Muscle Building was one of the first books written by Earle E. Liederman.

In the previous month we read Secrets of Strength, which was actually the follow-up to Muscle Building. I have to admit that I liked Secrets of Strength more. It’s probably because I’m much more interested in building strength then building muscle, though I am a minority in this regard when it comes to men.

In this book you’ll find the following chapters.

1 – The Various Forms of Exercise
2 – The Ideal Measurements
3 – The Structure and Development of the Neck
4 – The Shoulders and Their Development
5 – The Perfect Back and How to Develop It
6 – The Massive Chest and How to Build It
7 – Splendid Arms and How to Have Them
8 – Training Your Abdomen to Make You Healthy
9 – Symmetrical Hips and How to Acquire Them
10 – The Well Developed Thigh
11 – The Calf and Its Sturdy Curve
12 – Posing for Muscular Display

As already mentioned this book’s goal is to help people with building muscle and that’s what most of these points are on.

Number of Repetitions

“Endless repetition of movements has a tendency to wear away the tissues faster than they can be replenished.”

Here is a simple call not to go too high with repetitions as they won’t build muscle. Think marathoner vs. sprinter. Of course this applies with weights or other exercises too. Bodyweight squats are great but unless you’re a bean pole, adding another 100 reps won’t make you have bigger muscles.

“I am a firm believer in performing exercises that tire the muscles within ten repetitions. Of course, there are certain parts of the body that are exceptions in this case, such as the neck and thighs, possibly the abdominal region.”

So now we cover what Earle believes to be the best number of repetitions for muscle building. And with all the science we have today most people would agree, that about 10 repetitions give or take a few is a great number for muscle building. Does this mean you can only work in this range? Not at all, but its a great starting point if adding muscle is your aim.

“If anyone can perform an exercise more than fifteen times, that exercise is too light for him.”

So with this it seems that you should work in the 10-15 rep range for most exercises if your goal is muscle building. In the book Liederman discusses some of the exceptions to this rule.

“Light endurance work should be done as relaxation or play.”

When you’re working on easy stuff the goal is relaxation or play rather then the work itself. This is a different matter entirely then muscle building.

Lifting Tempo

“Concentration and vigor should be put on this upward pull while you should lower yourself in a natural, relaxed way.”

Here Liederman is talking about the pace at which you should do lifts. The concentric (or positive) portion of the lift should be done with “concentration and vigor”. What I gather this to mean is that it is done with some speed and it’s also the primary focus of the lift. The eccentric (or negative) portion of the lift is really not focused on at all. The weight is just brought back to the starting position.

This is not how many people who like to maximize the negative would do it, but overall I’d say its great advice. There are times when you may want to switch the speed or how you do the exercise, but I have to say this is what I do probably 90% of the time I lift.

Mental Connection

“I am a firm believer in paying strict attention to each extension and contraction of the muscles, for if the mind wanders, there is a tendency to slacken the effort.”

This is all about keeping the mind on what you’re doing. It is an internal focus of working the muscles. I think there’s something more then that too. By thinking of the muscles and focusing on how your work will help them grow bigger that will help you to do just that. And this approach will get better effects then just mindlessly going through a workout.

“I am an enthusiast on deep breathing and highly recommend the student to take at least ten or fifteen deep inhalations after each muscle-building exercise, while he is resting for the next movement, even though he may be considerably out of breath. Indeed, when you are out of breath, deep breathing is of special benefit.”

Once again I think this goes beyond merely getting the benefits of deep breathing. Concentrating on your goal while doing so, and focusing on the next set, can bring better results.

How a Man Should Look

“A man should look good from every angle. He should have curves and contour rather than great, disfiguring ridges of muscles. He should have a development which is possible for attainment by almost any average boy or young man, who will apply himself to development and cultivate strength, speed and perfect health.”

Can’t argue with anything here. This statement speaks to balance in the body, and describes someone that looks good, rather then freakish. And I also agree that this is attainable by anyone who is willing to put in the work (the same holds true for women).

I as an athlete judge a man’s development more by the size and contour of his neck than by any other way.

I’m glad to see the importance of neck strength written about here. The neck is a great measure of all around strength. A pencil-necked bodybuilder is not someone who I’d think to be strong.

“If you want to add to the appearance of your neck, do not permit the hair to grow too far down the back, but always keep the hair neatly trimmed.”

Of course I have to disagree with this one. Not because I don’t think it’s true but because I have long hair 🙂

“I urgently recommend a great deal of attention to the posterior deltoid, as well as the external fibers. If too much effort is given to the anterior deltoid, it will have a tendency to make one appear somewhat round-shouldered…The best way to develop these muscles is to raise the arms forward, sideways, and backwards, to the height of the shoulder, all the while working against a resistance.”

This is important not only for the size and shape of muscles but for performance as well. With myself and other athletes I notice many do have a lack of anterior delts because they’re not often worked with many whole body exercises and sometimes need the specific work, like described here.

Measuring Muscles

There is a lot in this book about the taking of measurements. If you’re looking for that kind of information I’d highly recommend this book for that purpose. A couple points worth mentioning:

“The fact that 90 percent of the measurements given out by famous strong men are grossly exaggerated.”

True in Liederman’s time and probably even more true today. Instead here is the proper way to get your own measurements.

“If you have the tape fitting snugly, with about two or three pounds pressure, you will obtain your actual measurements.”

Leg Training

“You cannot develop the legs without developing the lungs at the same time.”

In most cases this is true. The only area I’d say it’s not really is with very low reps of high weight squats or similar exercises. But you start increasing those reps and you’ll find they’re great for conditioning too.

