The Ultimate Guide To Building Muscle
If you’re looking to build muscle, get stronger and have a great physique, this article is for you.
Whether you are on the lean side and trying to gain weight or heavy set and looking to lose a few kilos, a good muscle building program is what you need to bring you closer to your goals.
Building muscle involves 3 main components:
1. Lifting Weights
The underlying principle of building muscle is called “Progressive Resistance Training” or PRT.
It means that in order to build muscle, you must progressively increase the amount of resistance.
There are many ways to increase resistance:
- Increase the amount of weight
- Increase the number of reps
- Increase the number of sets
- Reducing the amount of rest
- Periodically changing the workout routine
You can also apply different techniques to increase the level of intensity.
These techniques include:
- Forced Reps
- Negative Reps
- Partial Reps
- Time Under Tension (TUT)
- Rest Pause
By progressively increasing the work rate of the muscle you will make it stronger. A stronger muscle is a bigger muscle.
Proper nutrition is likewise essential to building muscle.
Food has 3 important purposes:
- Fuel your workouts
- Initiate recovery
- Repair muscle tissue
Carbohydrates, protein and fat are the macro-nutrients you get from food.
Knowing the best sources for each macro and when to eat them are crucial information to help you build muscle fast.
Carbohydrates – Immediate source of fuel.
There are 2 types:
- Simple – Used to replenish glycogen; best taken after exercise
- Complex – Provides long lasting energy; best taken before exercise
Protein – Essential for muscle repair.
Fat – Protects cells and enhances the immune system.
By following a smart nutrition plan, you can have more productive workouts, faster recovery and reduced risk of injury.
Recovery is often overlooked in a muscle building program. The biggest misconception beginners have is thinking your muscles grow during exercise.
The truth is lifting weights stimulates muscle building but the actual growth process occurs during rest.
The pain you feel in your muscles after training is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS.
This happens because lifting weights tears muscle fibres. This is not to be confused with an actual injury where people ‘tear a muscle’.
You need to give your body time to recover and repair itself through rest and proper nutrition. Muscle soreness will usually last 24 to 72 hours.
In this article, you will learn valuable information on how to build muscle quickly, effectively and safely.
We will discuss:
- The benefits of building muscle which include better health, improved self-esteem and enhanced self confidence.
- The most popular muscle building exercises and how these produce muscle growth.
- Steps to creating a muscle building program with important information on frequency, tips and techniques plus a sample weekly workout plan.
- Muscle building diet tips which include the best muscle building meals to support your workout program.
- The best exercises to build muscle and generate faster, more productive results.
- The best muscle building supplements and how often to take them.
- How to build muscle fast by putting together all the principles, concepts, tips and techniques we’ve discussed in this article.
The first step toward gaining the first inch on your biceps starts with learning the benefits of building muscle.
Let’s get started!
What Are The Benefits Of Building Muscle?
When it comes to building muscle, most people only talk about its physical benefits.
While putting on muscle makes us look better in and out of our clothes, the process of building muscle provides many benefits to our health, attitude, well-being and overall quality of life.
1. Build Strength
The best way to build muscle is to train for strength. Muscle size is a by-product of a stronger muscle because you need larger fibres to accommodate greater resistance.
When you build muscle, you also strengthen your bones, lower the risk of tissue degeneration and reduce the incidence of injuries.
Stronger muscles help you become more functional in everyday life.
You will have an easier time carrying the groceries, moving furniture around the house or walking around with your back pack.
2. Fat Loss
Building muscle means increasing the tissue type that is responsible for having faster metabolism.
Your metabolic rate determines how fast your body uses up calories. The higher or faster the metabolic rate the fewer calories are stored in the body as fat.
In fact, the higher your muscle-to-body fat ratio the more calories you burn at rest. It is estimated that for every kilo of muscle you gain, you burn an extra 100 calories per day!
3. Lowers Blood Sugar
Strength training builds muscle which also develops more Type II muscle fibres which mean more carbohydrates can be converted to glycogen or muscle fuel.
If your muscles are not actively stimulated by resistance work, its glycogen stores will remain full and you will have excess insulin in your blood stream.
