Illustration showing people with low and high body-fat percentages.

How Body-Fat Percentage Affects Muscle Growth & Fat Gain

There’s a common rule of thumb that we should get lean before we bulk, and then stop bulking once we reach around 20% body fat. The idea is that as we get leaner, our insulin sensitivity improves, allowing us to make leaner muscle gains. And then as we bulk up, our body fat percentage gradually rises, our insulin sensitivity falls, and we begin to gain proportionally more fat.

But there’s new evidence that calls this idea into question. Two researchers, Greg Nuckols, MA, and Eric Trexler, PhD, have been going through hypertrophy research to see which body-fat percentages tend to yield the leanest muscle growth. I spoke with them and they shared their early results and recommendations, which are already creating waves among the top experts.

So, does having a higher body-fat percentage make it harder to build muscle leanly?

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Illustration of a man doing a conventional barbell deadlift, one of the best exercises for building muscle.

The Best Barbell Exercises for Building Muscle

The best barbell exercises, without a doubt, are the 5 big compound lifts: the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and chin-up. These are the lifts that will give you around 2/3rds of your overall muscle growth. In fact, if you’re able to get stronger at just these five lifts, you can build a muscular, strong physique.

But the big compound lifts aren’t good at everything. They’re great for building muscle in our torsos, not so great for building muscle in our limbs. For example, the bench press technically works the triceps, but it doesn’t work all three heads, and it doesn’t bring any of the heads close enough to failure. That means that if we rely on the bench press to build bigger triceps, they’ll lag behind. So the big compound exercises are a great start, but they aren’t a full workout program.

If we combine the big compound lifts with the right isolation lifts, we’ll have a complete set of barbell exercises that will develop all of the muscles in our bodies.

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Illustration of a man bulking and cutting to build muscle and lose fat.

Should You Bulk or Cut?

To quickly define the terms, bulking is gaining weight to build muscle, cutting is losing weight to burn fat. The problem is, most of us want to be bigger and leaner. I mean, what if you want to gain 20 pounds of muscle and lose 20 pounds of fat. In that case, should you start by bulking or cutting?

The next question is, once you start bulking and cutting, when should you switch from one to the other? When bulking, how fat should you get before you switch to a cut? When cutting, how lean should you get before going back to bulking?

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Illustration of a bodybuilder working out his shoulders with the lateral raise exercise.

The Shoulder Workout Guide: The Best Exercises & Methods

Our shoulder muscles are the biggest in our upper bodies (study). They’re 50% bigger than our chests, lats, and triceps. And they’re 300% bigger than our biceps. No surprise, then, that building bigger shoulders is one of the best ways to improve our appearance and general strength (study). What makes our shoulders tricky, though, is that they’re made up of three different heads—the front delts, side delts, and rear delts—each of which performs different functions.

In this guide, we’ll go over the best exercises for your front, side, and rear delts, and then how to combine them together into an ideal shoulder workout.

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Illustration of a bodybuilder doing hypertrophy training to gain muscle mass.

The Hypertrophy Training Guide: How to Lift for Muscle Size

Hypertrophy training is the style of training designed specifically for stimulating muscle growth. If you’re trying to build muscle, there’s nothing better. This will help you gain more mass than any strength training program. Plus, because bigger muscles have a greater strength potential, if you’re interested in getting stronger, building bigger muscles is one of the best ways to do that.

In this guide, we’ll teach you why our muscles and how to stimulate that growth. Then we’ll teach you the main principles of building muscle. And then we’ll go over how to min-max every variable of your workout routine, including which exercises to focus on, how many reps and sets to do, how close to failure to take your sets, how long to rest between those sets, and how long to rest between your workouts. By the end, you’ll know exactly how to train for muscle growth.

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Illustration showing a man doing a barbell deadlift, one of the best compound lifts for building muscle.

The 5 Big Compound Lifts for Building Muscle

Bodybuilding is the style of training that’s best for building muscle, right? In theory, yes. But most bodybuilding programs fail to emphasize getting stronger at the big compound lifts, and so they fail to produce consistent muscle growth over time. The solution is simple, and everyone who’s ever tried strength training already knows what it is.

