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How To Build Muscle
(Last Updated On: March 10, 2018)

So you wanna put on muscle?

You’ve got your gym membership, you’ve got your new workout gear, and you’re ready to get started.

You hop online, and type “how to build muscle” into google, hoping to find a definitive answer… only to leave more confused than when you started.  

High reps, low reps, slow reps, calisthenics, time under tension – the sheer volume of conflicting and contradictory advice is enough to make anyone want to give up before they start.

Well, today’s your lucky day, because we’re here to set you straight.  

Because while the process of gaining muscle can be complicated, it’s a whole lot easier when you understand the fundamentals.

And that’s exactly what this post is designed to do.  We’re here to teach you all about the fundamentals of muscle growth, including how to structure your workout, what to eat, and how to approach things to get the best results in the shortest amount of time.
 

Your Workout

 
When it comes to building quality muscle mass, there are no two ways around it- you’re going to have to workout.

And you’re going to have to workout HARD.

The real question is how you should workout.

Do a quick google search for “best workout to build muscle”, and you’ll quite literally find thousands upon thousands of different plans.

So, with all of these routines to choose from, how do you find one that will actually get you results?

Glad you asked. The following is a quick “cheat sheet” to determine if the workout you’ve chosen will produce results… or if it’s a complete waste of time.

An effective muscle-building workout routine will be based around the following core principles:

Principle #1: Progressive Overload

Progressive overload can be defined as a gradual, incremental increase in a particular stress on your body over a given length of time.

When it comes to gaining muscle, progressive overload is KING.  It can be achieved in a number of ways, but for the majority of trainees, the following two strategies are the easiest to implement:
 

Weight

 

How To Build Muscle

This one should be fairly self-evident. Want to gain more muscle? Lift more weight.

Now, once we get down to the nitty gritty details (which rest assured we will), it gets a little more complicated.

But generally speaking, if you’re able to lift more weight over time, you’re probably gaining muscle.
 

Volume

 
The other  strategy for achieving progressive overload is to increase your total volume (i.e. how much “work” you’re putting in each week).

When it comes to volume, there are two main factors to consider. The first is the total number of reps you’re performing on a given exercise.

For example, let’s say you can bench press 100 kg for 6 reps. Then the next time you’re in the gym, you’re still doing 100 kg, but now you’ve managed to crank out 7 reps.

Even though you haven’t increased the weight on the bar, that extra rep represents an additional stress on your body (and thus an increase in progressive overload).

The other factor is the total number of sets.

Those are the two big progressive overload strategies. There are others you may want to consider (training frequency, exercise variation, etc.) but those tend to be more advanced. If you’re still in the beginner to intermediate stages, sticking to weight and volume is the best move.
 

Principle #2: Sufficient Recovery Time

 
Now that we’ve stressed the importance of busting your ass and pushing yourself in the gym, let’s talk about the other part of your workout that everyone neglects – your time outside of the gym (i.e. your recovery time).

How much time you need to recover is going to depend on you, your lifestyle, your age, how much stress you have in your life, and how much exercise you’re doing outside of the gym.

It will also depend on the style of training you’re performing. If you’ve opted for a hardcore training routine that involves going balls-to-the-wall on ALL your sets, it only makes sense that you’ll need more recovery time per week than someone who’s taking a lower intensity approach.

Generally speaking though, you should aim to be spending anywhere from 4-7 hours in the gym per week lifting weights.

Yes, that’s a fairly wide range, and as much as I wish I could give you a “one size fits all” recommendation, you’re going to have to experiment.

As a general rule of thumb though, if you find yourself consistently unable to make progress, you’re probably overtraining.
 

Principle #3: Balance

 
Ever see those dudes with huge biceps and pecs, and ZERO leg development?

Yeah… not a good look.

We’ll keep this principle short and sweet- a strong, powerful, aesthetic body is a balanced body.

That means if you’re doing four pushing exercises, you’d better be doing four pulling exercises as well.

That means actually lifting legs (no matter how much you HATE leg day) and doing some some squats along with all those curls.

That means NOT benching three times per week while doing nothing for your back.

You get my point. Make sure you keep everything proportional. Not only will you build a better looking body, you’ll prevents muscle imbalance and injuries later on down the road.
 

How Many Reps Should I Do?

 

How To Build Muscle

This is a highly contentious issue in the fitness world. Proponents of lower rep, higher weight training point to research suggesting that it’s a superior way to train for muscle growth, while proponents of high rep, high volume training point to research suggesting…the exact opposite.

Confusing, right?

Here’s the deal – if muscle growth is your primary goal, the majority of your sets should be in the range of 3-15 reps (20 TOPS). Any less, and you’re heading into pure strength building territory. Any more and you’re starting to move into endurance.