Excess insulin has been linked to Diabetes, Dementia and certain types of cancers.
Managing your blood sugar can also improve your brain and organ health as they’re able to receive oxygen and other nutrients faster. That’s why building muscle also improves cognition.
4. Improves Confidence
An effective muscle building program incorporates goals. Any time you accomplish a goal, you improve your level of confidence.
Even if you do not accomplish the goal, just the act of trying will help you overcome your fear of failure.
Of course, there are the obvious perks of a successful muscle building program. A well-toned and muscular body draws attention from the opposite sex.
Studies have regularly shown that women are attracted to men with muscular physiques.
5. Influences Your Attitude
Lifting weights releases chemicals called endorphins which interact with receptors in your brain that reduce the perception of pain and depression. This is why you feel happier and more “alive” after exercise.
A muscle building program can test your patience. If you are a hard gainer, you may get frustrated at your slow progress.
Developing a positive attitude is important to keep you committed to the program.
It may take more time to build muscle but with consistency the gains will come.
If you do not incorporate strength training or muscle building principles, your health and fitness regimen may not present holistic benefits.
A fitness program that focuses solely on cardiovascular endurance is good but it may not burn fat as effectively as a muscle building program.
As you have read, there are many benefits to building muscle. It can transform you physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.
Not only can a muscle building program improve the way you look on the outside, it can also improve the way you feel inside.
The Most Popular Muscle Building Exercises
We’ve already established that if you want to build muscle, you have to train for strength.
The most popular muscle building exercises are those that allow you to lift the most weight. These are called compound exercises.
They utilise multiple muscle groups and recruit a large number of muscle fibres to help you accommodate greater resistance on your muscle.
Here is an outline of the most popular muscle building exercises:
Squats are the best muscle building exercise for your lower body. It works your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, lower back and engages the core muscles.
The key to the effectiveness of the Squat is depth. Squats allows greater range of movement compared to other leg exercises.
At a squat depth that is below parallel, you begin to work the glutes, hamstrings and calves.
The heavier you go, more fibres are recruited from the different muscle groups to help you squat up the weight.
2. Bench Press
The Bench Press is the best muscle building exercise for your upper body. It develops your entire chest, shoulders, triceps, upper back and lats.
Because of its popularity, people tend to sacrifice good form and technique in favour of heavier weight.
You need to follow full range of motion to benefit from the Bench Press. The lats are activated on the descent.
The lower, middle chest and shoulders do most of the work when you press the barbell from your chest until midpoint. From here, the upper chest and triceps take the barbell to lockout.
Deadlifts are a total body exercise as it hits muscles in your upper and lower body.
It builds your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, upper to lower back, rear shoulders, arms, forearms and abdominals.
The Deadlift is the ultimate test of strength. Unlike the Squat or the Bench Press where you begin to apply forces on the bar on it descent, with the Deadlift you are literally lifting dead weight from the floor.
The key to the Deadlift is maintaining correct form. The legs initiate the pull; the start of the Deadlift is similar to a Leg Press.
Once the bar crosses your knees, the back takes over.
4. Overhead Press
The Overhead Press targets your shoulders, upper chest, upper back and triceps. It also engages your abdominal muscles to support your lower back.
Similar to the Deadlift, you also have to start the Overhead Press from a dead stop position which requires more strength and explosiveness from the shoulders, upper chest and upper back. From midpoint to lockout, the triceps and traps take over.
The best combination of sets and reps for these exercises is 5 sets of 5 reps. Use a weight that you can lift for one set of 8 reps.
These 4 popular muscle building exercises are often referred to as the “Core Lifts” because they help you develop strength and muscle faster than any other exercise.
A muscle building program built on the 4 core lifts will hit every muscle group in your body.
Steps To Creating A Muscle Building Program
Creating a muscle building program is not as hard as you think.
You only need to follow a few simple rules:
- Focus on the 4 Core Lifts
- Commit to a training schedule
- Limit the number of exercises
- Get enough rest
Lastly, keep your muscle building program simple!
This is a very important rule to keep in mind for beginners who are about to undertake a muscle building program for the first time.
