12 Rules of Muscle Building

  1. Posture
    All human movement stacks on top of the starting position of the spine, pelvis, and scapula. Bad or misaligned posture will almost guarantee poor muscular development, imbalances, injuries and lost motivation. The 3 keys to posture? Breathing. Walking. The eyes.Action Item: Sitting up straight is futile. Fixing posture starts with breathing, walking and eye saccades.

  2. Stability
    Stability governs contraction. The more stable you are, the stronger you will be and the more muscle you’re going to build. Think of stability stacking right on top of posture. If posture is bad, so too will stability.  Stability can be created internally with the muscles, or externally with machines, benches, wall, floor, etc. Don’t rely on one or the other. You need both.Action Item: Stop where you sense instability and spend extended periods of time there.

  3. Mobility
    You can’t build a muscle when you can’t get into the position to train it. If you have a “weak” body part, you can almost always spot it through lack of mobility and stability at that part. There is no amount of pec training that will build pecs for someone that has bad posture and rolled shoulders. There is no amount of weight that will build legs for someone with poor hip mobility.Action Item: This is typically a result of bad habits, stress, and poor posture. Implement breathing and walking daily, plus increasing stability at positions of weakness.

  4. Tension
    Tension is the language of muscles. Aim to laser target tension. Lifting more weight does not equal more tension. Tension is dependent on: (1) direction of applied force, (2) distance from the joint, AND (3) load. So when people tell you to lift heavier, 98% of people (coaches included) have terrible form. Just from improving FORM, you will make amazing progress without increasing the weight.Action Item: Slow down. Feel the tension. Close your eyes and feel rather than mindlessly doing.

  5. Skill
    Every single exercise we do is a complex skill to the brain and nervous system. Think of it like playing the piano. Skill is the coordination of muscle contraction in sequence to create a desired result. THE MISSING LINK in muscle building is spending a good amount of time learning the skills of exercise. If we just did this when we started, we would all make significantly faster progress.Action Item: Increase the frequency of your training for skills you want to develop and parts you want to improve. (PRO TIP: Start now!)

  6. AROM
    Obey the law of AROM 100% of the time. What range can you ACTIVELY travel through with your own muscular power? Being pushed there by an external object does NOT count.Action Item: Assess AROM before every workout. This might look like rehearsing the exercise you’re about to do without weight and paying attention to where the motion is occurring.

  7. Challenge – not completion
    Listen up! The goal of exercise is not to complete sets and reps. Doing 3 sets of 8 reps isn’t the goal, it’s a guideline. The goal is to challenge a muscle in the smallest amount of time imaginable.  Don’t simply “lift” weight, instead contract muscles against resistance. If you wanted to make a rep as hard as possible, what would it look like? It would be slow, deliberate, and there would be some ugly faces thrown around from the sheer effort and intensity required to do it. It’s HARD. Much harder than conventional mindless slinging of weights seen in gyms around the world. Lead the charge of the intelligent few against the mindless many.Action Item: Make every inch of every rep as hard as possible for a single set. Let me know how that goes.

  8. Maintain constant tension
    A force being exerted against your body (resistance) is a tool. Choose the body position that allows that force (db, barbell, cable, machine etc.) to always be imparting challenge against the body. Start looking at resistance as forces against the body, and how it is being applied against the body. Never let the body/muscle relax during a set.Action Item: Become so present in every rep and every set that you never let the muscle relax.

  9. Aerobic Fitness
    Aerobic fitness is hugely misunderstood and has previously been demonized by a few loud voices. It is a vital part of recovery not only between workouts, but also between sets. The better your aerobic fitness, the better you recover and therefore the faster you can train again.Action Item: Nasal only breathing cardio work. Try some controlled breathe cadences like 4 in, 4 hold, 4 out, 4 hold.

  10. Nasal Breathing
    Breathing is the biggest opportunity  for improvement of performance, stress management, and quality of life that exists for many people. The implications of breathing on the body reach into movement, stability, stress, sleep, digestion, fat burning, focus, brain health, and so much more. All with one simple and consistently executed breath practice.Action Item: Breathe through your nose, and into your diaphragm. Exhale should be longer than the inhale. Nasal only breathing while weight training and low intensity cardio will change your body and quality of life.

  11. Train your mind
    Your MIND determines success and failure. Not your body. Your mind can be your greatest ally or biggest enemy. A stressed, negative mind will hinder confidence, progress and future goal setting. A positive, achievement oriented mind will always move toward progress and challenges to overcome.Action Item: Set small daily goals, weekly targets and quarterly goals. Celebrate little wins every day. Literally smile, cheer, dance, sing, jump, and enjoy little victories. Your mind will thank you.

  12. Get strong at the extremes of the range
    Find your positions of weakness. Get strong there. If you’re having a hard time building a muscle, you will be weak at the ends of the range 100% of the time. Spend intentional time there and get stronger in positions of weakness. Weakness shows up as instability or lack of mobility.Action Item: People unconsciously short the ends of the range because it’s hard and they’re weak there. Intentionally go into those ranges and get comfortable there.


Picture of Ben Pakulski

Ben Pakulski

Since first lifting weights as a teenager, Ben has been on a mission to do whatever it takes… …to become the most muscular man on the planet! On the eve of The Arnold Classic, he confronts the dark realities of bodybuilding… And his own future! Follow him on his journey…

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