscle strength and muscle size are not the same thing, and if you don't pay attention to the former, you're never going to be successful with the latter.
"Most guys who want to put on muscle and not lose weight typically aren’t as strong as they could (or should) be,” says Holder.

To avoid this fate, start off with workouts that involve lower numbers of reps – between six and 12 – and use a moderate to heavy weight. “This will hit a pretty decent middle ground between training for strength and for size,” says Holder. Think of this phase as insurance for your body, which helps to prevent injury as you boost the intensity of your training.

3. Get your diet right

When you're tearing down your body inside the gym, fuelling becomes more important than ever; if you do it properly, you’ll have enough energy to recover, rebuild, and still get back in for your next workout. But we're not just talking about chicken breast, brown rice, and protein shakes.

“While you can salvage lean mass by eating a low-calorie, high-protein diet, you won’t see any explosive or noticeable growth," says Holder.

Instead, he recommends that aspiring muscle growers prioritise nutrient-dense foods. Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can tolerate, and shoot for unprocessed plant-based carbohydrates, including quinoa, amaranth, millet, and starchy vegetables like squash or sweet potato. Good lean proteins include beans, lentils, fish, nuts, seeds, and eggs. Yes, chicken breast is still fine. All meat is still fine! Just don't confuse a cutting diet, which are often low in calories and high in protein, with a muscle-building diet, which includes a fair portion of carbohydrates.

4. Don’t cross-pollinate exercises

There are professional athletes out there who are great at more than one sport. But you, in all likelihood, are not one of them. If building muscle is really your top priority for 2019, take some time to focus on lifting weights and not doing a whole lot else. It’s possible to put on muscle while still including long endurance work, but for most people, that balancing act will be more trouble than it's worth. Those Saturday morning ten-mile runs, like biceps curls, can wait for a few weeks.

5. Consistency include variety (and breeds success)

Routines don't become routines overnight; they become routines because people go weeks or months or years without changing a thing. To ward off boredom, it's a very good idea to mix up the weights, or change the occasional rep scheme, or combine several core movements into one, just to keep the body guessing. But always remember: proficiency before creativity. Don’t go hitting thrusters – that’s a squat into a press – before you’ve got the squat 100 percent down.

Join GQ Middle East in conversation with Nic St Maurice, Managing Partner at Transform Altitude Performance, Essa Al Ansari, founder of Fitness with Essa, and Karen Mattar, at Gate Avenue, DIFC on Thursday, March 14 (5.30-8pm). GQ Lab in association with Gate Avenue, DIFC, March 12-14