Muscle Building Guide: Training Plan & Tips for Four Strength Training

Muscle building guide effective and healthy muscle building is based on the right training and optimal nutrition. We reveal the most important basics, exercises and foods so that your muscles grow quickly and healthily.

Defined, voluminous, as hard as steel: For many athletes, muscles are part of the ideal visual image. Our muscles do a lot more!

It is it that makes people mobile, provides stability and enables us to breathe. It is also responsible for the pumping movements of the heart.

In total, the human body has around 650 muscles. We cannot (and must) consciously control and train each of them.

The most important muscle groups for humans are those

  • Chest muscles
  • Back muscles
  • Shoulder muscles
  • Abdominal muscles
  • Upper and forearm muscles
  • Upper and lower leg muscles

But how do I properly train these muscles to grow, and what role does diet play? Our muscle building guide provides the answers.

Muscle building: the basics

Before we get to the heavy weights and the bulging plate, we clarify the most important fundamental questions about muscle building.

How does muscle building work?

The aim of muscle building is to thicken existing muscle fibers, also known as hypertrophy.

Muscle hypertrophy occurs when the muscles are used beyond their normal level of performance, typically in strength training . These stimuli cause the muscles to store protein so that they grow.

The growth stimuli arise through the following mechanisms:

  • Progressive overload : You continuously increase the weights, the muscle constantly adapts to the new challenges.
  • Metabolic stress : Persistent muscle contraction causes blood and metabolic by-products such as lactate to build up and less oxygen to reach the cells. The muscle cells swell and burn. The stress favors their growth.
  • Mechanical damage : Triggered by mechanical, especially eccentric movements of the muscle (controlled release of weight), microscopic damage occurs in the muscle fibers – the “repair” is accompanied by muscle growth. 

What are the influencing factors on muscle building?

Whether muscle building actually succeeds through the above-mentioned stimuli depends not only on the right training plan and diet, but also on factors that we only have limited control over.

Red and white muscle fibers

Everyone has two different types of muscle fibers: The red fibers (type I) are fatigue-resistant, but work slowly and cannot exert great force.

The white muscle fibers (type II) are fast and strong. If you have a higher proportion of type II fibers, you can build muscles much faster. The distribution of fiber types is genetically determined.


Your hormonal balance also has an impact on muscle building. The male sex hormone testosterone has a strong anabolic, i.e. muscle-building effect.

Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) is an insulin-like hormone that promotes tissue growth and suppresses muscle breakdown . 

And finally, insulin: the metabolic enzyme makes the cell walls permeable to important macro and micronutrients – for example essential amino acids – that set muscle building and regeneration in motion.

A constant high level of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, can inhibit muscle growth.

This is how cortisol inhibits your training success

The hormonal balance can be changed to a large extent through diet and lifestyle. For example, there are foods that increase your testosterone levels and ways you can avoid stress to reduce your cortisol levels.

Age and gender

What you have no control over are factors like age and gender. Teenagers can build muscle faster due to the rising testosterone levels. From the age of 35, the body loses around 0.5 percent muscle mass per year.

In addition, men have around 10 times more testosterone in their bodies than women, which is why their potential to build muscle mass is significantly greater.

What are the benefits of building muscle?

In addition to the look – you can optimize your proportions with targeted muscle building training – muscles have other advantages:

Every extra kilo of muscle mass burns more energy, even when you are resting. The more muscles you have, the better the energy supplied by the food is used and the basal metabolic rate increases. However, because muscle is heavier than fat, the scale can show more weight.

Muscles act like a corset and thus support an upright posture. Muscle building training strengthens and stabilizes the back, tight abdominal muscles straighten the pelvis. This counteracts typical complaints, such as those caused by predominantly sedentary work in the office.

Plus: muscle mass is reduced in old age. Muscle building training that is gentle on the joints counteracts this process, stabilizes bones and joints and maintains your performance.

Training plan for building muscle

Every beginning is difficult, whether in the gym or at home – you don’t really dare to step out of your comfort zone and prefer to stick with small dumbbells. Or you are fully motivated to try heavy weights, but still do not make progress.

