** In todays article we have a guest writer – a coach on our team – Coach Bob.
If you want to learn more about Coach Bob, you can check out his bio HERE!
I hope you enjoy and know you will get a ton of value from this information packed article!
In this guide on how to build muscle, I’m going to lay out everything you need to know to successfully pack on muscle.
Now, there is a lot to cover so I’m going to briefly scratch the surface here…
But, if you follow what I’m about to say and stay consistent with it, you will get results from this guide on how to build muscle.
Cool, let’s dive in!
Before we dive into this guide on how to build muscle, you may be wondering, “why on earth would I want to build muscle?”
Well my good friend, building muscle will make you leaner, more defined, and more toned.
It DOES NOT make you bulky.
That would require years of strength training, eating in a decently sized calorie surplus, and possibly taking anabolic steroids.
Which, if you’re reading this guide on how to build muscle, I’m assuming is not you.
With all of that said, it’s not like you’ll get bulky by accident.
Trust me.. I’ve been trying for years to crack the code and I still haven’t figured it out.
So, if you find out how to build muscle quickly, please feel free to let me know!
Anyways, what is true though is that muscle is more dense than fat – meaning, it takes up less room.
The crazy thing is…
As you build more muscle and lose body fat…
You may weigh the same or possibly even weigh more but still look leaner.
(This is Tiffany, one of my 1:1 Online Coaching Clients. She is 7 lbs heavier in the bottom photo but is noticeably leaner.)
Additionally, muscle is going to play a role in boosting your metabolism.
Therefore, you’ll burn more calories throughout the day.
Now that you’re burning more throughout the day, you can eat more calories while staying lean… how f*cking cool does that sound?
Not only does muscle help you build a kick ass body that you’re confident in, but it also has numerous other benefits:
- Lowers risk of a number of diseases
- Improves cognitive function
- Lowers risk of severity of depression and anxiety
- Strengthens bones and your joints
- Improves your posture
Essentially you’re creating a foundation for staying lean the rest of your life and building a bulletproof body!
Throughout the day, your body is either breaking down muscle or building it back up.
In order to build muscle, the goal would then be to have your body build up muscle more than it breaks it down.
To make this possible, the main ingredient is having a solid strength training program that allows you to lift heavy, go close to failure, and progressive overload.
The reason is that strength training places your muscles under tension which creates a muscles building response – “Muscle Protein Synthesis” (MPS)
As a result, when you strength train, essentially your muscles say “I need to grow bigger and stronger to be able to handle that weight next time.”
Below, I will quickly go over the most important things in this guide on how to build muscle.
The main component to building muscle is something called mechanical tension.
Without going too far into the weeds – because I want to keep this guide on how to build muscle simple – I want you to think of this as lifting close to failure.
More specifically, going 1-3 reps shy of failure.
Failure being that you can’t possibly do anymore reps even if someone was screaming in your face.
The reason is that these are the reps that recruit the most muscle fibers which send the biggest signal for your body to build muscle.
How do you know you’re close to that failure point?
When the weight starts slowing down and you make funny faces and grunting noises.
Keep in mind… this means that you’re going to have to go heavy – which is relative to you.
So, I would recommend one of two things…
First, practice going to absolute failure to know what that feels like.
Or, take a video of yourself and see if your reps are slowing down.
That way, you know if you’re lifting heavy enough.
If the reps are a grind and you’re out of breath, you’re good!
If not, I’m sorry but you’re not pushing yourself hard enough so bump up the weight!
Doing the same shit leads to the same results.
I see this far too often when people come to me asking why they aren’t getting building muscle which is why I wanted to make this guide.
In order for your body to adapt (build muscle), you have to give it a reason to adapt.
This means having your muscles gradually work harder over time.
There are a number of ways to progressive overload, but the two most important are increasing the amount of weight and reps you’re doing.
That way, your muscles have to adapt to the increased workload and you can also make progress more sustainably.