Another example that proves this even more is hill sprints.

“Undoubtedly the finest exercise to strengthen the hips is to walk while carrying heavy objects, especially while climbing stairs.”

A great exercise that probably isn’t used as much as it should be.

On Muscle Building

“It is this constant swelling up of the muscles that increases their size…All he need do is to exercise these muscles sufficiently every day to swell them to their limit. If the arm swells up 1/2 inch after exercising, it does not stay that way the rest of the day, but diminishes at least 15/32 of an inch, retaining 1/32 of an increase.”

While simplistic, this description has a lot of truth to it. Training the way Liederman outlines in this book you’ll get what is commonly called “the pump”. That is when the blood engorges the muscles. This makes them feel tight and full, as they are increased in size. With the blood there, and it bringing int nutrients to repair, you’re likely to find some of the size stays. Again, this is simplistic, but an easy way to look at muscle building.

“The muscles can be tired more systematically within ten repetitions with the use of a progressive elastic apparatus than they can with the use of a heavy dumb-bell.”

According to Liederman the use of cables may be better suited to muscle building then plain dumbbells.

“After you have attained the results you desire, it is a very simple matter to merely perform light work every day in order to keep in shape.”

This same holds true with strength. A lot more work must be put in to get somewhere, to build your body, then to keep it where its at. Of course if you do nothing it’s also easy to lose.

Other Random Quotes

“clasping the hands behind the hips with warms stiff, and forcing the shoulders back as far as possible, until the shoulder blades touch.”

I liked this easy drill as a way to keep shoulder mobility with a little muscle control between exercises.

“The reader must not confuse dumb-bell or bar-bell exercises with the term “heavy weight lifting for strength purposes.”

This is an important point, which I often like to make myself. There is a difference in exercising and doing feats of strength. The first has a purpose beyond the exercise itself. The second is to merely showcase what you can do with the exercise itself. When it comes to gaining muscle focus on exercises not showing your strength. This doesn’t mean that it won’t also build strength.

Juggling and Catching a Dumbbell

“There are numerous exercise for the forearms, but one of the best consists of juggling a dumb-bell as shown above. Throw bell from one hand to the other until forearms ache.”

I hadn’t seen this exercise before. It looks like a great one, especially to be done with a thick handled dumbbell.

Your Turn

Sure you can just read this article and gain from it. But I hope you will read the full book of Muscle Building. Then it’s your turn to comment. For us to get the most of this book club it must be interactive.

Use the form below to write your comments. What questions do you have? What did you learn from this book? What do you plan on applying that you’ve learned? What do you like? What do you disagree with?


  1. I also am not interested in building size. Most likely because I was never able to but then, I always think it is better not to look like you train too much, as it attacks unwanted attention.

    I also have noticed that those training in a gym don’t develop the posterior delts and tend to bow forward. I think mine are balanced from heavy sledgehammer training. At least I have something over bodybuilders.

    I got to say I don’t get a pump. I don’t know, I just train. Let the pieces fall where they may. I prefer to concentrate on bettering my last performance.

    My neck is one thing I have to start training. It might be time to start bridging and using that neck harness.

    Juggling a DB. What about juggling a KB???

    All the best.

    1. Author

      @Anthony: Yeah I could see a lot of sledge work building up those posterior delts quite well.

      Same with me on the pump. Sometimes it happens, most of the time it doesn’t. It’s simply not my focus or what I’m going for. But that’s a big point here. If you or I wanted to build muscle it’s a good factor to look at (not the only one though).

      You know I love kettlebell juggling, but that one pictured is is a simple exercise that wouldn’t scare away so many people.

  2. One topic that I don’t see listed is diet or nutrition. Normally the advice is to eat a lot for size. This seems to be ignored.

    @Logan: just on the exercise for forearm development, I personally think it looks dangerous as well as uncomfortable. I am referring to the rounded back. The spinal erectors turn off, and you are literally hanging off your ligaments. I don’t know how long you would be happy to stand in that position, nor how much weight you would be able to hold, nor how much power you could display. The KB allows you to stand in an athletic position; allows more power production through greater ROM and bell height; allows you to safely support heavier weight over longer duration (more comfort in a supported position) and rather than an isolation exercise; you get the benefit of whole body integration. Lets also not forget; juggling a KB is more fun, more interesting to learn; and movements can be developed through a large array of patterns.

    1. Author

      @Anthony: Yeah I don’t recall much more then the basic eat lots of food requirement in the book. His focus was much more on just training for it.

      True, but I think there is some value in round back lifting. After all I sometimes get into much worse positions then that when I’m doing kettlebell juggling too.

  3. I love these old articles. There is one that suggests doing an exercise for a couple of exercises a day, for 50-7- total reps, for a few months to build one muscle group. I really believe that frequency and volume have been relegated in terms of importance of intensity.

    The OVERALL volume through the daily frequency IS the intensity. Nowadays there is a singular focus on beating strength goals. You are laughed at for suggesting barbell curling everyday for a few months. Slowly increasing the weight but the volume consistent and the frequency daily. Not raising the weight on the bar to failure at every oppurtunity and burning out within a few days.

    Most trainers and trolls would shoot this suggestion down as ridiculous. But has anyone tried it? Maybe frequency and volume with an adequte weight for long enough will build muscle, simply beause the body is being forced to do more work over a period of time.

    1. @Ben Black: I’m with you. Volume is an important factor in muscle growth. Assuming proper recovery the more total work you put into the muscles the bigger and stronger they will become.

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