How to Gain Muscle
There are so many factors one must consider in order to build muscle optimally. We will go through the most effective ways to help you learn how to gain muscle mass. In fact I will explain 13 ways to build muscle and reveal the most common mistakes and muscle building (bodybuilding) controversies in how to gain muscle mass.
For the very few out there in the population there are some that can put on muscle easily. These lucky people are referred as as genetic freaks. For the most part their body types belong to a group called the Mesomorph body type.
The characteristics of the Mesomorphic body type consists of:
- Medium sized joints and bones
- Wide shoulders width than hips
- Broad shoulders
- Naturally muscular
- Naturally lean
- Naturally quite strong
Muscle Building Truth and Steroids
These genetic freaks are extremely lucky but there are also others that can build muscle easily from the help of their ‘best friend’ steroids, but little do they know it will become their enemy in the long run.
Everyone can build muscle by using anabolic drugs such as steroids. The bodybuilding icons and models you see in fitness magazines, to certain Youtubers and people all over social media such as Instagram and Facebook use steroids.
Do not be fooled! And believe you can achieve their bodies.
However there is a way to build muscle naturally. Let us stress that everyone can build muscle naturally, and here at Nation Iron we reveal the best way to build muscle.
How to Build Muscle with Bad Genetics
For most of us putting on muscle feels like ‘mission impossible’. We do not possess the greek god genetics. We train endlessly and put our bodies to the limit and eat tonnes of food yet the reality of discovering how to build muscle still seems a mystery. This was me so I know exactly how it difficult it was putting on muscle and even weight.
I had bad genetics, short/thin limbs, small hands and a long torso. All these characteristics made it hard for me to gain muscle. My short fingers made my grip tire so quickly during weight training and my torso made deadlifting and squatting more difficult. However I prevailed and refused to let my bad genetics become an excuse to be skinny.
My years of trial and error, experience in the weight room and becoming a qualified personal trainer allowed me to figure it all out. Us ‘naturally skinny guys’ can achieve the ideal body that we have always desired. We will show you the path on how to build muscle naturally without any performance enhancing drugs or anabolic steroids.
Before we begin ask yourself the following questions:
Do you want to pack on more muscle?
Do you want to put on weight?
These two questions are different yet they intertwine with one another which we will talk about later on. So what is it that you want to achieve?
Putting on weight is a lose term as it could mean increasing excess fat on your body which indefinitely means you become heavier on the weighing scales. You look bigger in the wrong places, which doesn’t look good and raises health concerns.
If you want to put on weight all you have to do is eat more. I don’t mean just eating one massive meal a day, you will have to increase your portions for every meal. You could literally go McDonalds every day but of course you are then asking for an early heart attack.
If you want to pack on muscle which is defined as increasing muscle mass onto your current body frame. Then this is the right place. Gaining muscle also makes you heavier in weight and this is the real subject that we want to uncover.
You will never achieve your goal to learn how to build muscle mass if you are blinded by bodybuilding myths. Let us clear up the most common bodybuilding myths that are holding you back.
- I want to put on weight first and then change it into muscle: Fat does not convert into muscle. Fat is just fat so if you want to put on weight (fat) first before you train then you are just hiding your muscles beneath the new added fat. Put on muscle now, as building muscle and adding on fat is inevitable.
- I want to build muscle fast and look like that ‘guy’ in the magazines using a miracle 6-12 week workout plan: This sadly cannot be achieved in the specified time frame. We do not want to destroy your hopes and dreams but building quality muscles take years and consistency. Sometimes you will never look like that guy as he is probably on some sort of performance enhancing drug. Be patient and be consistent with your training and we guarantee you will be rewarded with body you train so hard for.
- Low reps are for size and high reps are for cutting: This is just absurd as if this was the case we would all reach our fitness goals with ease. Rep range is a massive topic and does vary for each individual. If you are weight training for the first time train with 10-12 reps for majority of your exercises. This rep range works well for the majority.
- Shock your muscles and always keep them guessing: There is some truth to this statement especially when you become an intermediate or an advance lifter. By keeping your muscle guessing people generally refer to changing your workout routine all the time. This is just not applicable. You cannot improve and make gains if each time you enter the gym and your training routine is completely different as you will not be able to track your progress. More on this below.
13 Rules On How to Build Muscle
Let us introduce to you the 13 best ways to build muscle. These are 13 rules that we have highlighted that will guarantee your success to help you gain muscle naturally:
1. Get Stronger
The first rule one must follow if you want to learn how to build muscle is to get stronger especially if you are a beginner. There is a direct correlation between getting stronger and having bigger muscles. So that means the stronger you become the bigger you get. Bodybuilders are the biggest in terms of muscle mass and that is because they are strong. They are the biggest in industry because they understand the importance of getting stronger.
To get stronger there is the right way and the wrong way to do it. So the wrong way is lifting the heaviest weight in the gym with bad exercise form and the hurting yourself. Another thing that most people do wrong is they train the same, day in and day out. They use the same weight, train with the same repetitions and sets.
