The 14 Things You MUST Do In The Gym to Build Maximum Muscle

1. Focus!

Focus is the first prerequisite for success in anything.
We’ve all seen the person looking around like a squirrel looking for nuts, and never gets anything done.

Social media offers many benefits, but focus isn’t one of them.

Social media robs us of our ability to focus, and is crushing our ability to do deep work.

Furthermore, multi-tasking should be categorized as a 4-letter word, with a synonym being stupidity.

You absolutely cannot do multiple things well at the same time.

Learn to create focus as one of your super powers and not only will training get better and results skyrocket, but all areas of life will thrive.

Action Item: Focus, like anything in life, is a skill that requires practice. 

Step one to improving focus is to remove the distractions. 

Leave your phone in the car, toss on a pair of noise cancelling headphones, and choose melodic music without lyrics so it’s not a struggle for songs you like, vs songs you don’t like. 

Eventually you’ll learn to get focused in a room full of dancing chimpanzees, but at first remove the temptation. 

Use training as your second line intervention for improving focus. 

Begin by listening to your mind, and identifying the self-chatter that goes on when you want to quit a set. Acknowledge it, create the habit of overriding it. 

Finally, commit to stop multitasking.

2. Go Internal.

Muscles exist inside the body. (Thanks, Captain Obvious)

In order to make them grow, we must subject them to an internal environment that sends the signal to accumulate new tissue.

To make this happen, there are a lot of things that must be present, but the first and most important is the signal for growth.

Action Item: Think about this: Muscles have two ends. 

One close to the midline of the body, the other end is further away. 

The distal end (further away) pulls toward the midline, while the other end is completely anchored. 

Your focus is to make this harder. NOT to just lift the weight. 

Lifting weights or completing exercises is only useful if it directly accomplishes this task. 

Focus solely on making the muscle work.  Ignore whatever weight you are using to make the muscle work. 

3.  Setup for Your Body.

You are unique, inside and out.

You are built differently than me (and everyone else), and require different amounts of stimulus than anyone else.

To build muscle, you must first learn how to fit exercises to your body.

This does not necessarily mean choosing different exercises, but it means finding how to maximize the exercises you do for your structure.

Exercise Mastery is always the first step in building muscle.

It’s not about working hard (yet).

You must first learn to create the signal for growth.

Action Item: Forget everything you think you know about exercise and THINK. 

Muscles respond to external forces. 

What direction is this force being applied on the body, and what muscles are best suited to resist. 

Study your body and find the correct set ups for each exercise that matches your body structure.

4.  Stabilize. 


You’re literally wasting your time.

Every movement that isn’t contributing to the goal, is taking away from it.

If your body is moving in any way, its either helping to complete a movement, or it’s making it easier.

Action Item: Lock yourself down before you initiate your lift.

Stop using momentum to lift your weights.  

Use the muscle you intend to grow to lift the weight.

5.  Initiate with the Working Muscle.

Pushing a car from a dead stop is much harder than pushing a car that is already moving, right?

Well, your body knows this too and will do anything in its power to use the largest muscles possible to move a load.

When your goal is building muscle, this is literally robbing you of the opportunity to challenge muscles and grow.

Action Item: I am going to repeat what I said in #4.

Lock yourself down before you initiate your lift.

Stop using momentum to lift your weights.  

Use the muscle you intend to grow to lift the weight.

Before you lift the weight, close your eyes and zone your mind in on the muscle you are working. 

Find the muscle. Connect with the muscle.  Lift the weight with that muscle.  

If you feel other muscles start to engage or feel your body move in an attempt to “help” lift the weight, reduce the weight and start over. 

6.  Think Insertion to Origin.

Muscles have two ends.

One end is closer to the midline of the body (the Origin).

The other end is further away (distal) and is called the insertion.

In order to create motion, the body creates varying amounts of muscular tension by bringing the INSERTION TOWARD THE ORIGIN.

In order to create maximum force production, the body must stabilize one end (origin) and pull the insertion toward it.

If both ends are moving, the ability to produce force is significantly less.

Like pulling on an elastic band, but both ends are moving.

Action Item: Before you begin your workout, mentally walk through the origins and insertions you plan to bring closer together during your workout.

Get your focus there first before you start to train.  

Remember why you are there in the gym.  You are there to grow, not to just pick up heavy weights.

7.  Breathe.

Controlling this piece seems to be a blindspot for 99% of athletes, yet its potential for improving performance AND recovery might surpass almost everything.

If you saw a lion standing 10 feet from you, you would stop breathing, tighten your muscles, and prepare to fight or run.

This is very useful to avoid danger, but not very useful if you’re doing this for 2 hours at a time when you’re working out.

A healthy nervous system quickly amplifies muscle tone to lift a weight or perform a task (sympathetic), then immediately comes back down to calm the mind and body (parasympathetic).

