So you want to build muscle but you don’t know how. Or maybe you do but you’re just not sure about what way to commit to.
What’s the best way? The fastest way? The way without injuring yourself? The way that breaks through plateaus?
Whatever way you’re looking for, this guide contains all you need to know to get right into building muscle
To build muscle, you need to consistently give your muscles training stimulus, keep yourself motivated throughout the process, and sufficiently rest the body.
This article is split into 3 sections:
- Diet & Recovery
I’ve written this guide based on my experience in the gym, what I’ve learned from professional bodybuilders and the scientific research on this topic.
This guide is no bs and no fluff. As if I’m teaching an inexperienced version of myself how to get back to where I am now as soon and as safely as possible.
Let’s get right into it.
Training To Build Muscle
Lift heavy things. Your muscles need an adequate amount of training stimulus to grow. This is not to say that you should train like a social media influencer with unknown substances coursing through your veins.
You need to lift heavy relative to yourself. When I first started lifting weights, I could barely chest press 20 pound dumbbells. Everyone starts somewhere. Drop your ego, drop the weight.
As a rule of thumb, you want to aim for around 10-12 repetitions with the last few reps being difficult for you to do.
Your muscles are most stimulated when things get difficult. No pain no gain is not a myth.
Once it gets easy to do all 10-12 reps, increase the weight to the next interval.
For example, If I’m dumbbell pressing 20 pound dumbells, I would use the 22 or 24 pound dumbells next.
Then rinse and repeat the rule of thumb.
Doing this maintains the stimulus the muscles need to keep growing.
How to warm up
Jumping into your exercises without a warm-up can risk injury. On top of that, you’re not giving your muscles the adequate prep they need for the hard sets you’re about to hit.
I can’t imagine squatting over 200 lbs without a proper warmup and anyone that does is either so strong they’re warming up with 200 lbs or they’ve got an ego on the loose.
There are a few ways to warm up but here is a progressive way to do it.
Your warmup will be 2 or 3 sets depending on how hard the exercise you’re about to do is. For example, I do 3 warmup sets for squats before hitting 3 hard sets and only 2 warmup sets for bicep exercises.
Clearly doing a compound lift like the squat would require more warming up than the bicep curl.
Let’s say I’m doing 3 warm-up sets. This is what my routine looks like leading up to the first actual set of squats.
Warm-up set 1 –> 25kg Warm-up set 2 –> 50kg Warm-up set 3 –> 75kg Actual set–> 100kg
Before you ask what the hell a “kg” is, do you see the pattern?
I increased the weight by 25kg or 25% each time.
The point of the warm-up isn’t to go hard and tire out the muscles, it’s simply to get them engaged more and more.
Your numbers don’t have to be accurate. The goal is to be progressive leading up to the first actual set.
Good form makes gainz
The most common killer of muscle gain is bad form. To make the most amount of muscle you need to be maximizing the involvement of said muscle in the exercise. With bad form, you reduce that.
So what is bad form?
It includes things like:
- Using momentum to help you move the weight
- Using other muscles to compensate for the lack of strength of the muscle you’re targeting
- (Surprisingly) breathing incorrectly.
Good form is controlling the movement of each exercise.
Good form is reducing the weight when you know you’re compensating with other muscles.
Good form is breathing in before each rep and out during each rep.
Trust me, bad form adds up. It’s total is muscle gains lost.
Keep it simple
This section is especially for the beginners.
Focus on the core compound exercises that will get you the most muscle growth potential when starting out. Once you’ve gained experience with them, improved your form, and practiced progressive overload, then move on to other more targeted exercises.
The core compound lifts:
- Bench Press
- Barbell Back squats
- Barbell Rows
Focus on these exercises and you’ll get the best results in only a few months.
But what if the equipment isn’t available for them?