In strength training programs, your strength is determined by adding up how much you can squat, bench press, and deadlift for a single repetition—your total. If your total goes up, you’re improving. If it doesn’t, you aren’t. And so the entire workout program is designed to help you lift progressively more weight, making you gradually stronger at those lifts. And if you aren’t getting stronger, you know there’s a problem you need to fix.

That doesn’t mean that isolation lifts are never used. You’ll find them in strength training programs, too. The difference is that they have a clear purpose—to support the compound lifts. If your chest is holding you back in the bench press, you might use an isolation lift to bulk up your chest.

It’s a good system. Or, at least, it’s a good system if you’re a powerlifter. But what if you aren’t? What if you’re trying to gain muscle mass? Would you focus on different compound lifts? How would you choose your isolation lifts? And how would you measure your progress? If we can figure that out, then we can bring the same clarity to our hypertrophy training that powerlifters have in their strength training.

Hm. Tell me More.
Illustration showing the difference between chin-ups and pull-ups.

What’s The Difference Between Chin-Ups Vs Pull-Ups? Which Are Better for Building Muscle?

Chin-ups are done by hanging from a bar with an underhand grip and pulling yourself up. Pull-ups are quite similar. You hang from a bar with an overhand grip and pull yourself up. In fact, they’re so similar that they’re often used interchangeably. But that small change in grip position has quite a big effect on which muscles you work, how large your range of motion is, and how heavy you can lift.

So let’s talk about the pros and cons of pull-ups vs chin-ups and how best to use them in your workout routine.

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Illustration of a man using lifting straps.

The Best Lifting Straps & Grips for Building Muscle

When you first start lifting weights, it’s common for your grip to be a limiting factor. After all, if you’ve never trained your grip, it’s probably weak. And since you need to grip the bar during every single exercise, it’s easy for a weak grip to plague your workout routine. Fortunately, your grip will quickly become stronger, and it will stop being a limiting factor on most lifts.

But some lifts work huge muscle grips, allowing you to lift massive amounts of weight. Think of the conventional deadlift, which works your glutes, quads, and hamstrings—three of the biggest muscles in your body. Your grip won’t be able to keep up. To get around that problem, you can learn the mixed grip, the hook grip, use chalk, or use tape. All of those methods can work. But a much simpler option is to get some lifting straps.

Lifting straps do two things. They let the bar hang from your wrist instead of from your grip, and they prevent the barbell from rolling in your hands, keeping it steady. This allows you to worry less about your grip, more about the muscles you’re actually trying to train. You can row with your upper back, deadlift with your hips, and shrug with your traps—all without needing to worry about the bar rolling out of your hands.

So, that brings us to the next question: what are the best lifting straps to buy? And the answer to that question is a bit surprising. You shouldn’t buy lifting straps at all. You should get lifting grips instead.

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Illustration of a bodybuilder doing some light warm-up sets before doing his heavier weight training.

How to Warm Up Before Lifting Weights

What’s the best way to warm up before lifting weights? Should we do cardio? Does that help? Is it necessary? And should you stretch? Some research shows that stretching can reduce our size and strength gains. But is that true?

And what about warm-up sets? There’s no doubt that they’re an important part of warming up before lifting heavy weights. But how much weight should we lift during those warm-up sets, and how long should we rest between them?

In this article, we’ll go over the research looking into the best way to warm before your workout. By end, you’ll know how to reduce your risk of injury, how to improve your technique and range of motion, and how to gain more muscle size and strength.

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Illustration of a man doing a barbell front squat

The Front Squat Hypertrophy Guide

The squat is the strength training lift. It’s the best lift for bulking up your quads, glutes, and calves, and it stimulates more overall muscle mass than any other lift, with the possible exception of the deadlift.

There are different ways of squatting, each with different pros and cons. This article has nothing to do with powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting, just with using the front squat to getting bigger, stronger, fitter, and much better looking. For this, the front squat is the best. That’s a controversial claim, we know. But we’ll show you why.

The Front Squat guide