Each time you go into the gym, you should have a goal of doing more than you did the previous week either through weight and/or reps.
Another big mistake people make when trying to build muscle is thinking that more is better.
They spend 2 hours in the gym, go all out by doing 15 exercises each workout, and workout 5-6 days a week.
And before they know it, they end up either burned out or getting injured.
Don’t make this mistake.
One of the most important things for your body to build muscle is rest.
Rest is actually when your muscles are building up bigger.
NOT when you’re working out – which so many people seem to think.
All you need is to strength train 3-4 days and allow your body to rest so you muscles can get built back up bigger and stronger.
If you don’t, then your body never has time to put on muscle if you’re constantly breaking it down in the gym.
Also, making sure you’re getting enough sleep plays a huge role in your recovery.
Sleep is going to give you energy so that you can push hard in the gym close to failure.
And it’s going to allow your body to recover since a lot of your muscle building hormones are produced during sleep.
So, try your best to aim for 7-9 hours per night if you can.
The final ingredient is to eat enough protein.
Protein is the building block of your muscles.
Once they’re broken down in the gym, protein is needed to help build them back up.
I will go into more detail on protein down below, but for now, let’s dive into how to set up your weekly routine.
Having a routine that you can be consistent with is priority number one in this guide on how to build muscle.
Because, it’s the consistency over the long haul that’s going to get you your results.
As I said above, 3-4 days of a proper strength training program is all you need.
In 99.99% of my online coaching clients, I program either one of two splits:
A 3 day Upper/Lower/Full Split.
A 4 Day Upper/Lower Split.
Typically, it takes 48-72 hours for a muscle group to recover.
So, by doing one of these two splits, you’re allowing enough recovery while working out each muscle group at least twice per week.
Why not workout muscles one time per week? (Bro split man!)
Well, you can… it’s just hard to get in enough hard sets to build muscle in one session.
You’d be better off splitting that volume up between two days so that you can push close to failure each set
Imagine trying to go close to failure on 20 sets for one muscle in a single workout.
After 10 sets I guarantee you’re going to be fried, barely have any energy left, and be feeling like shit.
Another thing to consider is the more tired you get, the shittier your form gets which means the risk for injury increases.
So, take the weekend to plan out your workouts for the week.
What’s your split? What days will you go and at what times?
By now, from reading this guide on how to build muscle, you know that HEAVY strength training is the best type of exercise to build muscle.
However, there are no “best” exercises.
Everyone is different and has different limb lengths, muscle insertions, body types, genetics, etc.
However, there are certain movements that should be included in your program.
The majority of your program should consist of compound movements.
Compound movements are the movements that work multiple muscles and joints at one time.
Think of your squats, deadlifts, lunges, horizontal and vertical presses and rows, etc…
Let’s look at a squat for example….you’re using your quads, glutes, core, upper back, calves, etc.
Therefore, you’ll be able to load your muscles and joints with the most weight.
As a result, compound movements will be the biggest bang for your buck exercises.
Especially with only going to the gym 3-4 days a week for an hour a piece.
That said, including isolation exercises is also important so you can target a specific muscle.
Think of a cable bicep curl…
Most of the tension will be placed on your biceps, which means you can demolish them.
However, since only one muscle is being used, you won’t be able to lift as much weight.
So, make sure you have all of the movement patterns in your program.
Then, add in extra volume based on specific muscle groups you want to build via isolation exercise either with free weights, cables, or machines.
Don’t know whether to use free weights, machines, or cables? You can find all of that out here.
Volume has many definitions and people will debate on the actual verbiage of it on the Internet.
Basically it’s how much work you’re doing (sets x reps x weight)
But that can be too confusing and problematic.
So, why not keep it simple in this guide on how to build muscle?
Think of volume as being how many sets you complete.
You want to try and get the muscle group or groups you’re trying to build in the 10-20 total hard sets per week if you want to build muscle.
