The 3 Keys to Building MUSCLE

[I don’t talk about building muscle much, but I was inspired to write this article after receiving an email from my man Aaron, whom you’ll meet later on…]

I used to be a skinny kid.

I’m talking exposed ribs, visible beating heart skinny.

Combine that with the fact that I was only 1 of 3 Chinese kids in my school (the other 2 were my older brothers), and the fact that I skipped Grade 7, I was an easy target to get picked on and I definitely wasn’t getting the love from the ladies…

This is actually not me as a kid, but close. We all look the same anyway.

But because I played rep ice hockey and because I was getting my bell rung from freak 15 year olds who were the size of fully grown adults (I should’ve demanded Olympic style drug testing) , when I turned 16 I decided to start lifting weights for self-preservation.

Actually, it was my bro Tyrone who bought me a barbell set for Christmas. One of those old York benches that wobbles and a bar with those fat vinyl plates.

I hit the weights religiously – 3 days a week after school, followed by eating as much dinner as I could handle.

Soon, my routine of Bench Press, Barbell Curls and Skull Crushers paid off – I added some mass and I distinctly remember a time in the cafeteria where one of my female friends grabbed my arm and asked, “Have you been working out?”

“Why yes, my dear, I have. Thank you for noticing. Would you like to make out now?”

I wish I’d said that.

Instead, it probably went something like, “Uhm, uh, yeah, uh, want some of my fries?”

Go get ’em, Tiger.

Unfortunately, the added muscle and strength didn’t translate to the ice. Actually, it probably hurt, as I became top heavy and failed to realize the importance of training the legs. Once I did, though, things changed.

However, this article isn’t about my weight training history, or me exacting revenge on hockey bullies, but about building muscle.

There’s so much hype in the muscle building industry that I wanted to help you see the big picture and arm you with the knowledge of how to gain hy-ooooge muscles, if you so desire. [If you ever decide to get a spray tan and pose in a pink bikini on stage, please don’t send me the pics]

NOTE: this article is for those with at least some training experience…

If you’ve never lifted a weight before, start somewhere and just make sure you’re consistent and not killing yourself with horrible form and you’ll build muscle.

But after 6 months to a year or so, those beginner gains that are so motivating stop and it’s time to step up your training game.

First off, let’s talk about what AREN’T the keys to building muscle:

  • Functional Training – the fact is you can build just as much muscle with the Chest Press machine as you can the Bench Press. In fact, some ‘functional’ exercises are worse for building muscle – the more stabilizer activity required, the less hypertrophy stimulus directed to the prime movers. So the key is not to buy into dogma, but to choose the right exercises for the job. For building muscle, I’d choose the Chest Press machine over the 1-arm SB Dumbbell Press any day. But I’d choose the good old Bench Press over either any day.
  • Body Part Split Workouts - you don’t have to follow a split routine to build muscle. As long as each muscle group gets sufficient hypertrophy stimulus each week, you’ll grow.
  • Full Body Workouts – conversely, you don’t have to follow a full body routine to build muscle either. Body part splits do work, if you can get in the gym each week with enough frequency to properly stimulate the muscles you want to grow.
  • 90 minute + Marathon Weight Training Sessions – you definitely don’t have to spend all day in the gym to build muscle. In fact, it can actually hurt your gains as the increased cortisol (catabolic hormone) can counteract the anabolic effects of training.
  • 8 – 12 reps – you can gain muscle with higher reps, or lower reps. The exact # doesn’t really matter. You’ll learn the things that do matter in a second.
  • A shitload of sets – you can do 4, 6 or 10 sets if you’ve got the time and you’ve got the recovery of Wolverine from X-Men. But if you’ve got all of the key factors dialed in, all you need is 1-2 sets per exercise. Let’s find out how…

I could go on and on about the things that are often promoted as ‘The New HYPER Ultra Muscle Building SECRET to Gaining Mass YESTERDAY!@$!’ but I have other things to do.