Again, that’s a pretty wide range, which is why it’s important to experiment and discover which style you prefer, and more importantly, which style gives you the optimal results.
 

So… Which Workout Should I Do?

 
Hey, I get it. This is a lot of information to take in, ESPECIALLY if you’re a complete newbie.

So if you’re reading this, and you’re still not confident about putting together a rock solid workout regimine, fear not. At the end of this article, we’ll be including not one but two sample workout plans to get you started (or at the very least, give you some inspiration).

Your Diet

How To Build Muscle

Diet is one of the most critical aspects of gaining muscle… and unfortunately, it’s also one of the most ignored.

There are an absolute ton of theories floating around as to what the “optimal” diet entails. But when it comes right down to it, if building muscle is your primary goal, there are two factors that are going to drive the majority of your results.
 

Factor #1: Calories

 
You may have heard that losing weight is a matter of “calories in, calories out”, and that if you want to lose fat, you need to eat less calories than your body needs to maintain itself.

Well, gaining muscle requires the opposite- if you want to gain weight, you need to eat more calories than your body needs. Plain and simple.

There are a few different reasons for this. The first is that muscle is “expensive” for the body, and creating new muscle through protein synthesis requires you to be in a caloric surplus.

The second is that, since building muscle requires you to reach progressive overload in the gym, it’s absolutely critical that you get enough fuel for your workouts (try dropping your calories down to 1500 per day and let me know how those deadlifts work out for you).
 

How Many Extra Calories Should I Eat?

 
If you’re thinking that you’re going to be spending the next few months sitting on the couch binging on pizza and ice cream in between workouts, I have bad news for you.

“Dirty bulking” doesn’t work.

Because unlike losing fat, in which the number of calories you cut is directly proporational to how much weight you lose (within reason), gaining muscle is much more fickle.

For the vast majority of trainees, eating thousands and thousands of extra calories does not mean you’ll pack on muscle faster- it just means you’ll be getting FAT.

The reality is this- while you do need to be eating more food to gain muscle, you don’t need to be eating THAT much more. An extra 300-500 calories on top of your maintenance (the daily number of calories you need to eat to maintain your weight) is more than enough (unless you’re a REAL hardgainer).

Just make sure you know what your maintenance number is before you start so you’re not spinning your wheels (using an app like MyFitnessPal really makes this easy).

You should also understand that, try as you might, you can reasonably expect to gain some fat during this process.

But it should be minimal. One pound of fat for every pound of muscle (at the MOST).
 

Pro Tip: Measure

 
Here’s a little tip to make sure that the weight you’re gaining is (mostly) muscle and not fat- buy a tailor’s tape. It’ll cost you a couple bucks, and you’ll easily be able to track all the measurements on your body.

how-to-build-muscle

In case you hadn’t figured it out already, we’re looking to gain size pretty much everywhere except your waist (or your waist and hips if you’re a woman).

If after a month or two your chest, arms and quads have filled out and your waist has only increased slightly, congratulations- you can be reasonably assured that you are, in fact, packing on muscle.

Green light.

If, however, you notice that your waist measurement has gone up 5 centimetres

Red light, my dude. Start dialling your calories back.
 

Factor #2: Protein

 

How To Build Muscle

This one should be self-evident, but apparently, some people haven’t gotten the memo.

If you want to gain muscle, protein is important. REALLY important.

Protein essentially acts as the fundamental building blocks of muscle, breaking down into amino acids and repairing the small micro tears caused by exercise

With that said, you may also not need as much as you think.

Because if you’ve spent any time reading popular bodybuilding magazines, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you need an IV drip of whey protein stuck in your arm at all times.

The reality is this- if you shoot for 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, you’ll be fine. That means that an 80 kilogram man should be eating roughly 160 grams of protein per day.

You’ll want to make sure you’re eating complete protein sources- chicken, beef, fish, eggs and nuts are safe bets.

If you find eating that much protein to be a challenge, you can always opt for a high quality whey supplement. Our Elite Whey Protein comes packed with almost 20 grams of protein per serving, and can be used to make everything from shakes to “protein pancakes”.
 

What About Carbs And Fats?

 
When it comes to the “optimal” diet debate, much of the disagreements tend to centre around these two macronutrients.

While there are proponents of both a high carb and a high fat approach, your best bet is to take the middle ground.

Shoot for a dietary breakdown of 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbs. You can always adjust your carbs and fats later on if you’re not seeing progress.
 

A Quick Note On Recovery

 

How To Build Muscle

The third and final pillar of gaining muscle is your recovery.

We touched on this a little during workout programming, but it’s worth bringing up in detail.  Because while this often gets overlooked by new trainees, it is critical that you get it right.

