Build muscle strength: the 3 ground rules for achieving maximum result!


The main focus of a lot of people that regularly visit a gym is to grow bigger muscles. Especially exercises for big arms and a large chest are almost always included in workout plans.


But people that only focus on building extra muscle mass month after month will sonner or later experience a fitness plateau. It’s then time to switch it up and shift focus on building strength rather than mass.

In order to achieve maximum results there are 3 important ground rules you should adhere to. In this article each of these ground rules will be explained to ensure that you are able to maximize your strength!


1. Practice the right fitness techniques

2. Include the right type of exercises

3. Eat for super strength


strength muscles

1. Practice the right fitness techniques

Only when you have a well thought-out workout plan you will see results. Without the right alignment between exercises, sets, repetitions (reps) and rest time all your dedicated time and energy in the gym is for nothing. Therefore you have to make sure that every rep that you perform in the gym contributes to achieving your goal.


1.1 Weight

To develop muscle strength it’s important to use a weight between 80% - 100% of your maximum weight. The maximum weight is being defined as 1RM. RM stands for Repetition Maximum and it defines the heaviest weight that you can use in order to make one repetition. Example:


The heaviest weight you can make 1 bicep curl repetition with is 80 lbs / 36 kg. In order to develop muscle strength you perform the exercise with a 64 lbs / 29 kg weight (80% of 80 lbs = 64 lbs). If you train with a weight that’s 75% of your 1RM you focus on developing muscle growth. And if you use a weight that’s 0% - 50% of your 1RM you focus on burning fat and therefore weight loss


1.2 Number of reps

When focusing on building strength it’s important to perform between 1 and 6 reps per set. When you perform more than 6 sets you are focusing on developing muscle mass instead of increasing your strength. And when you perform more than 12 reps the focus is shifting towards increasing muscle stamina and losing weight.


1.3 Number of sets

Perform 4 to 6 sets per exercise. It’s important that the muscle is completely destroyed at the end of your workout so you have to put in enough sets. Try to perform 6 sets for at least the first two exercises. Depending on how your muscles feel after these exercises aim to perform at least 4 sets during the remaining exercises.


1.4 Exercises

Make sure that you include at least 5 different exercises per muscle group in your daily routine. Performing less than 5 exercises will decrease the effectiveness of your workout and therefore the end result. The core of these exercises should always be compound exercises like the bench press, squats and deadlift.

Click here for an overview of over 150 fitness exercises for every muscle group!

1.5 Rest time

Ensure a rest time between your sets of 1,5 to 3 minutes. In order to rest and recover it’s important to take your time in between sets. That way you give your body time to recover for the next set.



80% - 100% of 1RM

Number of reps

1 - 6

Number of sets

4 - 6

Number of exercises


Rest time

1,5 – 3 minutes


1.6 Training days

Building up muscle strength means putting in your hours in the gym. In order to achieve maximum result fast base your schedule on at least 4 training days, but preferably 5 or even 6 days. Your body needs to get impulse after impulse so that it continuously has to adjust to heavier weights loads.


1.7 Workout plans

The effectiveness of your workout plan decreases when the weeks pass. Because your body has the amazing ability to adapt itself to specific, heavy repetitive movements it gets used to performing the exercises of your workout plan. For the smaller muscle groups it means that after 4 weeks the effectiveness dropped significantly. For the larger muscle groups this happens after 5 to 6 weeks. Therefore, never hold on to the same plan for more than 6 weeks. 


strength muscle

2. Include the right type of exercises

In order to grow it’s important that you include the right exercises in your workout plan. There are 3 main exercises that you can perform that train your entire body. Exercises that focus on training more than one muscle group are called compound exercises. These 3 main compound exercises are the bench press, squat and deadlift.


The more compound exercises you include in your workout plan, the faster you will develop extra strength because:


- there’s a greater amount of muscle fiber stimulation

- allows you to lift greater loads

- improves balance and coordination


Bench press

Of course you know the bench press as a chest exercise. When performed lying flat on a bench it focuses on the middle part of the chest muscle (pectoralis major). When you perform the chest press in an incline position the focus shifts towards the top part of the chest muscle and in a decline position it isolates the lower part.