Progression and Improvement
The right way is first to take it slow and start of light. The almighty Egyptian Pyramids were not built in one day made out of one gigantic stone block. It took years of one stone block on top of another stone block to build its impressive structure. It is same as the human body. You cannot build a muscular frame by going to the gym for a few weeks and expect to grow by lifting the heaviest weight.
Learning how to gain muscle mass starts of by picking a weight that you find challenging and comfortable with. The goal is to gain muscle mass and improving your strength achieves this.
One has to improve to see results. Wether you are training to put on muscle or to be a faster sprinter you need to progress in your training regime to improve. This brings to the point of progression and in terms of muscle building this means getting stronger.
The technical term that you will come across is progressive overload. This means to place a gradual increase of load in order to get stronger. No one is born strong, except Hercules, so you have to work your way up. If you want to bench press your own body weight of 80kg you cannot just put 80kg on the barbell and press it first time. You have to start of light, 40kg (kilo/kilogram) for example and within time you will be able reach that weight load of 80kg and more.
Progressive overload refers to increasing your weight load in small increments. So take the example of the bench press.
Week 1: You start on 40kg and you do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Week 2: You you increase the weight to 42.5kg and then do the same 3 sets of 10 reps.
Week 3: You increase your the load to 45kg and do 3 sets of 10 reps again.
Eat time you achieve the target of 3 sets and 10 reps then you increase the weight next time you do same the exercise. This is simple increment of progression is essential in order for you to build muscle. I cannot stress this point enough, you cannot grow if you do not introduce progressive overload in your training routine.
The goal is to get stronger each time by doing more weight for the same sets and repetitions. The reason why bodybuilders use this principle is because it’s the best way to build muscle, get stronger and it’s the safest.
However do not be naive and think that it is that easy get build muscle. You will find that increasing the weight becomes more difficult and eventually you will hit some sort of plateau. There are ways to overcome these plateaus but that is a topic of its own which you can read in our other articles.
2. Make It Intense
Intensity is always talked about with any sort of fitness goal. Building muscle is no different. Your workout needs to be intense for you to grow.
What is intensity? How do you measure intensity?
Intensity is how hard you work during your workout session. Intensity levels of above moderate to vigorous is how you want to train. The way to measure intensity is by going by how you feel, amount of sweating and heart rate.
When training with weights intensity is measured by how you feel during and after each repetition and set. You will notice increase heart rates and respiration during these workouts and that is when you know you are training at the right intensity level. Increasing intensity also translates to increasing weight. Therefore you want to train heavy in order to build muscles.
Now getting stronger is very similar to training heavy but do not confuse the two. Training heavy refers to training with a weight that pushes you. Even if you are trying to progressively overload if the weight that you are using to begin with is not heavy enough then you will not create that environment that allows your body to grow.
A fact that is important for everyone that is into fitness to be aware of is, you will never reach your fitness goal if you do not train intensely enough and and push your body to its limits. It does not matter what your fitness goals are. For example your goals could be to put on weight, lose body fat or to build muscle and training heavy is what is needed in order to accomplish your goals faster and more effectively.
To reiterate and clarify, when training heavy I am not saying to exercise and choose a weight where you can only push for a couple of reps. Obviously this is regarded as heavy but it will cause injury and it is not the best way to build muscle. In general low rep ranges are more focused towards sheer strength and powerlifting goals. You can definitely add this into your routine but remember we are trying to build muscle. More about the importance of reps and sets our other articles.
Whatever rep range you choose in your routine, pick a weight that is challenging and then implement progressive overload. For example anyone can do 10 reps lifting a light weight. In fact you can actually do this same light weight 10 reps everyday for 15 years and you will still end up looking virtually the same. For the purpose of bodybuilding, the weight that is challenging for you is the one that you can lift with good form with a bit of struggle on your last rep. Keep the rep range moderate to high for gaining muscle mass (8-12 reps).
3. Eat Big
Training perfectly is almost completely wasted if you do not eat enough. Especially if you are naturally skinny and burn off food really quickly like how I once was. For us skinny guys (Ectomorph body type) we have to eat a lot more than the average guy.
Try to have a minimum of 3 meals a day and because your goal is to pack on muscle increase your portion size. Spread your meals evenly throughout the day. As you will be training and working your body hard you have to eat enough to fuel yourself prior to your workout and to recover from them too.
Asking the question of how to build muscle mass heavily depends on food and diet. We recommend eating a minimum of 3 meals because today’s modern lifestyles can create a lot of restraints. To optimally gain muscle mass we highly suggest having 5-6 meals as this will keep constant flow of protein and nutrition which feeds your muscles. But we say at least 3 meals because most of our work lifestyles make 5-6 meals impossible.
4. Increase Your Protein Intake
Protein was something that was probably drilled into your head since you decided that it was your goal to build muscle.
There is no other way to say this but protein is essential for muscle growth. If you are not eating enough protein in your diet then you will not recover fast enough from your workouts. And even if you have recovered enough the body still needs adequate protein to build bigger muscles. Protein is so important that it also plays a big role to help lose fat as well if fat loss is high on your agenda.
