Three Ways To Build Muscle

In General, Movement by Mikki Reilly3 Comments

In a recent post I discussed the best way to build muscle – full body workouts with exercises that work multiple joints. But what would that look like in terms of reps and sets?

While there are many ways to structure a workout, if you want to gain muscle there’s one basic notion you’ll want to adhere to. It’s called progressive overload.

The concept comes from the Greek legend about Milo of Crotona. According to the tale, Milo put a baby calf on his shoulders everyday and walked around a large stadium. As the calf began to grow, Milo grew stronger. Eventually he became so strong that one day he was able to carry a full grown bull on his shoulders.

This was the beginning of progressive overload. It refers to the idea that you need to increase the demands you impose if you want to build a leaner, stronger body. There are three specific ways to do this.

The most traditional way is to add weight, or resistance, while keeping the number of repetitions the same. For example, in one workout you do a set of five repetitions with 185 pounds. Then in the next workout, you do a set of five reps with 190 pounds. Then in the following workout, you do a set of five reps of the same exercise with 195 pounds.

Another method of progressive overload involves adding repetitions while keeping the weight the same. For example, in the first workout you do a set of five reps with 185 pounds. In the second, you do a set of six reps with 185 pounds. And in the third, you do a set of seven reps with the same weight.

The third approach is to increase the training volume by adding more sets to the workout. For example, in one workout you perform 12 sets per workout. In the next workout you perform 13 sets. And in the following workout you perform 14 sets.

Obviously, you can’t continue to add sets forever. At some point your body will stop responding. When this happens it’s a good idea to include some lighter lifting in your program to facilitate recovery and growth.

But if you do apply the method of progressive overload to your workouts, you’ll find that as your training progresses, you’ll be able to lift more weight, longer which will create a leaner, stronger you.


  1. Great post about building muscle. I really like the story about the Greek guy… sorry forgot his name while I write this.

    I think this is really important for all people who care about there body to realize because this is how you build your metabolism.

    Working out to failure is the key to building muscle… it is hard, but worth the pain when you look in the mirror…

    I look forward to more posts.

  2. thanks dan. I’ve always enjoyed the old tale about Milo of Crotona. And yes building muscle is work but, as you mentioned, the payback is worth every bit of the effort…


  3. Great post! Keep it up! Personally, I think having the self discipline to follow through on one’s goals and expectations is the single most important thing a person needs to have. Not only in sports but in just about everything you do in your life. You’d be crazy to expect getting well-developed muscles if you are not working out religiously or if you are not following a proper diet. Following-through makes all the difference. A fire will eventually die out if you don’t feed fuel to it, but it can grow really big if you fan it and give it more fuel to burn. So, if we’re talking about building muscles, following-through means having and executing the right workout program for you, eating a proper diet, taking in supplements, and living a healthy lifestyle. Have a great day!

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