You have to be prepared for this issue with alternatives. Here’s plan B
Your muscles don’t know the difference between 2 exercises targeting the same muscle. All it knows is push, pull, and hold. All exercises are just movements so find the same movement in a different exercise
Here are the alternatives to the compound exercises
Bench press alternatives
Machine bench press
Barbell back squats
Plated Leg press
Machine leg press
Seated T-bar row
Muscle confusion is a myth
There’s a “theory” that if you confuse the muscles through shock factor, you can stimulate them to grow. You do this by doing many different exercises in your workout.
In short, you’re scaring your muscles into growing.
I find it crazy that I even wrote that sentence. That’s not how that works at all.
I once knew a guy who believed in “shocking the muscles”. Turns out, years later, he still looks the exact same.
What you need to follow is the advice of keeping it simple. Do the core exercises with great form and progressively overload.
Progressive overload with good form stimulates growth. Not doing 10 different exercises in one workout.
That’s honestly more of a headache to keep track of if anything.
In this scenario, less is more.
How To Make Consistent Muscle Gains
As long as you train a minimum of 3 days per week, you’ll make consistent muscle gains. However, as a beginner that’s easier said than done.
It’s hard to be consistent when you’re doing something new, especially when it’s physically demanding each time. How do you overcome the excuses that come with it?
Track your progress
A few years ago when I was starting to really get into the gym (some would say I was becoming a gym rat), I had a gym logbook.
In this book I logged the exercises I did, the weight I used, the number of sets, and the number of reps.
I did this every session, every week.
I began to challenge myself. It was me Vs. past me. Will I do more reps or will I increase the weight?
I was going to the gym to beat my “scores”.
But that doesn’t have to be your reason. Simply seeing those sheets of paper be filled is validating for some. The logbook could even be a message to yourself, “I went to the gym today, and here’s my reminder that I did.
Give the logbook a try. You’ll give yourself something to do in between sets rather than looking into the infinite void.
Bro tip: You don’t actually need a physical book. Although preferable, you can simply log your workout using an app.
Take before & after pics
This may take a bit more time to come into effect but when it does, you’ll be rushing to the gym again. Take a photo of yourself currently and then take another after training for a month.
When you notice that your hard work is paying off, you become motivated to get back in the gym to make more improvements.
As simple as that.
Create a mind-to-muscle connection
If you don’t know when your muscles are engaged and when they’re not, it can be demotivating. You begin to doubt yourself. Doubt breaks consistency.
You need to create a mind-to-muscle connection. This means you have to focus entirely on the muscle being worked during an exercise.
Focus on the movement, the tense feeling, and the burn.
When using a mind-to-muscle connection you don’t want to lift as heavy as possible. It’s best practiced using moderate to lightweight.
Mind-to-muscle connection is more suited for muscle hypertrophy (building muscle) rather than maximum performance because it’s hard to focus on the feeling of your muscles while also trying to lift as heavy as possible.
By knowing that your muscles are engaged, it reassures you that you are stimulating growth.
Bro tip: For a couple of months, while doing certain exercises such as bicep curls, lat pulldown, and tricep extensions, I closed my eyes. I focused deeply on the squeeze I got on my muscles, making sure that they were fully engaged.
Drastic, I know, but it worked.
Diet & Recovery – The Other Half
Eat more protein
You want to be getting in 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight, every day. Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth. You could do all the training in the world but you won’t get the results you want without eating sufficient protein.
Here’s a diet plan that I made a few years back for myself. Not only did I count my calories, but I also tracked my protein intake.
So for my next tip, track your protein intake.
This isn’t difficult when you eat similar foods each day. If you want to learn how you can create your own diet plan, read my guide on building muscle and losing fat.
Easy protein sources
Here’s a short list of protein sources you can add to your diet.
- Low-fat yogurt
For more click here.
Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep doesn’t just help build muscle. Getting enough sleep makes sure you keep the muscle you built.