Notice how I said HARD sets….If a set was not close to failure it was not a hard set.
Instead, you can put that one down as a warm up set.
For more in depth info on how much weight to lift, you can read my guide here.
Keep in mind, when you’re a beginner you’re going to build muscle just by stepping on the gym floor.
Kidding but you get the point.
So, you’ll build muscle just by doing the bare minimum.
Unfortunately or fortunately…depending on how you look at it… these Newbie gains won’t last forever.
And eventually you’ll have to adjust.
So, when you notice your progress slowing down, increase the amount of set’s you’re doing monthly.
For example, if you’re doing 15 sets for a muscle group for month 1, bump it up to 16 sets for month 2, etc.
Aim for 10-20 total sets per week for muscle groups you want to build. Make sure you’re lifting close to failure.
The old recommendation looked something like this….
Strength: 1-5 reps
Hypertrophy: (muscle building): 8-12 reps
Endurance: 15-20 reps
Well, now research shows that you can build muscle in all of these rep ranges.
You see, as long as you go close to failure, then you’ll build muscle regardless of the rep range.
(Notice how a lot revolves around this whole close to failure thing? Ok, back to the article!)
That said, there is an optimal rep range for building muscle…. And that is 6-12 reps.
Because it’s the most optimal for creating the most tension without it being too fatiguing or strenuous on your body.
If you go too heavy too often (1-5 reps), then that can place a lot of stress on your body, joints, and CNS which can make it hard to recover from and lead to an injury.
If you can’t workout then you can’t build muscle and if you can’t recover, you can’t adapt.
On the other hand, going super high reps (15+) can be problematic as well.
This uses more of the cardiovascular energy system so, even though you can build muscles at 15+ reps, your cardiovascular system could give out before you muscles do, and therefore you don’t reach muscular failure.
So, for the majority of the time, stick to the 6-12 rep range and include a little of the endurance or strength work depending on your goals.
I would say stick to 75% of your work in that 6-12 rep range, then choose either the 1-5 rep rate or 15+ rep range, depending on your goal, to get the benefits out of those.
Another big mistake is that people take a 30 second rest period in between their sets.
As a result, they aren’t fully recovered and therefore, can’t lift as heavy.
So, their progress goes to shit.
It’s basically trying to drive a car on an almost empty gas tank… pretty soon you’re going to break down.
For example, if you needed to lift 20 lbs for 10 reps to create an adaptation but could only lift 10 lbs for 10 reps because you were too fatigued, you’re selling yourself short.
Do you think 10 lbs x 10 reps is going to create more change than 20 lbs x 10 reps?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
So rest at least 2 minutes in between your sets so that you CAN push close to failure every set.
Trust me…You should be begging to rest. If you’re not… lift heavier.
Rest 2-3 minutes in between sets so that you can push hard every set.
IF you follow the above guidelines, then you will be good.
Keep in mind, you want to maintain good form for safety and to make sure you’re working the right muscles through a full range of motion.
Good form always comes first.
If you’re using momentum to lift up too heavy of a weight, then you’re not placing enough tension on your muscles to grow.
So, don’t half rep that shit and don’t use momentum.
As a general rule, think 1 second on the concentric, hold for 1-2 seconds, and then 2-3 seconds on the eccentric.
Alright, now that you have everything you need to know on how to set up a kick ass muscles building program…
I’m going to drop a sample template below for you that you can follow if you want to get started.
Keep in mind, there are a million and one ways to program. This is just how I go about it with my 1:1 Online Coaching Clients.
Remember… if you’re close to failure on these movements, you’ll get amazing results.
