Featured in: Fitness & Weight Management  |  June 12, 2020

Muscle Building for Beginners

By Kyle Peterson

If you’re looking to develop a better physique, you don’t need a gym membership and fancy equipment.

There are plenty of things you can do to build muscle in your own home, and those muscles will do more than just make you look good. They can have a powerful impact on overall well-being, from improving posture to increasing bone density to boosting metabolism.

Here are some muscle-building basics.

What Is Resistance Training?

Resistance training, also known as strength training, refers to any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against some kind of external resistance. Resistance training causes microscopic tears to the muscle cells, which are then quickly repaired to regenerate and grow stronger.

Resistance training consists of number of different components, including:

  • Set: A set is a group of exercises that are performed together without resting. For example, if you did two sets of 10 squats, you would do 10 squats, rest and then do another 10 squats.
  • Repetitions: Repetitions, or reps, refers to the number of times you repeat each exercise in a set.
  • Recovery: Muscles need time to repair themselves after an intense workout. As a general rule, most fitness professionals suggest resting your muscles for up to 48 hours before working those same muscle groups again.
  • Progressive overload: This is a method of strength training where you gradually increase the stress you’re placing on the muscle group you’re exercising. For example, it could mean using more sets, reps or weight for your next training. It could also mean increasing tension by boosting the duration of each repetition, such as adding a static hold. This could mean holding the weight at the top for two seconds and then lowering it for a count of five.

Primary vs. Secondary Muscles

Primary muscles are the ones that control the movement you’re performing when you exercise. In general, they’re the muscles that you target when you perform a specific movement. Your secondary muscles are the ones that assist the primary muscles as you’re performing the movement.

For example, if you’re practicing forward lunges, the primary muscles that you’re targeting are the glutes, but the secondary muscles that are also getting exercise are the quadriceps and core.

The six major muscle groups you can focus on are:

  1. Chest
  2. Legs
  3. Shoulders
  4. Back
  5. Arms
  6. Abs

Do You Need Free Weights?

While free weights are definitely useful, they aren’t necessary to build strength at home. You can train with minimum equipment or just bodyweight and still get in the shape you want.

The best part? There are advanced bodyweight exercises that you can do at home to increase the degree of difficulty, exactly the same way you would use heavier weights at the gym to make movements more challenging.

For example, instead of adding more weight to the bar for a bench press, you could do explosive pushups or even one-armed pushups to make a traditional pushup more challenging.

5 Workouts to Build Muscle

1. Full-Body Workout

With this workout, you’ll exercise the chest, back, core and legs, as well as secondary muscle groups like glutes, deltoids, trapezius, hamstrings and quadriceps.

Do all of the reps and sets in part A before moving on to part B. Also, do one set of A1, A2 and A3 before resting for one minute and starting the second round of sets.

A1. Glute Bridge March

Sets: 2

Reps: 10 reps on each leg

Lie on the floor with your legs bent and hips elevated. Keeping them raised, lift and lower each leg, keeping them at a 90-degree angle for the duration of the exercise.

A2. Pushups

Sets: 2

Reps: As many pushups as you can in each set

Position your hands shoulder-width apart and splay your fingers. Then engage your core and lower until you touch the ground before pushing back up, keeping your back straight. While keeping your elbows out at a 45-degree angle in the lowered position is considered standard form, everyone’s body is different; move your elbows closer to your body or further out depending on how your shoulders and arms feel.

A3. Bulgarian Split Squat

Sets: 2

Reps: 12

To start this exercise, place one foot on a chair or bench behind you and keep the other in front of you. Next, bend your leg in front and lower to the ground, as if you’re doing a lunge. To increase the intensity, you could hold at the bottom of the squat for a count of five.

B1: Donkey Kicks

Sets: 2

Reps: 12

Get down on all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips, with your chin slightly tucked. Then, keeping your back flat, engage your lower abs and slowly lift one bent leg back and up; your toes should be pointing toward the ceiling at the end of the lift (don’t allow your back to arch or hips to rotate). Finish all the reps on one side and then repeat on the other.

B2: Pushup Position to Downward Dog

Sets: 2

Reps: 12

Exhale and lift your bottom upward, lengthening your spine. Straighten your legs without locking your knees and draw your chest towards your legs with your head between your biceps–you should look like a triangle from the side. Then lower to pushup position and repeat.

