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Muscle Building 101

Build Muscle in 10 Weeks


Updated May 19, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

An all-round weight training program, such as the Basic Strength and Muscle program, gives you a solid foundation in strength training and muscle building. This basic muscle program targets muscle building more precisely.

Muscle building or bodybuilding requires more detailed attention to exercises that enhance the size and shape of muscles rather than encouraging pure strength. Strength building requires exercises that induce recruitment of muscle fibers and nerves which allow you to lift heavy weights. Muscle building requires exercises that promote the size of muscle fibers (hypertrophy) -- long elongated muscle cells. Size does not equate perfectly with strength. You can find more information in the Best Weight Training Guide.

Who Can Benefit from the Basic Muscle Program?

While the Basic Strength and Muscle program may be all that many people will ever need, this program is specifically for trainers who wish to pay particular attention to body shape. The classic bodybuilding shape and look is defined by a low body fat level and high muscle definition that emphasizes the size and shape of muscles. The arms, back, shoulders, legs, abdominals, and butt take on a characteristic lean and “shredded” look, the popularity of which has not escaped magazine publishers looking for attractive covers.

You don’t have to reach the level of a competition bodybuilder -– man or woman. Well-developed muscles and low body fat are good for fitness, health, self-esteem, and personal image. For women, muscle building does not have to mean a big bulky figure. However, it does mean low body fat, a flat stomach and bottom, and good looking arms, shoulders, and legs.

Basic Principles of Muscle Building

To get the sculptured look, you need three things:

  1. A balanced nutrition program that supports low body fat maintenance and sufficient protein to build muscle.
  2. Exercise activity that complements your nutrition program by helping to maintain low body fat and the maintenance and enhancement of muscle. This requires aerobic exercise and weight training.
  3. A muscle building program that targets muscle size and definition for all body parts.

The Muscle Program Outline

Design: The muscle building program is deliberately simple in design in order to accommodate the widest range of possible users. It is suitable for men and women of most ages with an appropriate selection of weight and volume of work. I recommend you work up to this by starting with the Basic Strength and Muscle program of three sets of 12 repetitions maximum (RM).

Health and Safety: Stop training immediately if pain or acute discomfort is experienced during any exercise. If this continues beyond the normal discomfort and muscle soreness that occurs with weight training, seek medical advice. You are not meant to lift very heavy weights in this program.

Training Assistance: Note that this is a generic program designed to provide a template for developing muscle and body shape. You should always consider utilizing the services of a personal trainer or strength coach to individualize a program based on your goals, existing fitness level, access to resources, and time available for training.

Supersets: The program includes "supersets." Supersets are two consecutive exercises that work opposing, or sometimes the same, muscle groups to advantage. Examples: Biceps curl followed by triceps kickback; cable hip abductions followed by cable kickbacks. Supersets are noted in the list below with an “(SS)”. Supersets should be done with little or no break between exercises.

Alternatives: Note that dumbbells and barbells can be interchanged in some exercises. Dumbbells can be more convenient for home gym work or when benches and machines are busy at the gym. If you do not have access to a particular equipment piece, work around it with an alternative with similar function.

Number of Exercise Sessions: 10 exercises x 3 sets x 10 repetitions, 2 to 3 times per week. More than 10 exercises are listed in some workouts. Choose ten only per session.

Sets and Repetitions: In contrast to the basic strength program of five sets of 5RM repetitions, this muscle building program uses three sets of 10RM repetitions, alternating sessions as follows in a split system. Two to three sessions per week, with at least one day of rest between each session, is ideal.

  • Session 1 -- Legs and buttocks
  • Session 2 -- Back, shoulders and arms
  • Session 3 -- Abdominals and chest

Repetitions Maximum: You need to calculate, by trial and error, a weight for each exercise that will allow you to do 10 repetitions maximum. This is the stage at which you can’t do another repetition without resting. You need to be able to continue for three sets with about 30 to 60 seconds break time in between sets. Exercises such as squats and deadlifts are very taxing with heavy weights, so don’t expect too much too early. Try to pick a weight that allows you to complete all three sets of 10 repetitions.

Exercise Intervals: Rest for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Recovery and Progression: This applies if you do two or three sessions each week. After 10 sessions, you should take a week of recovery by doing only one weekly session, or do your normal weekly routine with only one set instead of three sets per exercise during each session.

Warm-up and Cardio: Precede each session with at least 20 minutes of mild aerobic work -- treadmill, bike, or step machine.

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