3 Phases Of Training For Muscle & Strength

We’ve all be there; smashed a session in the gym, feeling pumped, and expect to walk out looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like. Using Arnie as an example, he spent  years and years building up to get the physique he had… and the fact he was a freak of nature who was chiselled out of marble. It wasn’t just a few bicep curls that got him to where he was.


Below, I am going to give you the step by step approach to get the muscle gain goals you’re after.



The foundation for any muscle building programme is strength. By laying this foundation, training for hypertrophy will become a lot easier later down the line. The stronger you are, the more load you can lift and the more stress is placed on the body. This means that your body will be forced to adapt to handle the increased stress placed on it, i.e. increase the strength of the muscles to lift the load.

During this phase of training, the emphasis should be placed on mastering the main compound lifts, squat, bench and deadlift. This will only benefit you when it comes to adding in more isolation work. For example, if you can squat 100kg, in theory you should be able to split squat 50kg, compared to if you can only squat 90kg then you’re only going to be able to split squat 45kg. This is all hypothetical by the way; it’s not always that clean cut when it comes to the correlation between single leg and compound lift training.

This phase of training may take anywhere between 6-12 months to develop a foundation of strength, depending on your previous training experience. For beginners, gains will be seen very quickly within this phase of training. For intermediate lifters, slightly slower. A basic sample programme for a strength session could be the following;

Exercise Set 1 Set 2 Set 3 Set 4 Set 5
1 Barbell Back Squat /5 /5 /5 /5 /5
2a Barbell Bench Press /8 /8 /8
2b Barbell Bent Over Row /8 /8 /8
3a Barbell Military Press /8 /8 /8
3b Farmers Walk 20m 20m 20m

Once that foundation of strength is laid, you can then start to add in more isolation exercises like the split squats I mentioned earlier. Here you are trying to develop mind muscle connection. By this I mean not feeling like your whole body is being worked such as in a squat, but feeling just your quads working in a split squat or your hamstrings working in a straight leg deadlift.

These isolation exercises should be done after your main compound lifts as they won’t be as intense and you won’t be lifting as much weight. I would also recommend alternating your isolation exercises throughout your training. This way you can better gauge what exercises work better for you in terms of muscle building. Not every exercise works for everyone.

This phase can take anywhere past another year to master as it is a case of trial and error to find out what works for you. Below is an example of how to add in some isolation exercises into your training;

Exercise Set 1 Set 2 Set 3 Set 4 Set 5
1 Barbell Back Squat /5 /5 /5 /5 /5
2a Barbell Straight Left Deadlift /12 /12 /12
2b Kettlbell Split Squat /10es /10es /10es
3a Single Arm Dumbbell Press /10es /10es /10es
3b Farmers Walk 20m 20m 20m

Once you have a solid foundation of strength and mind muscle connection, you can then venture out into experimenting with new and different training techniques. This phase of training is all about continuing your muscle building progress by increasing the intensity of stimulating your muscles. Drop sets, clusters, paused reps, the world is your oyster.


This phase of training is limitless in its time frame. Here you should be aiming for continual muscle growth and strength gains. If you start to reach a plateau, start this three step process again and vary what you’ve done before. Gaining muscle and strength is not easy, you always need to be changing and adapting your way of thinking, just like your body does in response to training.

Below is an example of specialising in cluster training;

Exercise Set 1 Set 2 Set 3 Set 4 Set 5
1 Barbell Back Squat /(2×4) 10sec rest between every 2 reps is one set
2a 3sec Pause Barbell Bench Press /6 /6 /6
2b Dumbbell Reverse Flyes /15 /15 /15
3a Dumbbell Lateral Raises /10 /10 /10
3b Dumbbell Bent Over Row /10 /10 /10

I hope this has helped you in some way to get a better picture in your head, in a nutshell, of how to build strength and muscle. If you are interested in getting involved in working with me, you can drop me an email at steve@getprimal.co.uk

Thanks for reading,

Coach Steve

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