B3. Straight-Leg Situp

Sets: 2

Reps: 10

Lay down with your legs straight, knees and feet touching. Then cross your arms over your chest, engage your core and lift your upper body until you reach a fully sitting position before lowering to the floor with a straight back. Your legs shouldn’t move; if you can’t come up without your feet lifting, hook them under something or have someone hold your ankles down.

2. Upper Body Workout

With this upper body workout, you’ll exercise the chest, triceps, biceps, forearms, wrists and core. Again, do a set of A, B and C before resting a minute and going on to the next set.

A: Pushups

Sets: 3

Reps: 8

To increase the intensity of your pushups each week, you could add a static hold at the bottom or put your feet on something to add a decline. You could also place a book or something else flat on your back to increase weight.

B: Bench Dips

Sets: 3

Reps: 10

Sit on the edge of a bench and place your hands on the surface at your sides, fingers curled around the edge; extend your legs straight in front of you, feet together. Then tighten your abs, straighten your arms and lift yourself off the bench, moving forward until your weight is supported by your arms. Slowly lower yourself until your upper arms are parallel with the floor before slowly returning to the start position. Increase the intensity by holding at the bottom of the dip for a count of five. You can also do this exercise using a chair.

C: Bicep Curls

Use a gallon of milk, can, heavy book or a dumbbell if you have one to do bicep curls: Sit on the edge of a bench or chair, feet about shoulder-width apart, with the weight in your right hand, palm up.The bend forward at the hips, hand hanging over your knee, and slowly raise the weight towards your forearm; hold for one second at the top and squeeze tightly before lowering. Repeat on the left side.

3. Lower Body Workout

With this workout, you’ll exercise the squads, glutes, hamstrings calves and core.

A: Squats

Sets: 3

Reps: 8

Stand up straight, feet shoulder-width apart, hands either extended out in front of you or placed behind your head. Inhale, then as you exhale, bend at the knees and hips as if you’re sitting in a chair, getting down as low as you can before coming back up on the inhale. You could increase the intensity by adding a five-second hold at the bottom or making these Bulgarian split squats.

B: Reverse Forward Lunges

Sets: 3

Reps: 10

Start with a reverse lunge, stepping backward until your thigh is parallel to the ground instead of forward then step forward with a forward lunge; then step your other leg forward so your feet are together again. That is one rep.

C: Valslide Leg Curls

Sets: 3

Reps: 5

Use a paper plate under each heel and bend your knees, sliding your feet back toward your glutes. Make this exercise more challenging by adding a tempo or holding one leg in the air. If you do these with only one leg, just do the eccentric part of the movement for a count of five and bring your feet back to your glutes while your glutes are still on the ground.

4. Cardio Workout

With this cardio workout , you’ll not only boost your fitness levels but also work out your pectorals, deltoids, triceps, glutes, and hamstrings.

Burpees

Sets: 4

Reps: 10-20

Start in a pushup position. Do a pushup, and as you rise, pull your knees toward your chest and place your feet on the ground. Then jump as high as you can into the air. When you land, put your hands back on the ground and kick your legs behind you and move back into a pushup position. Repeat the movement for a total of 10 to 20 reps, depending on your endurance level. Rest for 30 seconds between sets.

5. Ab Workout

While you will generally use your core in all of the exercises above, here is a workout  you can try if you want to target your core alone. You’ll also exercise your pectorals and quads.

A: Planks

Sets: 3

Reps: 20-30 seconds

Lie down on your stomach, elbows under your shoulders and forearms resting on the ground. Then raise up on your toes, keeping your core engaged, your shoulder blades drawn towards one another and your hips level. Look at the ground between your hands to avoid bending your neck.

B: Straight-Leg Situps

Sets: 3

Reps: 15

Do this exercise just as in the full-body workout, except reach for the sky with each rep.

C: Russian Twists

Sets: 3

Reps: 20

Sit in a V position with your knees bent. Use a weight in your hands, such as a can or book, and twist back and forth, tapping the item on each side of you. To increase the intensity of the exercise, add reps or increase the weight.

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