So here are the REAL keys to building muscle…

Muscle Building Key #1
Time Under Tension of at Least 40 Seconds

Here’s why you need at least 40 seconds of Time Under Tension (TUT) to build muscle…

Anything less and you’re not stimulating the Anaerobic Lactic energy system sufficiently – you’re working the Anaerobic Alactic system.

While it would be great to grow the cells by adding more ATP-CP into your muscles, your body is already pretty close to this maximum already, with or without any training experience. Maximal strength is more a function of nervous system optimization than increased alactic energy stores in muscle.

However, your muscle cells have a lot more adaptive ability when it comes to the lactic system. This type of growth is called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

And obviously, when the lactic system is stimulated, your body is like, “This burns! I need more glycogen to complete these workouts” so it stores more glycogen.

But perhaps more important is that when the lactic system is stimulated, it signals your body to produce more growth hormone (GH).

For this point, check this study to prove it. Exercise induced growth hormone response is a known phenomenon. But these clever researchers had participants with McArdle’s disease, which is a disease that prevents the production of lactate in response to exercise.

They had these participants exercise, measured GH and found that they did not produce any extra GH, showing how lactate is a stimulus for GH production.

Pretty cool and gives credence to the recommendation of making your sets last at least 40 seconds to stimulate lactate production.

Other studies looking at interval training methods where the work interval falls into the lactic energy production window show the same GH effects.

One caveat – you don’t want to venture too far beyond 70 seconds of TUT, because if you do, you’re working aerobically meaning the intensity isn’t great enough to stimulate hypertrophy, which occurs to the greatest degree in Type II fast twitch muscle fibers, which work anaerobically.


Muscle Building Key #2
Progressive Overload

Again, this is one of the fundamental concepts of adaptation to any stress and how the human species has evolved to where we are today.

If you lift 100 pounds forever, you will stop growing quickly. You’ll also stop getting stronger. It becomes a normal part of your existence and your body doesn’t need to adapt anymore.

If one day you decide to lift 105 pounds, your body is like, “More load to deal with. Get bigger and/or stronger.”

But you can’t just keep adding weight, or reps, or sets non-stop, otherwise you’d be able to Bench Press 520 pounds in a year (adding 5 pounds each workout and training twice a week).

There are 4 main variables that you can manipulate to achieve an overload effect: reps, sets, intensity (weight lifted) and rest.

For rest periods, you generally want to stick to 45 sec to 2 minutes, erring on the lower end of the scale. This keeps the lactic system humming.

The key is in manipulating the other variables so that you don’t violate the TUT rule above, but also give your body the progressive overload signal.

The only way you can do this is to start your training block with a submaximal weight.

So if you can lift 150 lbs for 10 reps, you could start with 120 lbs and build your way up in increments of 5 each workout.

As long as the TUT is at least 40 seconds, your body is getting a consistent stimulus to grow.

Think of it this way:

  • Workout #1 – 120 lbs
  • Workout #2 – 125 lbs
  • Workout #3 – 130 lbs etc…

Of course your body will adapt to this type of stimulus.

But once you get to your 10RM of 150 lbs, you need to keep this stimulus going.

The solution is to drop the # of reps and start the block at a submaximal weight again. So you could drop down to 5 reps and if you’ve got a 5RM of 180 lbs, start the cycle at 150 lbs and build up in increments of 5.

That’s how you can progressively overload your body, while sparing your joints and tissues from excessive volume overload from crazy amounts of sets and exercises per body part. It’s a more refined way of building muscle versus simply beating yourself down every workout.


Muscle Building Key #3
Training Frequency to Maximize Protein Synthesis

Protein synthesis is the term used to describe when your body is building muscle – synthesizing (creating) protein.

For this, we’ve definitely got to look to the science to see what effect resistance training has on protein synthesis.

Luckily, there’s a wealth of research out there, so I’m not going to go into depth on each study, I’ll just share the general consensus – following resistance training, the rate of protein synthesis stays elevated for up to 48 hours.

[Here are a few studies showing this for fellow fitness geeks: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4]

The more time you spend with a positive rate of protein synthesis, the more time your body is building muscle.

