New to resistance training or just getting started again after a long layoff? Don’t waste time. Use these tried and true strategies to build muscle faster.
1) Train to build muscle
Think about how you’re training. The circuit training or boot camp class at the local gym might seem like a good idea, but calisthenics, plyometrics, and balancing exercises are better for promoting endurance, power, or agility than building muscle. If you’re training for fun, camaraderie, or a challenge, group classes and generalist training programs are fine. If you want to build muscle, you need specificity in your training.
2) Progressive overload
Building muscle depends on progressive overload. Once you can do 6-12 reps of an exercise, it’s time to add weight. If you don’t have access to a gym, it’s possible to build muscle with bodyweight exercises, but the same principles apply. If bodyweight training is a primary part of your workout, try to make the exercise more difficult once you’ve reached your rep goal. If you do knee push-ups, progress to traditional push-ups. If you do traditional push-ups, progress to push-ups with legs elevated. Emphasizing duration over intensity will slow your progress. Wall squats might make your legs tired, but you won’t build muscle that way.
3) Use multi-joint movements
Squats, presses, deadlifts, rows, lunges, and (weighted) pull-ups should be the foundation of your training. Save your energy for promoting growth in the large muscle groups.
4) Get enough protein and carbohydrate in your diet
Lower protein diets are fine for sedentary populations but they should be avoided if developing muscle mass is your goal. Most professional sports nutrition or exercise science organizations use 1.8g/kg as an upper limit, but strength athletes and physique-conscious folks often aim for more: 1g/lb is an effective intake that’s easy to monitor. Whey and casein supplements make it easy to get enough protein.
Low-carbohydrate diets should also be avoided if you intend to build muscle. Carbohydrate is a primary fuel for resistance training and it’s also necessary for recovery. A good rule of thumb is 2g/lb.
If you’re training hard, you need recovery time. Too much intense exercise combined with inadequate nutrition and rest make it difficult to achieve steady gains. Rest is not for the wimpy. Recovery is just as important as training. Get enough sleep and include off days or low-intensity days in your training program.