When I first started experimenting with machines in college I was clueless.

I wanted to look toned and strong to gain some muscle definition. But as a girl with no experience lifting I really just wanted to know where to start.

There was no YouTube back then (it started in 2005 when I graduated college) so I hopped on random machines, too intimidated to go into the free weight area.

Fast forward a decade later, almost 15lbs heavier while reducing my bodyfat by about 10% I can give you a list of mistakes I made in the gym that kept me in a rut going nowhere close to getting that toned look I was after.

I was putting in the time at the gym several times a week and after months I made no progress and couldn’t figure it out. I kept flexing in the mirror to see if I built anything but I was not confident that I was seeing anything.

I didn’t understand what I was doing. I had a goal in mind but didn’t have a specific plan to get there.

So of course I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted!

What a sad moment for me.

Can you relate to this?

Are you also doing random exercises at the gym but you’re not quite 100% certain that it’ll get you where you want to be months from now?  

Let me help you out by sharing with you my Top 4 Tips For Rhodes To Strength and building muscles even if you don't have a workout program. 

Rhodes To Strength Muscle Building Tip #1

Gradually lift heavier weights.

This is by far the easiest way to figure out if you’re getting stronger or not and therefore building muscle.

You can either pick up the weight or not. It’s either a yes I lifted it or no I missed the rep.

I notice there are two types of people in the gym when it comes to lifting weights.

We’ve got men and women who are standing around doing exercises with extremely light weights like squats on the bosu ball.

Every time I see them it’s like they are married to that weight because they pick up the same weights and do their exercise while in between checking their phones.

On the other end of the spectrum are the hunks of men who are lifting far beyond what they are capable of.

They are incredibly strong but their lifts look so horrible. Their ego has taken over and they are using weights that are beyond their capacity to maintain good form.

My tip here is to be in the middle of the spectrum,

Pick up weights that are challenging for the exercise you are doing while maintaining good form.

For example if your goal is to achieve 6 reps you want the last few reps to be challenging. If they are easy you need to increase the weight while being able to keep good form.

If your form starts to crumble even before you’ve reached the half way point lighten the weight and work on your form.

I emphasize good form because you want to make sure you are engaging the right muscles, you’re not compensating with other muscles that are not supposed to be involved in the movement and you want to stay safe.

You don’t want to pull a muscle or strain a tendon which will keep you out of the gym for weeks.

Rhodes To Strength Muscle Building Tip #2

Increase the tension in your lifts.

Let’s do a little exercise. Make a fist.

Now tighten that fist by 50%. Feel your forearms. Feel that bulge?

Now let’s take it up a notch. Squeeze your fist even harder. White knuckle it like you’re about to punch a wall.

Really squeeze it tight.

Feel your forearms.

Do you feel how hard it’s gotten? Solid like a rock?

Can you feel how many more muscle fibers are involved with white knuckling your fist as oppose to just making a fist?

That is an example of tension.

It’s one of the most overlooked aspects of building muscle because instead we’re focused on lifting as many reps as possible instead of the QUALITY of reps.

You can lift less and spend less time in the gym and keep building muscle if each rep you did was quality and high tension.

Increasing the tension in your lifts gets more muscles fibers involved, creates more microtears, takes more energy, and expedites muscle growth.

When you’re lifting in the gym you can increase tension by tightening your grip on holding your dumbbell, kettlebell, or bar. Working on your grip strength is one of the quickest ways to get strong.

But when you perform a rep at the gym think about tightening your muscles more. Think about being solid like a rock and ask yourself can you tighten further tighten and contract your muscles more?

For example, when you’re performing a squat whether a dumbbell, goblet, or barbell squat etc focus on these steps,

Make solid contact with the ground and drive your weight into the ground and grip the floor with your toes.

As you start standing focus on squeezing your thighs and tighten your butt as you start straighten up. Maintain this tightness all the way to standing.

When you reach the top make your butt rock solid.

You can easily apply this to biceps curls as well. How hard can you make that bicep?

When you’re doing a lat pulldown how hard can you contract that back muscle when you complete a rep?

Tension is key when you want every rep to count.

 Rhodes To Strength Muscle Building Tip #3

This tip is somewhat related to Tip #2.

Are you activating that muscle? Do you feel it working?

Many times when I see people lift weights they are going through the motions without thinking of what they’re doing.

You know the ones that are spaced out while doing their reps or they are doing their reps so fast and sloppily that you know they’re not focused. They just want to get the exercise over with and be done so they can move on to something shiny and new.

Of course they are just wasting their time in the gym because it’s not about reps but more about the QUALITY of the reps.

What’s the point of doing a gazillion reps if you don’t feel in your muscles?

Case in point.

One of the top three performance goals women usually have is to do one bodyweight pullup.

The reasons women struggle with getting their first pull-up is because of a number of factors from core strength, stability, to bodyfat percentage, and muscle activation.

Most people when they do a pullup they initiate the movement with their arms instead of their back muscles.

A pullup is a strict back exercise and if the next day you feel it all in your arms then you know you didn’t use your back muscles properly to get you up the bar.  

Yes, your arms are involved but they are just levers and are secondary muscles involved not primary ones.

Before you perform any strength exercise think about what muscles groups this exercise is targeting and really feel it working. Focus and concentrate on building that mind-muscle connection.

If you cannot feel it working it helps to tap that area you want to focus on to help your brain make that connection.

Building your mind muscle connection helps you to think about what muscles you’re using and focus your brain on really feeling them move and contract.

This method is a game changer. If you cannot feel your muscles working, it’s not growing.

Rhodes To Strength Muscle Building Tip #4

Perform big movements. 

There is a reason why people say the squat is king. It is the exercise that involves the entire body and recruits the biggest muscles in your body from your calves, thighs, glutes, back, to abdominals.

If you only had to focus your workout on a handful of the most effective exercises to get the quickest results in the shortest time focus on the Big Five movements: squat, deadlift, upper body push, upper body pull, and a loaded carry.

Using the biggest and most dominant muscles in your body burns more calories, creates more testosterone for muscles growth, and automatically recruits the smaller muscles.

The Big Five are also functional movements which mean they are movements that our bodies use everyday. If you look at babies and kids under the age of 5 they perform all these movements (well except a loaded carry) and they do it perfectly.

If you're short on time in the gym and you want to get the most out of your workout make sure that day's workout includes one exercise from the Big Five and you'll be well on your way to leaning out, getting strong, and burning more calories. 

Below are common example exercises from the Big Five Movements,

Squat – back or front squat, a goblet squat, dumbbell squat, lunges, Bulgarian/elevated lunges
Deadlift – barbell deadlift variations, kettlebell deadlifts, single leg deadlifts
Upper Body Push – bench press, pushup, military press, overhead press
Upper Body Pull – dumbbell rows, barbell rows, seated cable rows, pullups, lat pull downs
Loaded Carries – pick up dumbbell or kettlebell and walk different distances with it then switch sides

To Summarize

  • Pick a weight that is challenging for the reps you’re doing
  • Increase tension to recruit more muscle fibers for your exercise to expedite growth
  • Feel the RIGHT muscles working. Tap the muscles you’re supposed to activate to build the mind muscle connection.
  • Incorporate the Big Five movements to use the biggest muscles in your body