Said another way, the less time your rate of protein synthesis is ZERO, the more muscle you’ll build.

So that means you should stimulate each muscle group that you want to grow every 48 hours. Ideally, you’d workout Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun, Tues, Thurs, Sat, then start at Mon again.

But most people work better on a weekly schedule, so a good compromise is Mon-Wed-Fri – training 3 days per week.

This will keep your body building muscle for most of the week and keep you growing, as long as you’re hitting each muscle group on Mon, Wed and Fri.

Which goes back to the point I made earlier about body part split vs. full body routines – while you could hit each muscle group every 48 hours on a body part split, you’d pretty much have to workout everyday.

Sooner or later, unless all you’re doing is lifting weights, eating and sleeping, you’re going to burn out. 

So the 3 days/week schedule I just mentioned works only for full body workouts.

Which is also why you can’t go crazy on the # of sets, because that will bring your workouts into the marathon range which isn’t conducive to building muscle.

I guess the article title was a little misleading, as it’s not just about these 3 keys, but putting these 3 keys together properly into a program that you can follow.

Well, I’ve done that for you, if you’re interested.

And I’ve gone a bit further, as I’ve also created this program with the athlete in mind – the guy who wants to build muscle, but doesn’t want to be sore all day or get big but slow.

I call it the eXplosive Muscle Building Blueprint, or xMB for short.

Sure, you can hammer away on some routine designed for a drug-assisted bodybuilder…

… but if you’re training MMA and you can’t afford to walk around stiff and sore like an old man all day, then this program is for you.

Remember Aaron, whom I mentioned at the start of this article?

Well, his results following xMB inspired me to write this article.

He sounded pretty pumped about his results so I figured why not share, and he also graciously allowed me to post  his pics and results here for you to see:

Here’s how the math works:

173 lbs at 8% body fat =  13.8 lbs of fat and 159.2 lbs of lean mass

177.5 lbs at 5% body fat = 8.9 lbs of fat and 168.6 lbs of lean mass

So that’s a drop of 4.9 lbs of fat and a gain of 9.4 lbs of lean mass… in 8 weeks following xMB.

Which is right around what you can expect – I always say most guys will gain 7-9 lbs of lean mass following this program and Aaron is right there.

And if you want to build muscle without getting slow, you can be there too, get started today:

It’s difficult to see in the image above, but you’re also getting the xMB Nutrition Guide, which will give you everything you need to know to support your training efforts with proper muscle building nutrition. No fluff, just what works.

And as with all of my programs, you’re backed by my industry-leading LIFETIME PERFORMANCE GUARANTEE.

Ever have an issue with the program, even if you don’t get started until the year 2020?

If you can find me (I’m pretty easy to find online) just send me an email and I’ll hook you up. No hassles. I just want you to be happy with the products and services I offer.

And of course, when it comes to support, I’m there to help, as well as my lovely assistant Thea who is now back from her wedding.


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mohd shahnawaz
mohd shahnawaz
3 years ago

great article just loved your content mens health

6 years ago

pożyczki pod zastaw mieszkania

6 years ago

Hi, Am thinking of buying this but am a vegetarian. I can get adequate amounts of protein but obviously cutting carbs is not really possible. Am I OK to guy the product? Also, is there any kind of deal where we can buy a few products and get some discount or members club? Just bought HFS and after 2 days can already feel the results.

9 years ago

Hey Eric,

First of thx for the xMBB program, I’m very happy with the results I’ve achieved with it 🙂
Dew to circumstances I’m currently working out at home without a bench or a squat rack so I can’t go all out with benchpresses of squats like in your xMBB program. So here’s my question.
Keeping these 3 keys in mind, can (satisfactory) results also be achieved with low weights/ high volume-density workouts like German Volume Training or AR-7 workouts?

9 years ago
Reply to  Miles

Hey Miles,

What kinda results have you gotten with xMB?

I can’t say for certain – because I don’t know those protocols in-depth and more importantly, I’ve never used them myself or with clients. Sorry I can’t be of more help but I can only tell you about stuff I’ve used personally or know about in-depth.

