Effective Muscle Building Strategies

More or less every gym goer knows, for muscle building you need to eat well and lift weights, but that’s a broad concept, how much should you lift, how many reps, how frequent ? Let’s look at the most effective and efficient ways for muscle building. 

Building a program

The best frequency for bodybuilding is 1-2 workouts per week on a muscle group. Now this is extremely difficult to hit all muscles twice and recover enough to grow unless. So you prioritise muscle groups eg big arms but legs like tooth picks ? Do legs twice a week and arms once. If you find that’s not enough recovery to grow, try training your lagging muscle group twice every other week “ everyone’s sweet spot is different” determined by age, fitness, health and natural ability. It’s also important to schedule workouts efficiently, eg ideally you’d want atleast 24 hours between chest workouts and tricep or shoulder workouts as you hit these muscles in lifts such as bench press. For the muscles trained twice a week you want 72 hours or more recovery before training them again. 

Reps and sets 

Depending on your gym experience here’s what I recommend 

Beginner ( 1 year or less) 8-10 sets per muscle per workout 

Intermediate ( 1-2 years ) 10-12  sets per muscle per workout 

Experienced (2 years +) 12-14 sets per muscle group 

The most effective time each set should last for body building is 20 to 40 seconds 

So I would recommend covering that range during a workout eg exercise 1 takes 20 seconds per set. Exercise 2 takes 30 seconds and the 3rd takes 40. To determine how long each rep and set takes you need to select a tempo

First digit = the muscle lengthening eg a bicep curl you are lowering the weight.

Second digit = the end of the muscle lengthening phase 

Third digit = muscle contracting eg bicep curl pulling the bar towards your body 

Fourth digit = The peak of muscle contraction.

So as well as each exercise having a different time under tension, I recommend also tempo variation eg exercise 1 I have a slow eccentric phase, exercise 2 I have a pause at the contraction, exercise 3 I have a pause on the stretch. So a bicep workout will look something like this 

Bicep workout

Barbell bicep curls 

4×5 tempo 3010

Seated hammer curls 

4×8 tempo 2011

Reverse grip curl 

3×10 tempo 2110

FYI note that each of these exercises the grip or angle is different each time, apply this principle to all muscle groups, as there is little point lifting from the same angle/grip each time you might as well just do one exercise if that was the case.

Rest period and time efficiency

Between each set you want to ensure you have recovered enough to lift again effectively but also you don’t want workouts to drag on longer than an hour, I find rest periods between 90 and 120 seconds are effective.

Now let’s say you can only train 3-4 times per week, because you have a life (unlike me). You’ll need to train two muscle groups per workout (any more than that you are edging towards fat loss workouts imo). The most time effective way to do this is super sets. By training 2 muscle groups together you can cut the rest period down. The first way to do a super set is agonist/antagonist eg arms, in a curl the biceps are agonists (working muscle) and antagonist is the triceps (resting muscle) therefore I don’t need much of a rest between the two so my superset can look like this 


A1 bicep curl

30 seconds rest 

A2 Skull crusher 

60 seconds rest 

If I do 4 sets of this my total rest is 360 seconds, where if I was to do these separately 

resting for 90 seconds at the end of each set my total rest is 720 seconds. 

The other way of supersetting is to chose a big muscle group first then a small muscle group second ( which does not assist in the first exercise) 


A1 Squat 

A2 bicep curl 

Which form of superset you chose is down to personal preference really.

Training till failure and recovery

It’s a common misconception that we grow muscle in the gym, this is not true, we break down the muscle to encourage growth upon repair. We actually get bigger by recovering so it’s absolutely crucial you have recovery days, eat a calorie surplus, and get adequate sleep. I’ll go into more details on this on my next article.

How often should you reach muscle failure to encourage growth ? Again this can vary on an individual’s genetics but generally speaking if you lift a weight week in week out without reaching failure your body is in homeostasis and will not grow, oppositely if you push yourself to failure every single workout every week, your body will struggle to recover and grow, I would recommend pushing to absolute failure every 2-3 weeks. 

And there we have it. You should now know how to build the most effective and efficient bodybuilding program. I’ve learnt these techniques training clients as a personal trainer in Manchester over 12 years and happy to share with you this blueprint. If you need any extra help just drop me an email dave@roebuckpt.co.uk or book in a consultation via the home page. 

About the Author dave