The bench presses can be executed with both dumbbells or a bar. The advantage of using dumbbells instead of a bar is that you can drop the dumbbells a bit lower causing the chest muscle to fully stretch.

But being a compound exercise means that the bench press doesn’t only focus on training the chest muscle. It also trains the triceps, the sides of your back (the ‘wings’) and the shoulder muscle that is located at the front of the shoulder joint. 



Squats are a perfect example of a compound exercise. By including this exercise into your workout plan you don’t only train your complete upper legs (hamstring and quadriceps) but also your calves and complete back (upper, side and lower back).


There are a couple of variations when it comes to performing squats. First the weight; usually squats are performed with a bar that rests in the neck/upper part of your back. But it’s also possible to use dumbbells or a weight bag. The type of weight that you use doesn’t affect the result of this exercise.

Second, the position of your feet. By putting your feet right next to each other you reduce the space on which you stand. This makes it harder to keep your balance which leads to all the smaller muscles that surround the focal muscles have to work harder as well.


By placing your feet wider apart you will have more balance and are able to squat deeper. That way you fully stretch your leg muscles ensuring muscle strain in every leg muscle the next day.



Last but not least: the deadlift. Without any doubt the best compound exercise there is. There is not a single muscle in your body that doesn’t have to work when you perform a deadlift. All the way from legs, back, arms, abs and chest; each muscle group will be addressed.


By including deadlifts in your workout plan you are far more likely to develop a significant amount of additional muscle strength. When you combine compound exercises with ‘normal’ focus exercises you train all the muscles in your body more frequently over the time of a complete workout plan. The more you train, the faster your muscles will increase in strength.

If you want to increase your strength development via compound exercises don’t forget to include so called ‘assistance’ or ‘accessory’ exercises in your workout plan as well. These exercises help you to break through any training plateaus that you might encounter for the compound exercise and help you to increase your leg press, squat and deadlift performances.


In the overview below you see which assistance exercises supports which compound exercise.

compound exercises example bench press squat deadlift

3. Eat to gain strength

As with every fitness goal, the success of your progression is hidden in the kitchen. Without the right diet it’s ten times harder to achieve your goal, if not impossible.


Gaining strength means that you have to support your hard work in the gym with the right nutrition intake. Therefore you have to carefully align your daily amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat and water.


3.1 Protein

Protein is a very important nutrient when it comes to muscle repair. During your workout you tear up the muscle causing small cracks in the muscle fiber. Protein fills up these cracks making the muscle stronger. In order to gain extra muscle strength you need between 8 and 10 grams of protein per 12 pounds of weight.


Amino acids

The active ingredient in protein are amino acids. Amino acids act as building blocks for your body. They are very important in building and restoring muscle mass and strength. There are essential and non-essential amino acids. Your body can produce non-essential amino acids itself. The essential amino acids have to be taken in via your diet or a supplement.

In total there are 22 different types of amino acids of which 9 are essential. The 3 main essential amino acids are leucine, isoleucine and valine. These amino acids are called BCAAs: Branched Chain Amino Acids.


Click here to read more about amino acids (and many more fitness supplements).


Complete vs incomplete protein

When the body can fully utilize all 9 of the essential amino acids during the protein synthesis we call this type of protein complete protein. Examples of essential sources of protein are fish and meat products like tuna, salmon, mackerel, octopus, red meat, chicken and turkey.

The most complete form of protein is whey protein. Whey proteins come in 3 different types: whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate and whey protein hydrolyzate. The most pure form, and with that the best variant, is the hydrolyzate. Whey hydrolyzate consists for 99% out of pure proteins.

Incomplete protein provide a part of all the amino acids that your body requires. By combining different sources of incomplete protein your body will still get all the amino acids that it needs. Examples of sources of incomplete protein are nuts, beans and legumes.