1.Squat: 3×5 (25% in strength range)
3a.Reverse Lunge: 3×8-10/leg
3b.45 Degree Glute Ext: 3×10-2
1. DB Bench Press: 3×6-8
2. Lat Pulldown: 3×6-8
3a. Seated Shoulder Press: 3×8-10
3b. 1 Arm Db Row: 3×8-10/side
4a. Bicep Curl: 3×12-15
4b. Skull Crusher: 3×12-15
1. Sumo/Conventional/Trap Bar Deadlift: 3×5
2. BB Overhead Press: 3×5-8
3a. FFESS: 3×6-8
3b. Lat Pulldown: 3×6-10
4a. Chest Support Row: 3×8-10
4b. Rear Delt Row: 3×10-12
5a. Cable Behind the back side lateral raise: 3×10-12
5b. Cable Y: 3×10-12
— 1-2 compound movements
— 2-6 accessory movements based on goal
— 2-4 isolation based on goal
Also, start with your target muscle so that you can work it the hardest.
For example, want to build a bigger back? Start with a back movement.
Pick 1-2 compound movements using free weights. Then 2-4 accessory movements and 1-2 isolation exercises using a combination of free weights, machines, or cables.
Now that you have your strength training down, let’s dive into the second part of the guide on how to build muscle: Nutrition.
Is it possible to build muscle while losing body fat? Yea, if you’re a beginner, coming back from injury, or have a lot of weight to lose.
But ….it won’t be as much had you done it in a calorie surplus.
Imagine driving through snow… what’s going to get you to your destination quicker?
A small car or an SUV with 4-wheel drive?
The small car can get you there but it’ll be a much slower process.
So, if you want to take your results to that next level… then going into a surplus is the goal.
The reason is so that you can give your muscles the tools and energy they need to grow.
I’ll enlighten you down below:
Keep in mind that there is a limit to how much muscle you can build.
So, this is not a free pass to go into f*ck it mode because it’s not like eating as much as you want will lead to more muscle growth.
After a certain point, your body will just pack on extra body fat.
So, the whole “bulking season bro” mentality is a beginner’s mistake and not a good long term approach because the more fat you gain… the more fat you have to lose in the future.
That said… you WILL gain “some” body fat.
Notice how I emphasized the word “some”…
It’s completely normal and expected because not all the energy can go towards building muscle.
Therefore, the goal is to maximize how much muscle you can build while minimizing the amount of body fat you gain.
To accomplish this, I like to aim towards a 250 calories surplus.
Now, there are a bunch of equations out there on how to find how many calories you should eat.
But, the problem is there is no accurate way to know your exact amount of calories without some trial and error.
So, first I would suggest finding your estimated maintenance calories, tracking those calories for 4 weeks, and seeing if your weight roughly stays in the same range.
Then once you find your maintenance range, add 250 calories to that each day.
If you’re not gaining weight after a few weeks, then you may need to add another 250 calories again via carbs. (More on this down below)
Protein is going to be your best friend because it is the building block for building muscle.
Dietary protein allows your muscles to build back up bigger and prevent you from losing the muscle you already have.
Some of the best protein sources include: lean meats, lean dairy, high quality vegan sources if that is your thing, protein powders – whey or casein, and even protein bars.. although I’m slowly not becoming a fan of them myself.
Since the goal is to build muscle vs retain it, you’d want to eat a little more protein to help spike up muscle protein synthesis a little more if possible.
Aim for .8-1g per pound of your goal body weight.
Fat is essential to get into your diet.
It’s important for your hormones and your overall health which can have an affect on your performance and recovery.
Now, it’s not like adding in more fat will keep improving your hormone levels and health…
This is why adding butter in your coffee is just plain dumb as f*ck.
A little more can be fine but… too much can lead to more fat gain.
Think about it… you’re eating fat so eating too much will easily be stored as body fat when you’re in a calorie surplus since your body doesn’t have to do too much work to convert it.
Therefore, once you hit your minimum threshold, you’re good!
Now, look at carbs and protein… they have to go through a whole process of transforming the dietary carbs and protein into body fat which takes more energy to do.
Aim for .3-.5g per day of your body weight. Try not to exceed .5g.
