Seven Essential Principles of Muscle Growth


To get big you’ve got to train hard. Intensity, after all, is the lynchpin that underlies muscle cell division and growth. But training hard is not enough. You’ve also got to train smart. Without brains you will never develop the brawn that you are working so hard to achieve. Training smart means mastering the fundamental principles of bodybuilding. Build your training upon the following seven commandments of muscledom, and you’ll be propelling yourself to the very front of the muscle-building queue.

Principle No. 1: Progressive Resistance

Muscles will only grow when they are subjected to an overload. They will not respond to anything less. Making your muscles contract against a level of resistance they are not used to will eventually cause them to adapt and grow stronger. But once they have adapted sufficiently they will stop. When this happens, the only way to make your muscles continue to grow is by further increasing the amount of overload to which you subject them.

Here are 5 mass building techniques to keep you PUMPING harder and resistance at its MAX:

  • Increase weight: be careful to increase slowly from week-to-week to avoid injury
  • Drop-Sets: completing a set to failure, then dropping the weight and going to failure again, and again!
  • Super Sets: mix up two-three exercises in one GIANT set
  • Negative Rep Sets: Checkout negative training for a massive pump
  • Unilateral Movements: Using one-arm at a time to perform each workout.

Principle No. 2: Know Your MAX - Single Rep Max (SRM)

Knowing you Single Rep Max (also known as SRM or 1RM) is essential to any mas building program. It is a key pillar when working out your Rep Ranges, how much to push each week and as a gauge of your progress.

You can use this One Rep Max calculator to find your max.

Pro Tip: Calculate your 1RM before your next workout to and in 6-8 weeks to gauge your progress

Principle No. 3: Rep Range

A rep is one complete cycle of an exercise movement – a contraction of the muscle followed by an extension. A set is a group of those repetitions. How many reps you include in a set depends a great deal on what kind of set you are doing.

Often times, workout programs will guide you based on a % of your SRM. For example:

  • When lifting to get shredded, lift 65-75% of your SRM for 12-15 reps
  • For muscle building, lift 75-85% of your SRM for 8-12 reps
  • For Strength, lift 85-95% of your SRM for 3-5 reps

The reason you can do more reps for legs than for the upper body is because the fall-off in strength over the course of a set is slower in the legs than in the upper body. That’s because the legs have more endurance than the upper body. In both legs and upper body, however, the amount of weight used over the given rep range should represent 70 to 75 percent of the on rep max ability of the muscle involved.

Pro Tip: To put on slabs of muscle, perform your 8-12 reps at 70-75% of your Single Rep Max

Principle No. 4: Training to Failure

When it comes to building muscle, training to failure means continuing a set until you can’t do any more reps with that weight without stopping to rest. What causes this failure? Basically it results from the gradual fatiguing of the muscle fibers involved and the inability of the muscle to recruit any more fibers to take their place. The process of contracting a muscle involves the process of oxidation, which is, in effect a form of burning or creating heat by the release of energy. Whenever fuel or oxygen is in too short supply, the muscle fibers can’t contract until they are replenished as you rest and recuperate.

Training to failure is critical to your muscle building success. When you are doing reps with a weight less than your one rep maximum, all the muscle fibers available don’t come into play all at once. Continuing a set to failure is a way of demanding that all of the available fibers are recruited. It’s the only way to BUILD MUSCLE. If you are doing an upper body exercise and want the muscles to fail at, say, 8 to 12 reps, you pick a weight that causes this to happen. If you’re able to do 15 reps with this weight, you’re not pushing hard enough and need to add more.

Principle No. 5: Full Range of Motion

As a general rule, the exercises that you choose to build your body should take the muscle through the longest possible range of motion. You should stretch out to full extension, and then come all the way back to a position of complete contraction. This is the only way to stimulate the entire muscle and every possible muscle fiber.

Principle No. 6: Contraction Quality - it’s not how much you lift; it’s how you lift it!

When it comes to building muscle, the weight is a tool that you use to stimulate the muscle cell – nothing more, nothing less. Your job, is to concentrate on using a specific muscle to make the exercise harder. You want the target muscle to do all the work. Good technique will assist here. Start out lifting very light and concentrate on how the muscles feel during the movement. Then gradually increase the weight. If, however, you get to the point where you can no longer feel the target muscle working as it did when the weight was lighter, you will want to drop back the weight a little until the muscular feel returns. You’ll know you’re doing it right when you feel the burn. The most common testosterone-pumping workout is biceps. It’s also the one done ‘WORST’ at every gym. Checkout this video for an example of doing bicep curls the right way – it’s not how much you lift; it’s how you lift it!

Principle No. 7: Recuperation

You don’t build muscle in the gym. That happens afterwards, when you rest, recuperate and feed the muscle cell. If you work a muscle too often, it will not have enough time to recover and you will over-train. Different muscles recover at different rates. The biceps recover the fastest. The lower back take the longest – about 100 hours to fully recover from a good workout. Most body parts, though, require 48 hours before they are ready to train again.

Pro Tip: Muscles BUILD in out sleep. Sleep and rest are critical to building muscle. Get 7-8hrs sleep on a workout day.


The SEVEN principles outlined above are the foundation pillars of your training system. Put them in place, build your program around them, and consistently apply them and you will be building a platform upon which to build phenomenal mass and strength, day in and day out. Join us next week to learn 6 essential moves you NEED to know for putting on slabs of muscle.


Author: Steve Theunissen
Author Bio: Steve Theunissen is the Nutrition Souq Bodybuilding and Workouts Editor. He is a former gym owner and personal trainer. Steve is the author of 5 hard copy books and dozens of e-books on the subject of fitness, bodybuilding and weight loss.