If you’re struggling to make sense of the tens of thousands of health, fitness and muscle-building videos on YouTube, bodybuilder Joe Delaney is here to cut through the noise. In a recent video, Delaney shared five tips—his “golden rules”—to help you gain muscle with minimal faff.

“My whole training approach and philosophy centers around the idea that you probably get 90 to 95 per cent of your progress simply from focusing on the absolute fundamentals and ensuring that you’re doing those well and consistently,” he explains. “For most people, who just want to be in good shape and want to carry on with the rest of their lives, it’s best to just focus on those aspects where you get the best return on investment on the time and effort you put in.” With that in mind, let’s get stuck in.

Maintaining a Calorie Surplus

“First and foremost, we have to have to maintain a calorie surplus, because, regardless of whatever else you’re doing, how hard or often you’re training, you simply cannot magic something from nothing,” Delaney explains. “You need some calories left over to enable the muscle-building process to occur…by creating tiny tears in your muscle fibres during training, which then grow back bigger.”

Sufficient Volume, Frequency and Intensity

“We can replace [the term] ‘volume’ with ‘quantity’, which is usually measured in [the] number of working sets. We can talk about weekly volume per muscle group, how many working sets you perform over the week for a particular muscle group; or total workout volume, which is how many overall sets there are in a workout,” Delaney explains. “Frequency is just how often we’re training a muscle group and, again, we tend to talk about that in the context of a week. A high-frequency training split would be one that has you hitting each muscle group often, such as a full-body split.”

“Intensity is a funny one, because it can have two meanings. Technically, it’s used to describe how heavy the weight is in relation to your one-rep max. A heavier weight always equates to a higher intensity, regardless of how difficult the set is overall. On paper, a set of five reps with 100kg would technically be at a higher intensity than a set of, say, 25 reps with 95kg.” Delaney goes onto recommend that beginners should look at 10 sets per muscle group every week — “as many sets as you can fit in within your training split,” he says — and recommends to train each body part around twice a week. Anything more, he explains, would result in “diminishing returns.” Lastly, “if a set is too easy and you’re perfectly capable of completing it without struggling, there is no reason for your body to adapt…the sweet spot seems to be taking most of your sets between one and three sets from failure.”

Adequate Sleep and Recovery

Gents, don’t be sleeping on adequate rest. “There’s a few ways that sleep, or lack thereof, can affect your ability to build muscle. First, a lack of sleep will be detrimental to your workout performance. A set that stops at two reps from failure, or what feels like it, when you’re tired and lethargic; is not worth the same as when you’re fresh and full of energy.” Delaney goes on to share two studies (here and here) that prove deep or ‘slow-wave’ sleep is vital for muscle repair and, if sleep is inadequate, “not getting your eight hours can have a detrimental effect on your hormone levels.”

Consistency

“You can do everything that I’ve described in this video, but only do it for a week or a day on and off, you’re not going to get very far,” Delaney explains. “Your body will adapt to the demand placed on it, but that is a consistent process, so if the demand one week is the usual five resistance training sessions, but in the following week you do zero, you’ll begin to adapt to that…your body will tip towards the average demand placed on it.”

Progressive Overload

Lastly, as your strength and fitness progresses, Delaney stresses that you should always be looking to progressively overload either the reps you’re performing on each movement, or the total weight you’re lifting. Also, “as you repeat your movements week in and. weekout, your mobility might start to increase and you might start to use a wider, longer, or bigger range of motion,” Delaney explains. “Two or three years into training, you’ll need to think about progressive overload more methodically.”

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