In case you missed Part I, where we talked about the first 5 basic commandments of building muscle, you can read it here. As a recap, they are:
- Consistency builds muscle
- The basics of building muscle have always worked
- LIFT for success
- EAT for success
- Consistency > Intensity
The world is changing at an alarming rate, and we’re encountering new problems that humans have never faced. A recent study1 from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill found that only 1 out of every 8 adults in the U.S. is considered metabolically healthy.
Even if you go to the gym, you may find yourself fitting into that other 88%.
Look around at your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and witness the disconnect. We are addicted to technology, lacking interaction with nature, and socially isolated, despite being on multiple social media platforms.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
— Albert Einstein
Thus, you’ll likely find that the following commandments don’t fit the normal recommendations when it comes to building muscle. This concept of ‘adaptation’ regarding muscle growth requires a comprehensive approach – this is about much more than sets, reps, calories, and contractions.
6. Hormones > Sleep > Nutrition > Training
When it comes to muscle growth, you’ll find that nothing matters more than hormones. Everything in your body is regulated by hormones – sleep, hunger, digestion, reproduction, and the list goes on. Building muscle is no different, except in this case, we need to examine the factors that cause the largest improvement to your hormones. This does not include the obvious approach of exogenous injections of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Sleep falls next in this hierarchy. It is the single largest determining factor in overall health and the fitness journey because it influences numerous hormonal cascades. If someone chooses not to sleep, they will likely find that they will gain less muscle and more fat while trying to gain weight. Or if they’re trying to diet, their weight loss will be composed of less fat and more muscle. Either way, it’s a lose-lose.
You cannot willfully force the body to lose fat or gain muscle. Unfortunately, biochemistry is not a matter of sheer willpower. It requires personal discipline with food choices and weekly training habits. But your body will reject forceful attempts to stimulate change unless the right hormonal pieces are in place.
7. More Is Not Better
America seems to love the idea of abundance – if some is good, more is better.
I wish it were that simple.
The fitness and supplement community bought heavily into this ideology. You see products with exceptionally high doses of nutrients or dosing recommendations for multiple servings per day. The research simply doesn’t support that with human trials.
Similarly, you may have seen the programming trend a few years ago surrounding #squateveryday. The Bulgarians popularized this training format back in the 70s and 80s when Eastern-bloc countries dominated the world of Olympic weightlifting.
The fitness community got a hold of this idea around 2013-2014, and it took off on social media. However, 6-7 months later, an unprecedented number of lifters reported ligament and tendon issues that were previously non-existent.
So, what happened?
While everyone seemed to be jumping on the ‘squat every day’ bandwagon, they failed to fully investigate the origins of the programming. From what we know, the Bulgarians were heavily abusing steroids during the entire length of their training cycle.
Thus, it’s not surprising that today’s lifters were encountering issues … they were non-enhanced.
Don’t get lost in the silky smooth hype of an overzealous programmer. The body can only take so much, and more is not better.
Vet your sources – stick with professionals who have spent years in the trenches with thousands of athletes and clients.
8. Comfort Is the Prerequisite for Maintenance
As I mentioned in Part 1, your body loves consistency. Better yet, your body loves an unchanged environment.
When nothing changes, your system doesn’t have to exert resources for energy to help tissues adapt and recover.
This is maintenance and where your body loves to live.
It’s easy. Life is good.
However, life will never progress, and you will eventually succumb to the mediocrity of maintenance.
Stress is important – it feeds progress and drives adaptation. With no stress, nothing changes.
Since the industrial revolution, our society has sought to mechanize every process under the sun. While this enhances efficiency, improves output, and enhances market value, it also drastically reduces the physical labor that humans have to undergo daily.
Similarly, we’re no longer exposed to harsh climates or have to spend hours traveling long distances while foraging for food and water.
Life is cushy.
Most Americans wake up, eat prepackaged food made by someone else, drive to work in air-conditioned vehicles, walk less than 50 feet to get into the office, and then settle in for a long day in an office chair behind a desk.
Your body wasn’t made for this environment. Instead, you’re one of the most complex and resilient organisms walking this planet!
You were made to handle stress and lots of it.
Training is your opportunity to build stress resilience in a culture designed to keep physical stress low and psychological stress high. Training improves your ability to handle both – physical and psychological. Build consistency in it, and use stress to your advantage.
Don’t fear stress. Use that to your advantage as well. Train wisely with a purpose, and drive adaptation at every session.
9. Environment Is EVERYTHING
You are a product of your environment. This is not just your surroundings, but the people in those environments as well.
We often forget that we’re psychological creatures. We’re driven by subconscious desires, which influence our day-to-day actions. Habits are created with repeated actions from those desires.
While we’d like to think that most of our daily decisions are processed in the moment, most of what we do is a product of our routines.
Thus when it comes to breaking these subconscious loops, you must examine environmental triggers and figure out what’s driving the outcome.
If you find that you’re struggling to maintain consistency, perhaps it’s time to look outside yourself and investigate your environment. Where do you stumble? Who are you with? What time of day? What day of the week?
These questions may not have cut-and-dry answers, but dig deep because no one else can answer them for you.
10. Recovery Matters More Than Training Volume
Most training discussions focus on one of two things:
- How much should I train?
- What exercise is best?
While both are valid questions, they miss the mark.
Training doesn’t matter if you can’t recover from it. You could train twice a day for six days per week, if you deemed that “optimal” from reading the literature. But it wouldn’t matter.
Well, after 4-6 weeks of that, you will have run yourself into the ground and put yourself into a place of functional overreaching. Your body will have tapped out its metabolic stress reserves. You will shut down, whether you like it or not.
When you’re building your own programming, work backward. For example, “How often can I train that still allows me to hit every muscle group twice per week?”
Most of the literature supports the principle that major muscle groups should be hit 2-3 times per week. Therefore, it’s probably ideal to spread out your weekly training volume over multiple sessions rather than dedicating an entire day to just one body part.
When the volume is spread out, there’s a better chance you won’t overload your localized muscular ability to recover. This means you won’t spend the next 7 days in crippling soreness.
So, the next time you write your own program, take a step back, and think about what you can actually recover from. Even the “optimal” program is pointless if the total volume load is too much for your system to handle.
The 10 Commandments for Building Muscle
Well, there you have it. FPTI’s 10 commandments of building muscle. It’s probably not exactly what you expected, but muscle is much more than macros, body part splits, and protein powder.
If you find yourself stuck along the way, refer back to this list and see what needs to change. The principles are steadfast, but the process is flexible. So, don’t be afraid to experiment!
1 “Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2016,” Araujo et al., 2019