The secret to building muscle

Today I’m gonna reveal a secret to you. You’ve probably read that there is no secret – maybe I’ve even posted this myself in the past. Well, I was lying – whoever told you that was lying. Robbing you of progress, sending your muscle-building quest on a detour.


You gotta promise me to keep this to yourself. Actually thinking about it, I’d rather you shared the link to this post with your friends.

Short rests make for an instant gratification in the mirror. Getting a good pump going is like cocaine though – you’ll feel amazing for about 10-15 minutes, then you’re gonna need another hit. Before you know, you’ll be running around trying to pump up ten times a day. That’s not what we’re looking for. While getting a good pump going can be great, it’s not the super secret.

The secret is setting rep PRs in the 5-15(+) rep range.


It’s really that simple. Adding weight to the bar in the big lifts will transform your physique as long as you get plenty of food in you. While getting your 1RM up will definitely do the same thing, you might as well stick to the higher rep ranges (unless you’re competing in powerlifting/weightlifting). Less CNS impact, less weight (meaning less risk of injury) and a higher potential for hypertrophy. What’s not to like? Only downside is that you don’t get to test your strength all the time… Oh wait – but you do. Adding 10kg to a 5RM means you got stronger. Beating rep maxes is just as good as beating a 1RM – actually it’s better if your goal is to add size.

Whether you’ve added 10kg or 3 reps to your 5RM, you got stronger – you increased the potential for building muscle. Now go eat some good food and grow!

Instead of always obsessing about 1RMs if you’re training for size and strength – what you can do for a heavy triple, a set of five or eight is more important. Obviously though increasing your 1RM will increase your 8RM as well, but specializing in one or the other will make a difference over time. Most people really have no reason to go lower than 3 rep sets.

Weakpoint traing part two – hypertrophy

Following up on these general observations it’s time to get a bit more specific.

You’ve consulted this post and decided you have weakpoint(s), but you don’t know how to fix the problem.In this post I’ll go more in depth with how to fix weakpoints from a hypertrophy point of view.

There are two general strategies for dealing with weakpoints:

  • More work for the specific muscle group.
  • Better work for the specific muscle group.

The quantity approach:

Doing more work is pretty simple, though there are several way to do this as well. You can: spend about ten minutes working on your weakpoint every time you hit the gym, add more volume to you current routine or you can change exercises for other groups, to get more carry-over.

Valentino could've done a bit more forearm work.

Valentino could’ve done a bit more forearm work.

The ten-minute approach and the volume approach are pretty simple. Make sure you’re not doing anything that’s detrimental to your other training. The ten-minute approach needs to be light. Take guns for example, you’d do a superset of 5×10 curls and pushdowns. You could also do a pushup variation and a facepull for more a stronger more stable girdle. Keep it at no 100 light reps tops and avoid spinal load.

As for added volume, add about 10-15% volume to your main exercise for that muscle group, and stay there for 2-3 weeks. See how it works and consider adding a little bit more, or employing other strategies.

An example of more carryover would be switching from pullups to chinups for more biceps, taking your grip in a little bit on the bench press to get more triceps activation or keeping a more vertical torso on rows to keep the upper traps from taking over. Front squats for back squats (or the other way around) to get more/less quad stimulation is also an option.


Wendler obviously beat the living shit out of his traps with great results.

The quality approach:

Make your weakpoint a priority by training it while your fresh. The further you get into your training session, the less energy you’ll have. This is why most people do squats, presses and deadlifts first – simply because those are the most important lifts.

Another tool is to decrease weight a bit and apply 100% picture perfect form. Controlled eccentrics and explosive concentrics with full concentration on the muscle being worked. Oldschoolers talk about mind-to-muscle connection, which is what we’re trying to achieve with this strategy. Feeling the weight a bit more than just moving it. Also specific movements have specific tips – pulling with the elbows for rows/pullups is an example of that.

The final tip is tempo control. Though I’m not a big fan of it myself, others have used it with good results. I’d always work my main exercise for strength, and then apply tempo control (most often slow eccentrics) to my secondary or tertiary exercises. Tempo controls evil cousin is called “paused” and is a mean little bugger. Paused squats, paused rows and paused presses are all great ways to increase stimulation and contraction at certain points in an exercise. Just don’t expect to use the same wieght you do on your normal sets.

That’s all for now. See ya soon.

Worry about this instead. Part five – hypertrophy.

In case you just started following, here’s a quick link to the first four parts of this series.

As you can see, I’ve covered nutrition, strength, behaviour and little things. To wrap up the list, here’s what you really came for – how to get sw0le!

  1. Strength. Unless you’re already moving significant poundages, forget about hypertrophy. The easiest way to look like you bench 140 is to bench 140.
  2. Finding and following a simple full body program with linear progression until you’ve stalled and reset around three to four times.
  3. Clean up the diet and gradually add a little. Counting calories is not for me, but if you do add 500kcal a day.
  4. Use medium reps (3-6ish) for main lifts, and higher (8-12) for assistance exercises. High rep squats is a classic for a reason though – try it once a week for a month or two. Start out with 20 reps at 50% 1RM and add weight each week.
  5. Forced reps build ego, not muscle.
  6. Weightgainers contain protein powder and shit. I’d rather grab a shake and eat cake any day of the week. Simple refined sugars are simple refined sugars – even if they come in a shiny tub that says “mass gain 5000”.
  7. Patience. I’ve been around this before, but it bears repeating. Busting your ass 3+ times a week over a period of 2-3 years is a surefire way to get jacked.
  8. Volume. A little more volume can be applied here, just don’t go overboard. we’re not trying to get 3-day DOMS here – we’re trying to build muscle. 5×10@50-60% should do the trick.
  9. You don’t have weakpoints if you’re not benching bodyweight and squatting around 1.5x bodyweight. Then you’re just weak. Get stronger.
  10. Worry about building muscle and/or losing fat – there’s no such thing as “toning”, “shaping”, “sculpting” or “defining” muscle. There’s muscle and there’s fat, how you look depends on those two factors.

As you can see there’s nothing new under the sun here. Focusing on big lifts and the long term is key here. I’ll get back to weakpoint training in a later post, as I’ve got my own hypothesis on how weakpoint training and social psychology interrelates. I’m really looking forward to writing that one myself.