Your ability to recover from your workouts and allow for optimal protein synthesis will absolutely make or break ALL the hard work you’re putting in at the gym.
 

Sleep

 

How To Build Muscle

Listen up – if you’re serious about building muscle, sleep is your friend. A deep, restful sleep signals the release of growth hormone and activates protein synthesis, two vital components of building new muscle.

It also reduces energy consumption and restores organs, bones and tissue.

Sleep needs vary between individuals, but generally speaking, most people require between 7-9 hours per night.

And when it comes right down to it, it’s not just the amount of sleep you get- it’s the quality of sleep that counts.

Because the real benefits are seen at the deep levels, getting 9 hours of sleep doesn’t count for much if you’re tossing and turning all night.

Make sure you spend the hours before bed unwinding and avoiding electronic devices (if possible), since the blue light from your computer and smartphone screen will interfere with melatonin and disrupt your natural sleep/wake cycle.
 

Sample Workouts

 
I know, I know. This is A LOT of information to take in (it is the “definitive” guide after all). So many of you newbies may still not be totally confident setting up and programming an effective workout.

We got you covered. The following are two different routines you can try out.

The first is a high(ish) intensity, high weight, moderate-to-low volume approach.

For this workout, the reps will be kept low, the weight will be high, and you’ll be in the gym 3 days per week.

The second workout utilizes a lower intensity approach, with lower weights, higher reps and more volume. This workout will have you in the gym 4 days per week.

The workout you choose will depend on you, your lifestyle and your preferences, but both are based around the same proven muscle-building principles- utilizing exercises in the 3-15 rep range with a system of progressive overload to ensure you’re consistently progressing to handle more weight and volume over time.

Make sure you keep a training log. Every time you hit the gym, you should aim to be adding either a small increase in weight, or additional reps.
 

Workout #1

 
Monday

Bench Press (5 sets of 5 reps)

Overhead Press (5 sets of 5 reps)

Weighted Dips (3 sets of 6-8 reps)

Weighted Cable Crunch (3 sets of 12-15 reps)

Tuesday

20 Minutes Of Light Cardio

Wednesday

Deadlifts (5 sets of 5 reps)

Weighted Pull-ups (5 sets of 5 reps)

Bent-over Barbell Rows (3 sets of 6-8 reps)

Hanging Leg Raise (3 sets of 12-15 reps)

Thursday

20 Minutes Of Light Cardio

Friday

Squats (5 sets of 5 reps)

Barbell Lunges (3 sets of 6-8 reps)

Calf Raises (5 sets of 12-15 reps)

Weighted Cable Crunch (3 sets of 12-15 reps)

Hanging Leg Raise (3 sets of 12-15 reps)

Saturday

20 Minutes Of Light Cardio

 

Workout #2

 
Monday

Bench Press (4 sets of 8-12 reps)

Incline Bench Press (4 sets of 8-12 reps)

Standing Overhead Press (4 sets of 8-12 reps)

Lateral Dumbbell Raises (4 sets of 12-15 reps)

Weighted Cable Crunch (5 sets of 12-15 reps)

Tuesday

Deadlift (4 sets of 6-8 reps)

Seated Row (4 sets of 8-12 reps)

T-Bar Row (4 sets of 8-12 reps)

Lat Pulldown (4 sets of 8-12 reps)

Hanging Leg Raise (3 sets of 12-15 reps)

Wednesday

20 Minutes Of Light Cardio

Thursday

Squats (4 sets of 6-8 reps)

Leg Press (4 sets of 8-12 reps)

Bulgarian Split Squats (4 sets of 8-12 reps)

Calf Raises (5 sets of 12-15 reps)

Weighted Cable Crunch (3 sets of 12-15 reps)

Friday

Close-Grip Incline Bench Press (4 sets of 8-12 reps)

Weighted Dips (3 sets of 8-12 reps)

Skull Crushers (4 sets of 8-12 reps)

Barbell Bicep Curls (4 sets of 8-12 reps)

Hanging Leg Raise (3 sets of 12-15 reps)

Saturday

20 Minutes Of Light Cardio

Sunday

20 Minutes Of Light Cardio

And that’s that.  At the end of the day, building muscle is a long, tiring process.  But if you stick to the fundamentals and consistently put the work in, you will see results.

And if you’re interested in supplements that can help you along the way, we’ve got you covered.  We recommend starting with the following muscle-building essentials:

Elite Whey Protein

Creatine Monohydrate Tablets

Amino Charge BCAA

If your interested in learning more about the how-to’s of building muscle, check out our free articles:

4 Week Plan For Guaranteed Muscle Growth

A Hardgainers Guide To Putting On Muscle

 

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