3 Keys to Building Muscle

By Joel Donato


Whether your goal is Fat Loss, Performance, or Weight Gain, knowing how to grow or maintain the muscle you have is important knowledge in fulfilling that goal. Now we’re not here to talk about the benefits of keeping/putting on muscle, that’s for another post.

Let’s talk about the qualities needed when trying to effectively manage muscle.

Mechanical Tension, Metabolic Stress, & Muscle Damage. Let’s not get too nerdy here, What do these mean?

Translation: Heavy Loads, The Pump, & Muscle Tear/Repair

Mechanical Tension (“Heavy Loads”)


Heavy Loads and Time under Tension is key here.

Now “Heavy Loads” doesn’t mean grab the heaviest weight in the room and hit 1 rep.

Nor does “Time under Tension” mean grab 3lb Dumbbells and Bench press them for an hour.

Science says there’s a sweet spot, and that sweet spot is choosing a weight/intensity that is high, for a rep range of ~8-15 repetitions +anywhere from ~3-5 Sets (this range is used loosely for many factors, but just as a general rule of thumb).

At the end of the day, you’re looking at an intensity of ~60-75% of your 1 Rep Max of an exercise, performed in a rep range demanding you keep the muscles under Tension for a length of time for each set.


Barbell Back Squat

4 sets of 10 reps @ 70%

Metabolic Stress (“The Pump”)


Anyone that has participated in resistance training may be familiar with the feeling known as ‘The Pump’.

Now this is more than just some means to look plump or toned. It’s a desired effect for business handled at a molecular level.

With muscles continually contracting and relaxing muscles begin to swell causing blood flow restriction to take place. This leads to waste created by those muscles to build up and stress the muscle. With this comes the oh so familiar ’Burn’ that we know and love.

This ‘Metabolic Stress’ (Oh man he said it!) is exactly what causes an anabolic signal to occur which increases a hormonal response we want.


Dumbbell Bent over Rows

4 Sets of 15 Reps (*15th rep is near Failure)

Muscle Damage (“Tear & Repair”)


When we lift weights, muscles tear, especially when done under heavy loads. This tearing leads to a repair response that our body does to adapt.

So not only does it want to repair the torn muscles, it wants to make those muscles stronger to not be torn again under the same load (but too bad we’re just going to introduce a heavier load anyway).

A fantastic way to ensure muscle damage is playing with the tempo in which an exercise is performed.

Remember when we talked about time under tension for mechanical stress, well here is where we can use that to our advantage.

An exercise can be slowed down on the eccentric (lowering) portion of a lift.

So, if you were performing a Barbell Bench Press, lowering down the bar to your chest is the eccentric portion of a lift you would want to focus your time on.


Barbell Bench Press

Tempo: :03s Down every Rep

Each of these feel and look different in their own right, but what they share in common is hard work. Muscle doesn’t come lightly and it’s not for the faint of heart. Whether you want it to grow, or just trying to keep what you have, it’s deserving to those who work hard for it.

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