How Often Should You Work Out?
The cornerstones of your muscle building workout should be the 4 Core Lifts.
As mentioned, the core lifts will help you build muscle faster than any other exercises.
Thus, you must dedicate one day for each core lift or 4 days a week for your muscle building program.
An ideal schedule would be as follows:
Monday – Squats
Wednesday – Bench Press
Friday – Deadlift
Saturday – Overhead Press
This type of schedule allows you to alternately focus on your lower body and upper body. You have 3 days of rest before the Deadlift.
Training your back one day earlier will help prime the shoulders for the Overhead Press.
If time is an issue and you only have 3 days to train in a week, you can try this schedule:
Monday – Squats
Wednesday – Bench Press, Overhead Press
Friday – Deadlift
With this schedule, you still have 3 days of rest before training your Deadlift.
It is fine to work your Bench Press and Overhead Press in one workout since they both focus on the upper body.
How To Stick To Your Muscle Building Program
Consistency is the key to success. If you want to reap the benefits of the muscle building program you must commit yourself to the schedule. For some, that may be easier said than done.
Here are 5 tips to stick to your muscle building program:
1. Set Goals – Goals set a target in sight for you to focus. But make sure your goals are realistic.
2. Use Social Media – Share stories about your journey and include pictures in your Facebook page to get support and encouragement from your community.
3. Find A Workout Buddy – Exercise with someone who shares the same fitness goals and who can motivate and encourage you to train harder.
4. Hire A Personal Trainer – A Personal Trainer can give you great workout advice and guide you through your muscle building program.
5. Stock Up On Good Food – Remove all junk and unhealthy food from your house and only stock up on good, nutritious food.
Sample Muscle Building Workout Plan
This workout plan is based on 4-day workout schedule.
Here are the important points of the workout:
- Warm up for at least 10 minutes; 5 minutes on a bike plus 5 minutes of dynamic stretching
- Rest 3 minutes between sets of the core lifts
- Rest 1-2 minutes between sets of the other exercises
- Do static stretching after training
Tuesday – Rest
Thursday – Rest
Sunday – Rest
Cardio For Muscle Building
Cardio is important for a muscle building workout. It helps remove toxins through sweat, burns excess body fat and strengthens the heart.
There are 2 ways to do cardio:
1. Steady-State – Maintain the same pace for an extended period of time. Best examples are long distance jogging and cycling.
2. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) – performing short bursts of all-effort followed by short rest periods. Best examples are sprinting and Tabata.
The best form of cardio if you want to build muscle is HIIT for the following reasons:
- Short Duration – anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.
- Anaerobic – burns carbohydrates not protein
- Enhances strength, power and builds muscle
You should perform HIIT during your rest days on Tuesday and Thursday.
Here are HIIT programs you can use on those days:
Tuesday: Sprint Training
Warm Up: 2 minutes brisk walk + 2 minutes jog + 1 minute slow walk
Interval: 30 seconds sprint + 30 seconds rest; 8 intervals
Warm Down: 3 minutes slow walk
Thursday: HIIT Complex
Warm Up: Jump rope x 3 minutes
Interval: Perform 2 intervals; Rest 2 minutes between intervals
If you don’t want to drive all the way to the gym to do cardio, you can do the sprints at the park and the HIIT Complex in your home. Always stretch after doing cardio.
It takes time to build muscle. You must be patient with the program. With time and consistency the results will come.
Muscle Building Diet Tips
One of the biggest misconceptions about building muscle is that your muscles grow while training.
This leads beginners to focus more on lifting weights and spending more time in the gym.
Eventually, they end up tired, sore and wonder why they did not build muscle after all the work they have done.
Many look for answers in their muscle building program but the key lies in their diet and nutrition plan.
The truth is that lifting weight merely stimulates muscle building.
But the growth process starts after you have racked the final weight.
80% of the success of your muscle building program can be attributed to the foods you eat and when you eat them.
Not only does food give your body the fuel it needs for workouts but it also provides key nutrients for recovery.
The tools for replenishment, repair and recovery can be found in the foods you eat before and after you exercise.
