How to Build Dense Muscle

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Overview

We all have our reasons for going to the gym. And muscle hypertrophy, or growth, is one of the main ones. To build lean, dense muscle, you must progressively overload your muscles to enhance muscle fiber recruitment. How do you do that? Increasing a muscle's time under tension, the volume of your workouts, rest periods between sets or the rest between workouts are essential elements to efficiently build thicker, more dense muscles.

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Man exercising with dumbbells at a gym, horizontal shot
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2. Turn Up the Volume

In order for your muscles to grow, you have to keep challenging them. There are a few ways to do this. First, add weight. You shouldn't be lifting the same weight in the same way week after week. As you build strength, increase the weight you're lifting. Alternatively, you can increase the number of reps and sets you perform with the same weight (but see the next slide for more). Or add sessions throughout the week. Increase resistance training to four times per week by breaking down your workouts into push days and pull days.

Related: 6 Training Splits to Help You Conquer Your Workout Plateau

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Barbell front squat exercise
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3. Match Your Reps to Your Goals

The amount of reps and sets you do of each exercise varies the result. That's why it's important to identify your goal (in this case, to build dense muscle) and do the right amount of reps to help you reach that goal. Include three to six sets of each exercise, making sure to hit all your major muscle groups each week. Maintain a rep range between six and 12 at 70 to 80 percent of your one-rep max.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Sets and Reps for Strength Training

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Time to start the training
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4. Take Time to Rest

Building muscle isn't about going hard for the entire workout. You need to let your body rest. In between your sets, maintain rest periods of approximately 60 to 90 seconds. Shorter rest periods help improve muscular endurance, while longer rest periods are designed to increase power output. The goal of rest periods for muscle-building regimens is to take the muscle to complete exhaustion during the set and provide just enough recovery time to fulfill the required reps for the next set.

Related: How to Use Rest Periods to Maximize Your Fat Loss

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Squat workout at fitness gym center
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5. Choose Compound Exercises

Isolation exercises are great if you're a bodybuilding competitor. But to build functional strength and maximize your time in the gym, go with compound exercises. This means doing squats, deadlifts, dips, overhead presses and any other exercise that moves more than one joint and targets multiple muscles.

Related: 10 Compound Moves for Greater Pump in Less Time

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Food, Proteins
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6. Eat More Protein

Your muscles are working hard for you during your workouts, so you need to fuel them properly. That means consuming more calories. But more important than the quantity is the quality. So choose nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables and whole-grain products. And make sure you're getting plenty of protein. The amino acids that make up protein are vital in muscle recovery and growth. Add a protein shake after your workouts and grill up some chicken or fish for dinner.

Related: 9 Muscle-Building Proteins That Won't Bust Your Budget

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Training break
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Tips and Warnings

Negative reps can result in intense muscle soreness. So stretch thoroughly after your workouts and incorporate foam rolling into your routine to reduce muscle soreness. And only perform negative training once per week. Then train with a lower percentage of your one-rep max during your second workout of same muscle groups. Always have a spotter when performing negative reps — don't attempt them alone.

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