Rueben McIlrath PT talks ‘getting bigger’

Standing at the top of the stairs in my local gym, it wouldn’t be long to find out why most guys go to the gym. I’d maybe need to spend about five minutes asking the dudes that very question as they enter. The response would almost unanimously “to get bigger.”

While highly disputed with an exhaustible list of theories about bringing it about, hypertrophy (the science of making things bigger) isn’t hard to achieve. This series will tell you (my way) of turning those skinny arms, into bulging biceps.

Lets begin with your first port of call, the gym.

Training is number one on your list of hypertrophy inducing factors. You can loose weight with diet alone, but without training, gaining muscular size is next to impossible, in fact it is impossible.

Training is the spark that lights the fire of muscle growth. As we train, muscle fibres are broken apart, lifting weights actually stretches and rips the muscle fibres.

This sounds like a bad thing, and as the body sees it, it is. But for the aspiring muscle builder, this breakdown of muscle fibres s is a great opportunity for growth! In fact it’s pretty essential, see the section on rest after you read this.

Here comes a list of crucial questions you need to ask before you even set foot in the gym. How is it best to train in order to induce fibre breakdown? How many reps and how many sets? How much weight? And how much rest?

I ask myself these questions on a daily basis, and as with everything there are a million varied answers, differing from person to person. Follow this plan and you’re bulking!

Four key steps – the Programme:

• The weight lifted should fall between 65-85% of the lifters one repetition maximum (the amount of weight the person can lift for one, full range, repetition).

• The repetitions should be of a range of 8-15. Most people agree to between 8-12, while others feel that anything below 12 fails to achieve maximum stimulation. Make up your own mind on that!

• The number of sets performed should be between 3-6, again debate rages on where this figure should fall exactly, using your own judgement and results to decide on this.

• Rest should be no longer than 90-120 seconds.

Another major question, and a natural one, creeps up anytime muscle growth is mentioned.

I suggest building a program based upon major compound lifts. What are these you ask? They’re exercises combining more than one muscle group.

Squats and deadlifts incorporate legs, bum, lower back and core. And Pull-ups provide no hiding place for any of the upper body muscles.

These compound drills also provide the greatest release of anabolic hormone, as you’ll see if you go to the Hormonal Changes article.


Yes, of course they do! I always advocate the use of isolation exercises, particularly for someone with a specific weak spot (i,e small arms, or calves etc.) They are a great way to bring weak spots up to scratch with the rest of the body.

Compound moves should be the foundation of your program. Just add isolation exercises to weak areas at the end of your workout.

So now we come to ‘how often?’ Some say more than twice a week is overtraining, others say overtraining is nothing more than a myth of the weak and lazy.

I follow the ONCE A WEEK rule. Not enter the gym only once a week, but train each muscle group at least this often. Maybe train a week spot twice to bring it up to scratch. If you have a personal trainer, they’ll plan all this out for you ;).

Other than that, go for a session 3-5 times each week. Here’s the big one – NOT EVERY DAY IS CHEST AND BICEPTS!

Oh, and that reminds me… DON’T SKIP LEG DAY! Don’t be that guy out on a Saturday night with a 3XL t-shirt that is about to rip but skiiny jeans that dangle from his waist… it’s not a good look, trust me!

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