The Best Muscle Building Foods To Eat
Food contains macronutrients that all play a specific function in a muscle building program.
These macronutrients are as follows:
Carbohydrates produce glycogen which is the muscle’s immediate fuel source.
There are 2 types of carbohydrates:
1. Simple Carbs – Quick burning; ideally taken straight after training. Best sources include:
– Fresh Fruits : 1 Banana – 22 grams
– Coconut Water : 240 ml – 8.9 grams
2. Complex Carbs – Long lasting fuel source; take hours before training but essential for post-training to help fuel muscle rebuilding and growth. Best sources include:
– Wild Rice, Oats or Quinoa : 1 cup – 35 grams
– Sweet Potato: 1-2 potatoes
– Cruciferous Vegetables : Broccoli, 100 grams – 6.64 grams
Protein contains amino acids which are essential for the repair of muscle tissue.
Each source of protein has its distinct amino acid profile which is why it is best to ingest a variety of protein.
Best sources include:
- Organic Red Meat : 85 grams – 25 grams
- Organic Chicken : 85 grams – 25 grams
- Tuna : 1 can – 20 grams
- Eggs : 1 large – 7 grams
- Turkey : 85 grams – 25 grams
Essential fatty acids helps protect our cells, immune system and lower bad cholesterol. It also delays the release of amino acids when taken with protein.
This ensures your body has a constant supply of amino acids to repair damaged muscle tissue.
Best sources include:
- Salmon : 154 grams – 12.5 grams
- Avocado : 1 piece – 26.7 grams
- Walnuts : 1 cup – 18.3 grams
- Flaxseed : 13 grams – 5 grams
- Cottage Cheese : 113 grams – 5 grams
How To Customise Your Muscle Building Diet For Your Body Type
It is absolutely important to have these macros in your muscle building diet.
The amount per macro would depend on your body type or somato-type:
Naturally lean; hard time putting on weight.
– Carbohydrates – 6 grams per kilo of bodyweight
– Protein – 3 grams per kilo of bodyweight
– Fat – 1.5 grams per kilo of bodyweight
Naturally muscular, find it relatively easy to put on weight.
– Carbohydrates – 4.4 grams per kilo of bodyweight
– Protein – 2.75 grams per kilo of bodyweight
– Fat – 1 gram per kilo of bodyweight
Heavy set; hard time losing weight.
– Carbohydrates – 2.2 grams per kilo of bodyweight
– Protein – 3 grams per kilo of bodyweight
– Fat – 2 grams per kilo of bodyweight
Ectomorphs and Mesomorphs should eat 50% of their carbohydrates before exercise to fuel their workouts.
Endomorphs should eat 65% of their carbohydrates after exercise because they can rely on stored body fat to provide energy for their workouts. 95% of carbohydrates taken after training will be used by the body to replenish lost glycogen.
Regardless of somatotype, protein should be distributed proportionally throughout the day.
Fat is best taken with a protein source as a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. This helps prolong amino acid release.
For the same reason, you can have fat with your pre-bedtime meal.
Here are a few tips on pairing your macros:
- Simple and complex carbs with lean protein – eg. Fruit and Chicken Breast or Ground Turkey and Wild Organic Rice
- Red meat with cruciferous vegetables – eg. Steak and Broccoli
- Fat with protein – eg. Ground Flaxseed with Tuna
What Is A Cheat Meal?
Lastly, avoid eating junk or foods with no nutritional value. These include chips, donuts, cake, lollies/candy and high fat pizza.
These are empty calories which will not contribute to making quality muscle building gains.
Occasionally, you can have a “cheat meal” which is a type of food that is not part of your normal diet plan but has nutritional value.
It can help break the monotony of a diet and be an incentive for a productive workout.
Among the best choices for a cheat meal are as follows:
- Hamburger: Plain – 30 grams carbs, 20 grams protein, 10 grams fat
- Beef Jerky : 1 packet – 5 grams carbs, 11 grams protein, 0.8 grams fat
- Buffalo Wings : No dipping sauce, 3 pieces – 2 grams carbs, 15 grams protein, 11 grams fat
- Vanilla Ice Cream : 1 cup – 17 grams carbs, 2.5 grams protein, 7.9 grams fat
- Chocolate Milk : 250 ml – 25.9 grams carbs, 7.9 grams protein, 8.5 grams fat
A cheat meal is exactly what it is; just one meal and not an entire day!