The most important rule for effective muscle building: Find the optimal growth stimulus!

In order to build muscles, you have to use them – and to the exact extent. If the stimulus is too low, there will be no adjustment, i.e. growth. If the stimulus is too high, there is an overload or even stagnation of performance.

Hypertrophy training: this is how muscle building works with strength training

Hypertrophy training is ideal so that your muscle fibers thicken as quickly and effectively as possible and the muscle cross-section increases . The training is controlled via the intensity, the number of repetitions, the breaks and the pace as well as the frequency of your training units.

1. Intensity

You train at 60 to 80 percent of your maximum strength ability. For comparison: with an intensity of 100 percent, you can only manage one repetition.

For example, when you bench press, you lift 50 kilograms with the barbell once. So in training you work with a weight of 30 to 40 kilograms.

Very important: technology takes precedence over resistance! Make sure you do it properly first, then focus on increasing the weights.

 2. Repetitions

Do each exercise for 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 12 repetitions.

Each set is carried out to relative muscle exhaustion – the last one or two repetitions of a set should be relatively difficult for you.

If you exceed the upper limit of the recommended repetitions, you can easily perform more. You increase the weight and start again at your lower limit.

 3. Tempo

Studies show that a long eccentric phase of 3 to 4 seconds promotes muscle growth. Eccentric means that you let the weight off in a controlled manner or your body allows resistance.

The concentric movement phase, in which you tense your muscle and it fights against resistance, is short: 1 to 2 seconds.

 4. Breaks

Take about 60 to 120 seconds of rest after each exercise and each set. Your muscles need them to replenish their energy stores and to transport away any metabolic products.

 5. Frequency

In order to benefit from the effect of super compensation – during regeneration the body increases its performance beyond the original level – you should do strength training two to three times a week (30 to 60 minutes per unit).

According to a study by the Institute for Sports Science at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University-Frankfurt, this frequency is optimal for effective and healthy muscle building. Advanced users can train three to six times a week, but then with a split training plan .

Regeneration is a must, after all, muscles do not grow during training but in the phase afterwards. Beginners need an average of three to four training-free days to recover. The higher the performance level, the faster the muscle regenerates.

Exercises for building muscle

Basically you can train in the gym on machines, on cable pulleys or with free weights, but of course also at home with your own body weight .

However, exercises on machines or with dumbbells are usually more effective for targeted muscle training in which you also want to target very specific parts of the body or muscles .

Newcomers to strength training are initially in good hands with large machines , because the movement is dictated by the machine.

If you have gained appropriate movement experience after a few weeks and have mastered the exercises well, you can also dare to pull cables and free weights. They require better coordination skills than training on machines.

The best exercises for building muscle quickly are the five basic exercises: squats , deadlifts, pull-ups , bench presses, and shoulder presses. They control the entire body.

Isolation exercises, on the other hand, define individual muscles. It takes you longer to gain total muscle mass. Examples are biceps curl, triceps curl, butterfly, leg curl, and hyperextension.

In the picture gallery: Five isolation exercises for targeted muscle building

Important: Always train the large muscle groups first – i.e. stomach, back, buttocks and legs, then come the smaller muscle groups such as shoulders and arms.

Your training could look like this, for example – you always train plans 1 and 2 alternately:

Pay attention to the optimal training control via intensity, repetitions, pace and breaks.

5 training methods for building muscle

You now know that if muscles are to grow, they need appropriate stimuli. Always different, always new. Strength athletes therefore train using a wide variety of methods.

It’s all about the variation! When the effects wear off, it’s time to change your pattern.

1. Pyramid training

In pyramid training , the sets start with high repetitions and lower weights. Then the weight increases and the repetitions decrease.

                    4. set

                  45kg x 6

                    3. set

                  40kg x 8

                    2. set

                  35kg x 10

                    1. set

                  30kg x 12

This is how it works: Find a weight with which you can do the exercise in around 12 repetitions without any problems, but with a little effort. In the second set you increase the weight and do 10 reps, then 8 and in the last set 6.

