Fundamentals: How to Gain Muscle (+ The Role of Genetics)

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Fundamentals: How to Gain Muscle (+ The Role of Genetics)

In our article on How to Get Bigger Arms, we briefly touched upon a topic that is severely unappreciated in fitness circles. Even if you’re involved in learning information from sources that tend to stay away from product-pushing fitness magazines, this particular topic on how to gain muscle is almost non-existent. It is unfortunate, however, because it is arguably the most important aspect of how to gain muscle. It is imperative to an individual who is seeking to gain muscle evenly in hopes of an aesthetically pleasing physique and who is otherwise dedicated to seeing results that are satisfying. Let’s cover the basics first.

If you’re attempting to gain muscle, wherever credible you end up in your search for the best results, you will be told that you need to follow a few simple rules. Beyond these rules, you are left to your own creation, missing an essential element in your quest to gain muscle. What you’ll often hear will be the following two fundamentals:

Principle #1: Be Above Maintenance Calories – if you are planning to gain muscle, you have to give your body enough nutrients from food (in the form of calories) in order for it to slap on some size. If you don’t give a construction worker enough bricks, what house is he expected to lay?

Principle #2: Progressive Overload – in order to signal to your body that it needs to grow your muscles, you have to bring those muscles to muscle fatigue. In other words, destroy them in the gym to the point your body knows it needs to prepare itself for sustaining that same force the next time. By repeating the cycle each time you are in the gym, and pushing harder with each session, you’ll do the necessary to force your body to grow (again, in line with the first principle and obvious proper rest).

The various diets you can construct, the various exercises, routines, and ways you can punish your body in the gym in order to gain muscle will be plenty. Those are all secondary in importance, behind these main two principles outlined above. Think of all of those things as the cherries on top of the pie, the pie created out of the two fundamental rules above. As long as you follow what is outlined above, everything else is just the extra that you can use to help you nit-pick how you want to most effectively achieve your muscle gain. However, that’s where the problem starts. You shouldn’t stop there, as there is another fundamental principle necessary to gain muscle in a way that leaves you satisfied. There is a difference between trying to gain muscle and following the results; and building your own body to become what you want it to become through careful analysis and response to your individual genetics. That principle, is the principle that separates ordinary physiques from those that are eye-popping.

Principle #3: Genetics Matter, Use Them – there is an ongoing war about genetics. On one side, people claim that some are simply blessed with amazing genes and everything just comes “easier” to them when trying to gain muscle. On the other side, people downplay the role of genetics as a cop-out for those who just don’t “work hard enough”. The problem? Both of them fail to see where genetics come into play, and how anybody can use their specific genetics to mold what they want to become. There is a middle ground here, and you need to acknowledge it and use it to your benefit.

Everybody has different genes, we are all individuals with our own special codes. When we work out to gain muscle, we all respond differently in different muscle groups. Some people have a better base to begin with, others are worse off (relative to those with a good base). However, while training to gain muscle, it is plainly evident that each individual has certain muscle groups that seem to just “grow”, while others stagnate behind. You must realize this, accept this, and train in a way that leads every muscle group to its maximum potential.

While you’re weight-lifting to gain muscle, you will come to realize that particular muscle groups on your body seem to grow when they look at a pair of dumbbells, while others seem to treat the weights as hell and resist growth. The #1 mistake you can make, is use a routine to emphasize all muscle groups universally. It is irrelevant if you had a good or bad base to begin with, if you are training you will notice your genetics predisposed you to gaining muscle in certain areas easier than in others. You have to take what you’ve been given, and devise a workout routine to account for this. Trying to gain muscle in a muscle group that is stubborn is obviously going to require more punishment of that muscle than one that grows from 3 sets of an exercise.

Those that complain that they simply don’t “have the genetics” are mistaken, although there clearly are variations among individuals in how much natural muscle mass they can gain based on their statistics, everybody has strong and weak points. Some may only have one weakness, others may have plenty. That doesn’t mean your genetics have precluded you from attaining a solid physique you’re proud of, it means you need to push those muscle groups that are stubborn to the point they have no choice but to gain muscle.

The fact it’ll require more punishment from you than someone else “blessed” with the genetics to only have 1 or 2 weak points shouldn’t mean anything to you. You are responsible for your growth, there is no room for excuses when it comes to trying to gain muscle. If you are motivated and want to succeed, it is your job to take on those weak points, not blame “genetics” because you don’t care to respond to your body the way you need to in order to overcome the muscle groups that require extra hard work.

For example, if your chest seems to grow from a set of push ups, don’t hit your chest as much as you hit your weak muscle groups. Hit it hard, and turn to focus on the muscle groups that are behind. Punish them, and do not hesitate to punish them again. There is a horrible misconception in the fitness community that you should allow your muscles to “recover” for days on end. You don’t. If you have weak triceps, hit them every other day. If you are following the principles outlined above, and resting enough, you will never reach a state of “over-training”. Do not let anybody tell you otherwise. Your muscles aren’t growing, do you think you should keep going hitting everything once or twice a week, or prioritize and punish that muscle until it has no choice but to grow? If you chose the former, you’ll keep your stagnation progressing, instead of trying to gain muscle.

Prioritizing muscle groups should be your top priority, if your genetics don’t allow you to grow your shoulders at a steady pace like your arms, then hit your shoulders until they do. Hit your arms hard once a week if not less, and prioritize. Now, when I say prioritize I don’t mean go to the gym and hit your lagging chest three days in a row. Make sure you give a muscle group at least a day in between, but if you get to the point where you have to hit it three times a week (divided, of course), do it! Gain muscle, evening every muscle group out, that’s your objective.

In order to attain muscle symmetry, an important component of this whole process is making sure that you use a Mind Muscle Connection. It is imperative that you actually focus on using the muscle you are trying to work, doing the exercise with that muscle being the primary mover. Each rep should be done by the muscle group the exercise is intended for. Otherwise, not only will you limit the amount of muscle gain you can slap on that particular muscle as you’re not exhausting it to its absolute limit, but you will also allow other muscle groups to take over the exercise when it is not intended for them. This is another problem that leads many people to have stagnating body parts, while others grow exponentially, which can further be aggravated by the role of genetics discussed here.

To gain muscle, and gain that muscle where you want to gain it, you have to make sure that you are not allowing other muscle groups to enter your exercise any more than they physically have to. If you are bench pressing, don’t let your shoulders or triceps do most of the work, squeeze the chest to make it push the weight up. Leave your ego at the door, as it can only exacerbate your limited gains in certain muscle groups. Genetics may tell you where you know you need to work extra hard, but only you can limit yourself in not overcoming that problem by failing to work extra hard. The ability to gain muscle and achieve muscle symmetry is in your hands, don’t blame genetics. Prioritize, punish particular muscle groups more often than others, and do what you have to in the gym to give that muscle group no other option but to gain muscle. That is how you will achieve the look you are going for. Eat properly, train properly (prioritize, use mind muscle, reach muscle fatigue) and don’t follow a routine for the sake of following it. Use routines as templates to create your own routine that places your weak points at the forefront, allowing you to really punish each muscle group equally (as all will require varying amounts of punishment). That is how you really gain muscle, and not mope around feeling others were just more “blessed” than you. That’s not how it works, it’s all in your hands. Figure out what you have been given, and hit the gym based on that knowledge. Good luck!


  1. Nick December 6, 2011 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    Great article and site, a great resource.

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