10 years ago

A lil support to Eric ‘Da Man’ Wong here on the xMBB program: I purchased this couple months back (prior to V2.0). And completed it through. Let me share these: 1. Was 82kg and went up 85kg…however, people (including one gym trainer) said i looked lean/slimmer than i did 2 months back and were surprised that i actually gained in weight rather than loss. My guess is….MUSCLE. 2. I was able to tolerate more (i guess u can say muscle lactic tolerance or something??) while rolling on the mat. Fatigued less. Going for chokes did not seem like an effort at all.. 3. i was doing 80kg x 10reps (Phase 2) with some struggles…bout 5/6 months later (today) and having been off that program since, i can squat 85kg x 8reps no problem (8 reps done purposely rather than 10 reps). 4. Definitely DID NOT feel any slower or so,… Read more »

10 years ago
Reply to  samuel

Awesome – thanks for sharing Samuel, much appreciated.

Winson Lim
10 years ago

Hey Eric,

I am looking to build muscle mass, meaning grow bigger chest muscles, arms muscles, abs muscles and shoulder muscles.

I am a skinny guy who wants to gain real muscle mass in 8 weeks.

I have bought insanity and train 6 days a week to increase my cardio and overall fitness.

May I ask if this can be done with insanity program for skinny guy like me?


10 years ago
Reply to  Winson Lim

No definitely not!

If you’re skinny, doing Insanity 6 days a week is only going to keep you skinny.

FOCUS. If you want to build muscle, do something to build muscle, don’t try to do everything otherwise you’ll get nowhere.

Example: do you know anyone who successfully went to university to become a doctor, lawyer and engineer at the same time?

Winson Lim
10 years ago
Reply to  Eric

So Eric, what is for your best suggestion for me to build muscle fast and increase overall fitness?

10 years ago
Reply to  Winson Lim

Buy the xMB program (or a suitable alternative) and follow it for 8 weeks.

Then go on to work your fitness. You could follow MMA Ripped afterwards (or an alternative if there’s something else that better matches your goals).

10 years ago

Didnt read anything about periodizing speed and explosiveness into the program, for athletes this doesnt look any good, just for bodybuilders..
Off course a 40 sec TUT is great for hypertrophy, but keep doing this and you will end up BIG and SLOW, and not that strong too..
I do weight training and MMA, and long gone are the days when i did weights like this, just focusing on hypertrophy, doesnt help me in my fighting or overall GPP at all..
I was expecting a much more hybrid approach from you, focusing much more on muscle strength, endurance and also speed and explosiveness 🙁

10 years ago
Reply to  Alex

Good comment – I’ll be writing up PART II where I’ll talk about exactly that because of your comment. Thanks for sharing.

10 years ago
Reply to  Eric

Thx man.. i respect your knowledge, looking forward to it !!

10 years ago
Reply to  Alex

Here’s the followup:

10 years ago

Eric if you are testing your max 5 that means you should be able to perform 5 reps of a given weight and not 6 right but how many sets should you be able to do i mean your max 5 is a weight you can only perform 5 reps for 1 set? Thanks

10 years ago
Reply to  Josemm

Yep, 5RM is for 1 set only.

10 years ago

Hi Eric,

This article’s hilarious! I’m looking at the picture thinking, ‘That doesn’t look like Eric?’ Then I read the caption!

Content’s good too, but from what I understood, you seem to imply that if you want to do a split routine, you would pretty much have to work out every day, otherwise you wouldn’t be hitting all the muscle groups every 48 hours?

10 years ago
Reply to  Tariq

To MAXIMIZE protein synthesis, you must workout every 48 hours. Increases in rate of net protein synthesis go back to normal after 48 hours.

That doesn’t mean that you have to maximize it to grow. Upper/lower split, training 4 days/week will produce gains. But if you want to do it MOST efficiently… While minimizing soreness, well, that’s another story and it’s why Full Body is superior based on those specific considerations.