You can have one cheat meal per week preferably on the day before your heaviest or hardest workout.
Ectomorphs and Mesomorphs can have an extra cheat meal for the week as their body fat levels are on the low side.
What Are The Best Muscle Building Supplements?
The fourth component to an effective muscle building program after the workout, nutrition and recovery are supplements.
Here are 3 benefits of taking supplements:
- They are a convenient way to meet your daily macronutrient requirement;
- Supplements are designed for various functions that are specific to a muscle building program;
- They can cover deficiencies in minerals and vitamins that cannot be provided by whole food.
Supplements are exactly what they are; they are taken to support your diet and nutritional program.
You have to be responsible when taking supplements and still prioritise whole foods in your diet.
Used properly, supplements can help you gain strength and build muscle.
Here are the best muscle building supplements:
1. Whey Protein
Whey protein should be the first item on your supplement list if you want to build muscle.
Protein is made of different amino acids which help repair muscle tissue that has been damaged from lifting weights.
The faster you recover the more productive your workouts. Thus, it is important to get protein into your muscles right after training.
Whey Protein has the highest Protein Efficiency Rating or PER. This means it is absorbed faster than any other protein source.
It is best to take Whey Protein first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and within 30 minutes after your workout preferably with a simple carbohydrate.
Creatine was first launched in 1993 in its monohydrate form. Creatine is a combination of 2 amino acids, arginine and glycine.
Its function is to provide our muscles with immediate energy. It became popular because users reported immediate strength gains from regular intake.
Our bodies naturally produce creatine but only enough to sustain no more than 15 seconds of all out effort.
Supplemental creatine works by increasing the force of muscular contraction. The more fibres are recruited the bigger and stronger the muscle gets.
Creatine is best taken after training with Whey Protein and a simple carbohydrate.
Branch Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs are made of 3 essential amino acids: Valine, Leucine and Isoleucine.
These are considered essential because the human body cannot produce them and therefore must acquire them from food sources or supplement form.
BCAA’s comprise 1/3 of the amino acids needed for muscle growth. This is why it is important to have BCAAs in your muscle building supplement plan.
The best time to take BCAAs is right after your workout. If you are on the heavy side, you can replace the simple carbohydrate by adding a scoop of BCAAs with your Whey Protein shake.
91% of your skeletal muscle is made up of Glutamine. This amino acid is quickly depleted during hard training and results in significant decreases in strength.
It takes the body 6 days to replenish its Glutamine supply which is why it is important to take it in supplemental form.
This supplement prevents muscle breakdown and has been shown to protect the immune system.
It is best to take 5 grams of Glutamine with each of your main meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
5. Beta Alanine
Beta Alanine is found in many popular pre-workout drinks. When combined with histidine, Beta Alanine produces another amino acid, Carnosine. Among the studied benefits of Carnosine is enhanced strength.
There are studies that show supplementing with Beta Alanine will increase the intra-muscular density of Carnosine by 60% within 4 weeks.
Beta Alanine is best taken 30 minutes before a workout. Effects are greatly enhanced when taken on an empty stomach.
However, if you workout in the afternoon, just make sure your last carbohydrate meal was taken 2-3 hours earlier.
There are studies that show the effects are diminished with the presence of carbohydrates in the body.
Keep in mind that supplements are synthetic; they are lab created. Many have artificial ingredients.
Regardless of what the labels or instructions say, it is always a good idea to follow a one month on, one month off schedule.
This will allow your body time to eliminate any toxic residue from the supplements.
How To Build Muscle Fast
In addition to the workouts, your diet, recovery and supplementation plan you also have to consider your genetic disposition for building muscle.
There are people who are predisposed to put on muscle mass faster than others.
However, you can build muscle fast and overcome limitations as long as you are consistent and remain focused on the muscle building program.
The main point to remember is that after a workout is when your body most needs fuel to rebuild your muscles.