3.2 Carbohydrates

In order to fuel the muscle you need to eat enough carbohydrates (carbs). Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen. It provides the muscles with strength, energy and endurance. This makes you able to train hard and long without your muscles being tired too soon.


Complex vs simple carbs

Complex carbs provide your muscles with durable energy. You find them in nuts, seeds and whole grain products like bread and pasta.


Simple carbs can be found in baked goods and candy. This type of carbs will only provide you with short-term energy which isn’t useful when you want to have a powerful and long-lasting workout.


The best moment of intake for complex carbs is at least one hour prior to your workout. In order to fully support your results in the gym your daily intake should be at least 225 grams of complex carbs.


3.3 Fat

Although you might think that fat shouldn’t be part of a healthy diet it’s actually an important nutrient when it comes to gaining strength. Fat is an important source of energy. But the wrong type of fat can have a big negative impact on your body and health.


Unsaturated vs saturated fat

There are 3 different types of fat: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fat. The difference between these fats can be explained via a chemical point of view.


Monounsaturated fats have one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule. Monounsaturated fats can be found in different types of oil like sunflower-, peanut- and olive oil.

Polyunsaturated fats differ from monounsaturated fats in that they have more than one double bond in their structure. Sources of polyunsaturated fats are nuts and seeds.


Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are both unsaturated types of fat. They are beneficial to your body and should therefore be included in a healthy diet. They are essential fats and necessary for normal body functions.


Saturated fats have no double bonds between carbon molecules and are considered an unhealthy type of fat. It’s not an essential type of fat and therefore your body doesn’t require it to function properly. Eating too much saturated fat lead to an increase of different diseases  such as heart disease and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Examples of products that contain saturated fats are lamb, pork, cream, cheese and lard.


3.4 Water

Water is essential for maintaining hydration but it’s also important for your muscles as well. Including enough water in your diet contributes to two different important topics: digestion and hydration.


A good digestive system will lead to efficient absorption of carbs and protein. Water helps to maintain a healthy digestion and therefore the absorption of these important nutrients that help building muscle mass and strength.


When you are engaged in a heavy workout water is driven from the blood into the muscles. Staying hydrated is therefore an important aspect of a good workout. When your dehydrating your blood levels might go into an unsafe level because water is being drawn back into the blood. This will lead to a loss of pump and protein breakdown may occur. This is the exact opposite of what you are trying to achieve.


In order to stay hydrated even during a heavy workout the recommendation is to drink between 4 and 6 liters of water per day.


3.5 Supplements

If you are experiencing difficulties retrieving the minimal daily amount of nutrients via your diet you can make use of supplements. Protein, amino acids, carbs and fat can all easy be taken in via different types of supplements. Below you will find a number of useful links to the largest webshops:


supplements building muscle strength


Fitness techniques

To increase your muscle strength it’s important to perform the right fitness techniques. Use a weight that’s between 80% and 100% of 1RM. Perform 4 to 6 sets per exercise and 1 to 6 reps per set. Include at least 5 exercises per muscle group in your workout plan. In order to give your muscles time to recover between sets use a rest time between 1,5 and 3 minutes. Your workout plan should be based on at least 4 workout days per week.



In order to grow it’s important that you include the right exercises in your workout plan. There are 3 main exercises that you can perform that train your entire body. Exercises that focus on training more than one muscle group are called compound exercises. These 3 main compound exercises are the bench press, squat and deadlift.



Having a balanced diet is important. Without the right intake of protein, carbohydrates, fat and water it’s almost impossible to achieve your goal to develop strength. Conform yourself to the minimum amount of daily intake presented below:


- Between 8 and 10 grams of protein per 12 pounds of weight.

- At least 225 grams of complex carbs.

- Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

- Between 4 and 6 liters of water per day (8 – 16 pounds).


Stay away from simple carbs, saturated fat and drinks that cause dehydration such as alcohol. They don’t contribute to a healthy body and will ensure that you don’t reach your goal.


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