Yes, carbs help with building muscle!
They get stored into your muscles as glycogen and give you energy for your workouts.
This is important because if you remember…you have to push yourself close to failure if you want to build muscle.
The energy system responsible for that runs off carbs!
So, if you don’t have energy from carbs, it’s going to be hard to do that.
Trust me… this is coming from someone who used to not eat carbs because I was a carb hater.
And looking back at my workouts… they were complete dog shit and I was leaving gains on the table.
Eat. Your. Damn. Carbs.
Calculate your protein and fats, then subtract that number from your calories and that’ll be how many carbs you should eat.
Ex: 3,000 calories – (165g protein x 4 cal/g + 50g fat x 9 cal/g) = 1,890 / 4 cal per gram of carbs = 472g
Yes, it may look confusing at first but it’s actually pretty simple (or why you may want to consider hiring a coach).
When adjusting your calories, it will be done by either increasing or decreasing the amount of carbs you eat.
Need to eat more? Increase your carbs. Need to eat less? Decrease your carbs. Protein and fats stay the same.
Something worth mentioning is that it doesn’t necessarily matter how many meals you eat.
What matters most is finding a meal frequency that works for you.
Now…It may be beneficial to eat more frequently for a few reasons.
First, so you can eat enough calories.
One of the biggest surprises when clients start a bulk is just how hard it can be to consistently get in enough calories.
Spacing out your meals into small chunks can help with this.
This is also where hyper palatable foods like nut butters and nuts can also help out – just be sure to measure them out.
Also, drinking your calories through a shake can help out as well if you’re having a hard time scarfing down solid food.
So, planning out your meals and eating more often can make things less stressful.
Second, by eating protein more frequently throughout the day, you can keep muscle protein synthesis spiked which can help aid in building muscle.
Can’t beat that.
Following all of the above tips is going to get you 99% of the way there.
So, I’m not going to spend too much time talking about supplements.
I will say the three supplements that can help are creatine monohydrate, a protein powder, and caffeine.
Creatine can give your body more energy which will give you a boost in the gym, and has been shown to aid in building strength and muscle.
Plus, your muscles will fill up with more water and even look fuller too!
A protein powder such as whey or casein protein doesn’t have any magical benefits other than helping you reach your protein goals.
** If you want to get the protein & creatine that Eric personally recommends, you can get it HERE and use his code “ERIC” to get 20% off!
Lastly, caffeine from coffee or a pre workout can help by giving you more energy to lift more weight.
As you can see, there is nothing magical about these supplements. They supp-le-ment the basics.
Alright, that should have all of your basis covered.
If you follow these guidelines consistently, you will see some AMAZING results.
Keep in mind, the amount of muscle you want to build in 3 months will probably take you over a year to do so.
Unlike fat loss which is relatively quick, building muscle takes a shit ton of time.
The more of a beginner you are, the more muscle you will build.
As you gain more experience, the gains start to slow down.
I would say that you want to be in a surplus for a minimum of 6-12 months to see some serious changes because muscle takes a longggg time to grow.
Aim to gain .25% -.5% of your BW per week and that is usually a good sign of progress.
So, for example:
If I weighed 150 lbs, gaining .3-..75 lbs per week… yeah, not much and very slow.
If you’re consistently gaining more than this, dial back the calories each day by 100.
If you’re not gaining less than this or nothing at all, bump up the calories by 250.
Remember, the goal is to maximize muscle growth while minimizing fat gain.
Now, fat gain will be inevitable since you’re in a surplus so can we agree right now that you won’t freak out?
After you complete your bulk from 6-12 months, you can go back on a cut, lose some body fat, and see the new muscle you packed on.
Thank you for reading through this whole guide!
If you made it to this point, I can’t say how much I appreciate you!
Now let’s get after it!
If you are interested in coaching with myself or our team, you can fill out this form HERE to apply for our 1:1 coaching!