A scientific study determining the effects of insufficient sleep on body fat and muscle mass showed results that support this.
participants who slept 5.5 hours a day lost 60% more muscle mass on a calorie-restricted diet compared to participants who slept 8.5 hours
Those who slept 5.5 hours also showed a 55% lower decrease in fat mass, meaning, sleeping less isn’t good for fat loss either.
Get enough sleep so that you can grow and maintain the muscle you built.
As Kendrick Lamar once said, ‘Anybody can get it, the hard part is keeping it’.
Sleeping less can reduce testosterone
Your life would be a whole lot more difficult without testosterone and a whole lot easier if you had more of it (naturally of course).
Another scientific study measuring the effects of a 1-week sleep restriction on testosterone levels discovered that testosterone levels dropped by 10% to 15% when sleeping for 5 hours a night.
As natural lifters, you need all the help you can get. Losing 10% to 15% of testosterone is a big deal. Over time it adds up.
Get at least 7/8 hours of sleep. It makes a huge difference.
As a beginner, supplements are not necessary. Newbie gains will do its work.
However, If you can afford to or already have a decent diet. Adding a scoop of whey protein will help make gains more easily.
Here are the benefits of whey protein:
- Easy to consume – Just add water or milk.
- One scoop is packed with 20g of fast-absorbing proteins – perfect for your post-workout meal.
- Very convenient – you can prep the shaker in under a minute.
- Low in calories – Most come from the protein
- Plenty of flavors to choose from.
Another supplement that most gym-goers take is called creatine. You’ve probably heard of it already. I take it myself – 5 grams a day.
Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally produced in the body. It provides energy to your muscles for them to function as well as improve performance in the gym.
When training to build muscle, however, getting creatine from meat and the body alone is not enough for optimal performance. That’s where supplementation comes in.
The main benefit of creatine is the quick burst of strength you can get from supplementing with it. Make no mistake, Creatine is not like steroids.
Creatine will help you progressively overload. It will help you squeeze out another rep. It will help you push your body slightly beyond its limit.
You won’t get crazy strong but over time taking creatine provides a noticeable difference in your performance.
Creatine is also fairly cheap for the number of servings you get. One purchase can last you months.
Advice From a Gym Bro
In this guide, we’ve covered everything you need to know on how to build muscle. We’ve covered training, keeping yourself consistent, and recovery.
Now here are some things I wish I had known when I started out lifting.
Drink enough water
Around 76% of your muscle mass is water. By drinking more water you can actually help the process of providing glucose and oxygen to the muscles. Therefore, providing more energy to the muscles during your workout.
You should also know that taking creatine has a water retention effect. This means the water you drink is retained in your muscles.
Not only does water help with providing energy but it also helps give your muscles a fuller look.
Side note: Don’t tell your friends about this. I told my friend about this effect and he never stopped calling my arms “water muscles” since.
Most guys skip leg day. Or if they don’t, they don’t go hard enough to stimulate growth.
I get it, you want bigger arms or a big chest or a wider back. Those things feel more important and let’s be honest they’re more fun to work towards. But you can’t skip leg day.
Your legs are a significant portion of muscle mass to be gained. Just by training your lower half, you can gain several pounds of muscle very fast (assuming you don’t train your legs enough already).
Side benefit: You won’t look like an improper fraction.
It may be the hardest day of the week but I’m always glad that I go through with it.
Building muscle takes time. Sometimes your mind can even play tricks on you by making you think you haven’t made progress. That’s why it’s important to track your progress.
In the beginning, I used to post on my Instagram story to let people know I was at the gym. I did that almost every time. I know it’s cringe but it worked and the current me is grateful.
At another point in time, I enjoyed the compliments I got for my physique (although it was subpar in my opinion).
Then there was the logbook era. Constantly challenging myself was fun and seeing myself get stronger and bigger was icing on the cake.
Eventually, I came to love the act of working out. I love the pumps. I love the feeling of pushing myself to the absolute limit. Drop set after drop set. I love Leg Day and I love my community.
Be patient and you’ll be rewarded with more than how to build muscle. Trust me on that.