How To Gain Muscle Part 3 – Building A Foundation

Alpha Physique

Parts 1 and 2 are here and here – you will need to read these before reading this article. This will focus on training for muscle gain, nutrition will follow shortly.

Loves his curls, but has no foundation!

Building Your Base – Training For Muscle Gain

We’ve heard it all before, but I will say it again…

“Rome wasn’t built in a day”.

And yet many people try to build a great body, with large amounts of muscle without doing the basics first. This is why so many of them fail to gain muscle mass. Focusing on isolation exercises and working on weak body parts is unbelievably short-sighted, micro-level thinking. You’re weak all over, you need to build up everything.

Focusing on the compounds will add thickness and size all over you, this means deadlifts, squats and bench presses. Of course, you will also need plenty of carbs (not necessarily protein), but the nutritional base is coming later.

Another way of looking at this training foundation:

  • Foundation of Muscle. You can’t chisel a block of granite if there is little granite there to begin with. You need to build this foundation level of granite in order for there to be anything impressive to show for it – think of the skinny guy with a six pack (also known as the equivalent of the fat girl with big tits).
  • Foundation of Strength. You can’t get strong and big with high rep isolation exercises – the weights are too light. You need compound exercises to go heavy and get stronger- get stronger on these movements, and the size will follow. Fill in the big pieces of the jigsaw first, then you can focus on the little pieces to complete the overall picture. Rocks before stones before pebbles before sand.
  • Foundation of Form. You can’t lift heavy with bad form. Practising the correct form at least twice per week for many weeks will ensure that your chance of injury is very low, by the time you’re strong enough for it to be a major risk factor. Injuries really screw your progress up, so good form is crucial. YouTube is very helpful for this.

It’s tempting to skip this step and go straight after the pump with high rep isolation. But if you build a foundation of size, strength and form first, you will get better results with whatever you decide to do later – whether that is aesthetics, endurance or even more strength.

The challenge is that as a beginner, you don’t necessarily have to choose aesthetics or size, both will improve for you pretty quickly (unless you get fat).

You can gain muscle by jumping straight into high rep isolation routines, but you won’t build the maximum amount of muscle mass you can build in the shortest amount of time, and you’ll eventually get stuck because you never built a foundation.

This is where many people start to blame their genetics or age. This is where they start buying more supplements. This is where they start considering steroids. They lack experience to see the issue is their training – they’ve failed to build a strong foundation first.

You need to spend your time as a beginner prioritising the basics – compound movements, then you can move onto some aesthetics work if you wish. For intermediates,  I always like to follow the 80/20 rule – 80% of your time on the compounds, 20% on isolation.

If you’re hitting the main compounds movements and performing 2-3 working sets, this will hit isolated muscles pretty hard. For example, 2-3 sets on bench will stimulate about 90% of your tricep growth. Any more than 1-2 sets of tricep work is likely a complete waste of time.

However, if you did really want to even out your proportions in this area, you could opt to simply do one set of bench, followed by 3-4 sets of triceps – that would work well.

But, I will repeat: This is once you already have a foundation. To focus on the foundation, focus on the compounds!


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2 thoughts on “How To Gain Muscle Part 3 – Building A Foundation”

  1. What are the best isolation exercises you would advise for an Intermediate with lagging shoulders and arms?

    1. Always remember that 80% of your progress in terms of total size will be coming from your compound movements. But if you want to add the extra 20%, and iron-out any imbalances, side raises are great for your delts, hammer curls and tricep “skullcrushers” are my favourites.

      Frequency is key with weak points – train them 2-3 times per week!

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