Always pause around a minute between sets, after very strenuous sets a maximum of two minutes.

If you’ve done everything correctly, the last rep can only be done with heavy effort or with help.

2. Negative training

Here you need a training partner!

Here’s how it works: First, you do a certain number of repetitions on your own – until nothing works. Then your partner comes into play: With their help, you do 1 to 3 more intensive repetitions – your training partner only gives you as much support as is absolutely necessary in the upward movement.

Example bench press: You can do eight heavy repetitions alone. From number nine onwards, your partner will pull the barbell up with you – you can do the lowering phase without help.

3. Drop sets

They intensify the muscle strain and provide a high level of muscle growth stimulus.

This is how it works: You perform a set up to muscle failure, then you immediately take a lower weight and use it to do more repetitions (repetitions) until the next muscle failure (MV).

Also now you reduce the weight again and pump more repetitions. You pull the whole thing through over 4, 5 sentences. You should do drop sets at the end of a training session.

Example: You do 12 reps with 80 kg resistance – then the muscles are exhausted. You immediately go to 60 kg and do another 8 reps until the next MV. Continue with 40 kg and 6 reps, then to 20 kg.

With weight training to more femininity and strength – this is how it works!

4. Superset

In superset training you combine two exercises – for the same muscle or for two different parts.

This is how it works: You do a set of the first exercise and then immediately follow a set of the second exercise. Only then does the sentence break (60 seconds) follow. You repeat the whole thing over three to four supersets, i.e. six to eight individual sentences.

Example of a superset that appeals to the chest and back: a combination of push-ups and pull-ups with a wide grip. You can also use supersets to train a single muscle group.

How to do a superset for the chest muscles: dumbbell flies on the flat bench, followed by barbell incline bench presses.

When training Trisets, you combine three exercises with one another: You perform one set of each of the three exercises without a break. Only now do you take the planned pause in sentences. This can now take up to 120 seconds.

5. Maximum strength training

With this technique you train your body to activate the muscle mass built up by hypertrophy training as quickly and optimally as possible and to accelerate the increase in strength.

The intensity should be between 80 and 95 percent of your respective maximum strength (MK).

Here’s how it works : 4 sets with decreasing repetitions and increasing weight. Specifically: 1st set 4 x 80 percent MK, 2nd set 3 x 85 percent MK, 3rd set 2 x 90 percent MK, 4th sentence 1 x 95-100 percent MK.

Muscle building and nutrition

A timely supply of food directly after exercise can accelerate regeneration. It is well known that anyone who wants to achieve good muscle building also needs the building material for it: proteins.

But protein bombs alone are not as efficient as an optimal mix of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The ideal composition of post-workout snacks and shakes: 50 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat, 20 percent protein.

The best sources of carbohydrates

These include, for example, whole grain rice and whole wheat pasta. The rice provides many high quality, long-chain carbohydrates and plenty of minerals. Whole wheat pasta is a great alternative.

They contain fewer carbohydrates but more protein. In combination with lean meat or fish, both products make a perfect after-workout dinner .

Oat flakes are a great source for the morning after training : They keep you full for a long time and contain essential vital substances such as zinc, iron, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium .

The best sources of protein

Whey protein  is the most popular protein drink . This whey protein is absorbed particularly quickly and is completely metabolized within 30 to 45 minutes of ingestion – ideal after a workout.

If you don’t like a protein shake, you can also consume the following combinations of animal and vegetable protein: sweet potatoes and egg, chia seeds with milk, jacket potatoes and quark.

The best sources of fat

If you meet your carbohydrate and protein needs, you are likely to be on the safe side when it comes to fat as well. Pay attention not to quantity, but to quality.

Avoid trans fats and saturated fats such as cakes, cookies, chips, french fries, too much butter, sunflower oil, fatty meats and sausages.

Unsaturated and especially polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6 – for example in olive oil, nuts, avocado and salmon – are healthier.

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