Therefore, your post-workout meal(s) are the most important for muscle growth.
Make sure you get plenty of all three macros in your post-workout meals: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fats.
Load up your post-workout meal(s) for one week and you will probably even notice a difference, let alone a month’s worth!
Here are some tips to keep you on the road to building muscle:
Muscle Building Workout Tips
- Get a good warm up before lifting. Ride a stationary bike for 5 minutes then do 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching. Practice your form on an empty bar.
- Focus on maintaining perfect form in every rep.
- Add 1.25 to 2.5 kilos to your working weight in the Bench Press and Overhead Press and 2.5 to 5 kilos in the Squat and Deadlift every week. These are small increases that add up to large strength and muscle gains over time.
- If you reach a point that you cannot do 5 reps with the increased weight, adjust the set and rep range. For example, if you could only do 90 kilos for 4 reps in the Squat adjust your workout to add more sets but do say 3 reps.
- Always record your workouts in a log book.
- Use static stretching techniques after exercise.
Muscle Building Diet And Supplementation Tips
- Establish an eating schedule which outlines the foods you’ll eat and the supplements you’ll take.
- Distribute your macros throughout 6-8 meals during training days and 4-6 meals during rest days.
- Always prepare your meals in advance. Store your powders and capsules in portable containers.
- Braising, grilling, baking, roasting and pan frying are the best ways to prepare food. Avoid deep frying. Vegetables retain their nutritional value with steaming.
- Measure your bodyweight at the start of the program and every Sunday morning on an empty stomach. Maintain a record of your bodyweight changes. Adjust your food portions accordingly.
- If the workouts are getting heavier, do not hesitate to eat more food before and after exercise.
Remain focused on the goal of building muscle. This program isn’t about getting ripped, 6-pack abs just yet, it’s about building quality muscle.
You have to eat to support muscle growth.
Lastly, always ensure that you rest on non-workout days and to get good quality sleep every night.
Rest is the time where your muscles recover and grow.
As with anything in life, you can achieve your goals in a muscle building program with dedication and commitment.
To build muscle requires a process, structure and a change in lifestyle.
It all starts and ends with you:
- Get a medical checkup before starting any workout program or diet plan.
- Establish the best days and time of the week to train and commit to the schedule.
- Find a gym or fitness centre that is within proximity to your home. It should have the equipment and most importantly, the ideal culture to support your muscle building goals.
- Consult with a Personal Trainer and consider hiring one at least for the first month if you are a beginner.
- Research as much you can on the correct form and technique on the 4 Core Lifts. There are many videos available on our site or talk to more experienced trainers. Practice the form even when at home.
- Comfortable Wear – You do not have to buy expensive gym wear to get productive workouts. The key is comfort. As long as your clothes do not restrict movement, they should be fine.
- Lifting Belt – You will need this as the weight gets heavier. A lifting belt gives your abs something to push against and protect your lower back. A 10cm leather or suede belt would do.
- Remove all junk food from your home and stock up on the foods listed in our “Muscle Building Diet Tips”.
- If you are a beginner or between the ages of 18 and 25, start out with Whey Protein, Glutamine and BCAAs from our list of best muscle building supplements.
- Creatine and Beta Alanine are best used when you have had at least 1-2 years of consistent training under your belt.
- A log book is a very valuable tool to track your progress. Buy a small notebook and use it as a diary. Write down your thoughts and how you felt during training. The log book will contain the answers to most of your questions.
Be honest with yourself on your performance and progress. Acknowledging mistakes and issues is the first step toward finding a solution.
The muscle building program is a journey to a bigger and better you!
A muscle building program is an effective way to be muscular and strong.
Not only can you build muscle and strength, it will also help improve your level of conditioning, shed unwanted body fat and reduce the risks of illness.
It will not only develop your body but also your mind and spirit. With consistency, you will be inspired by your progress.
Time becomes your best friend and teacher. You will learn to appreciate the values of patience, discipline and resiliency. Thus, you will build your body and character in this journey!
Most of all, a muscle building program is a fun activity.
You will find yourself constantly overcoming challenges, learning new techniques while making new friends along the way.