This is controlled by your Autonomic Nervous system.

Action Item: Fast shallow breath = stress/running from Lion.

Slow, soft, deep breath = calm mind, recovering body. 

Breathing is the piece of the performance equation that you can control and will make a huge difference on every level. 

If you’re not breathing mindfully, you’re placing a governor on your growth, slowing fat loss and amplifying fatigue. 

8. Seek the Pain. Smile. 

Your greatest obstacle is your greatest opportunity for growth.

In the deepest depths of your hardest set, smile, knowing you’re becoming a better version of yourself.

Action Item: At the end of a painful set, smile.

Be grateful for the pain that you purposely intended to achieve. 

9.  Have a Clear Training Goal. 

When most people think of training, they think of “working hard”, or progressive overload.

While these are important long term, focusing only on these is often the very thing holding you back from building a great body.

Every goal should have a very specific training objective, and blurring these lines will often slow your gains and progress.

Guessing is a thing of the past.

Action Item: Learn how the type of training you’re doing (Hypertrophy, Strength, Metabolic) is affecting your system.  

This will allow you to adjust your nutrition to your training stimulus to support maximal performance. 

Tracking HRV (Heart Rate Variability) is the best current objective biometric variable to learn how your training is affecting your system instead of guessing.

10.  Match Your Nutrition to Your Training Stimulus.

Heavy, low volume training doesn’t deplete glycogen, but it does tax the CNS.

Metabolic/Lactic style training is very exhaustive to the energy stores of the body.

Hypertrophy/Muscle building ranges somewhere in the middle or both.

As you can quickly see, each of these training styles would subject your body to different types of stimulus and therefore create a different internal environment and different nutritional needs.

Action Item: Learn when and where to apply your carbohydrates based on your training goals.

Learn when and where to apply your fats and protein based on your training goals.

11.  Build Progress  into Your Programming.
*REMEMBER TDLTime, Distance, then Load.

First you manipulate time, then challenge distance, then lastly, you challenge load. In that order.

Action Item:

TIME: To ensure progress in any training program without sacrificing form, first, extend time.  This is done by slowing reps down, doing more reps, decreasing rest periods, and/ or progressively increasing volume. 

DISTANCE: This is the missing piece that most people aren’t aware of. Challenging distance is a massive opportunity to challenge muscles and increase growth without risking poor form from increasing load. 

LOAD: This is the FINAL piece to increase. It is a necessary piece of the puzzle but you must earn the right to increase load. You earn the right by displaying control, over time and as load goes up maintaining (or increasing) stability. 

Stability is your test. If you start to move or change positions when you increase load, it’s too heavy. 

12.  Challenge Muscles. Don’t Simply Complete Reps. 

Mindlessly and thoughtlessly aiming to complete reps because it’s listed on your program is a rookie mistake.

This mentality was adopted from powerlifting, where it makes complete sense to complete reps at all costs.

It’s a completely different goal.

When the goal is to get bigger, your goal is not to complete reps, but instead challenge muscles.

Ask yourself, what would it feel like if you wanted to challenge a muscle maximally at every inch of every rep?

Action Item: You have a rep range planned for every workout, but remember that the rep range means absolutely nothing, if you are not actually using the muscle you intend to use to lift the weight.

If you are not fully executing the exercise with that muscle, and you are using momentum or other movements to achieve the rep range, the set is really worth about 50% of your time.  

Reduce the weight, and execute the next set initiating with the muscle you want to grow, with your body locked down and stable.  Make the set worth 100% of your time.  Rep ranges only make a difference when you lift with intention.

13. Make Every Rep as Hard as Possible. 

Yes, this is repeating the same thing as number 12, but it’s so important I wanted to say it twice, and come at it from two different angles.

When it comes to building muscle, look to isolate a single muscle and disadvantage other parts.

Your body will always try to cheat when it gets hard.

Building muscle means being present when it gets hard to ensure you don’t slack and allow your body to take over.

Action Item: Make one of your primary training goals to be fully focused on your training from the beginning to the end.  When you train correctly focusing on making every rep as hard as possible, you will spend far less time in the gym and have faster results.  

Training is about quality before quantity makes an impact. 

14. Find a Great Training Partner.

A great training partner that trains with intelligence and is invested in your success is one of the most undervalued training assets.

Invest time selflessly into helping them get better, and helping them understand what goal you’re trying to achieve and how to best help you get there.

A great training partner is worth their weight in gold. But most training partners are more akin to smelly, sweaty energy vampires that steal your time and focus.

Action Item: Approach this like you would a business transaction. 

Set goals, expectations, and boundaries. 

The best training partners will not bring their problems, or even their interests to the gym. 

They will help you be your best, and you will do the same. 

Their goal should be to make you work as hard as possible on every rep, not play on social media, talk to girls, or pull from your focus. 

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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