How much protein do you really need? This again varies from person to person and there are many misconception on this and about protein shakes. But to get you started eat at least 0.8grams (g) of protein per pounds (lb) of body weight. For example if you weigh 140 lb (63kg) then you should eat at least 113g of protein in a given day. As you become stronger increase this to 1g of protein per lb of body weight.
There are lots to learn about protein in which you can read on our Protein Shake article to find out the role of protein, whether to use protein shakes and the best protein powders.
5. Rest Adequately
In the subject of resting I am referring to how long you rest in between your workout sessions. Rest to be the best you can be. No, we are not talking about rest times during your sets. We are talking about how many days or hours you rest before your next workout session.
This is such an important topic especially because the goal is learning how to gain muscle fast and naturally. Those on performance enhancing drugs don’t have to worry about resting appropriately as these drugs make them recover at ridiculous speeds.
Should I Workout When My Muscles Are Sore?
This brings a popular question: “should you workout if your muscles are still feeling sore.” The answer to this question is not simple and could arguably be a yes and no. When you are starting out and you’ve just had an intense workout your muscles are sore as they’re trying to recover. During recovery your muscles are trying to re-build themselves bigger so why on earth would you train again when your muscles are not fully recovered.
As a personal trainer and a natural bodybuilder I listen to my body. So if I am still sore, for the majority of times, I do not go into the gym. If I do I work on the muscles that are not sore. The only exception when I train when feeling sore is if I have just changed my workout routine.
When you change your workout routine after a certain period your muscles have to readapt and therefore they are usually more fatigued. So after introducing a new workout regime, in order to progress and grow further do not skip training sessions. But contradictory to this statement is if you are feeling absolutely shattered days after starting your new workout just rest.
6. Sleep Like Sleeping Beauty
Heard of the saying: “muscle is not made in the gym”? It’s not our favourite phrase but there is a lot of truth to it. Training and pumping iron in the gym is what creates the stimulus in order for your muscles to grow. But when you are actually sleeping and resting your muscles are recovering and building themselves bigger ready for the next training session.
The reason why having adequate sleep is so crucial for increasing muscle mass is because the levels of Growth Hormones like Human Growth Hormones (HGH) rises during sleep. HGH is important as it contributes to skeletal growth. This hormone is prominent in childhood and puberty. For adults especially for those looking to add serious mass then sleeping is a must. It helps maintain normal body structure and metabolism.
Studies have suggested that resistant training i.e. weight training strengthens bones and joints. There is no doubt that having enough sleep helps you achieve this when you exercise.
The majority of personal trainers and sports nutritionists recommend sleeping for a minimum of 8 hours a day for optimum muscle growth. However it is now believed that you only need to sleep enough that you feel well rested. Most people benefit from 8 hours but Arnold Schwarzenegger himself stated all he needed was just 6 hours.
There are 4 different stages of sleep cycle. Stages 1 to 3 consist of sleep, each deeper than the last. Sleep in stage 3 is when you are fall in deep sleep and it is the most significant stage for muscle growth as HGH are released in this particular stage. In this stage your blood pressure is at its lowest and the body is at complete rest in ‘restoration mode’. The 4th stage of sleep is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and just like how stage 3 sleep is important towards your body recuperate REM sleep is important for renewing your mind by the involvement of learning and memory.
The amount of sleep required for gaining muscle mass is dependant on the individual and do vary from 6 to 12 hours. If there is one thing that you need to remember about the right amount of sleep then remember that you should sleep enough so that you feel energised, ready for the tomorrow. Lack of sleep is common factor why most people struggle to build muscle.
7. Increase Your Daily Calories
Putting on muscle is almost like putting on fat, but the danger is that most people are doing it all wrong. You can do everything right from eating enough protein, sleeping well and have the perfect training routine but if you do not eat enough calories your muscles will not grow.
In fact you may find that you have been training for a number of months now but your strength seems to have halted. Why? A big reason is usually due to not eating enough calories. You need to eat a surplus of calories than what the body needs in order to build muscle. Those extra calories help you build bigger muscles but if you overdo it then you will add on extra unnecessary fat.
Eat just enough of a surplus to put on muscle and minimise the amount of extra fat that you will add on. Any fat that you will put on will be lost during your cutting cycle. Type of food you eat, calories, protein and vitamins play the biggest role in determining muscle growth and losing fat. Even the timing of your meal is important to help you gain muscle successfully. This is why we talk about diet and nutrition in various articles.
8. Compound Exercises
Compound exercises are exercises that involve more than one muscle. Examples of these exercises are the benchpress, bent over rows, squats and deadlifts.
These exercises promote the most muscle growth. You are hitting more muscles with compound exercises. For example when you benchpress the prime muscle that you’re working on is your pectorals (chest) but you are putting a lot of emphasis only triceps and delts (shoulders).
You are maximising muscle growth with these big compound movements and selecting these exercises in your routine will help you learn how to build muscle mass. To build muscle fast your workouts need to consist predominantly of compound exercises. Isolation exercises such as bicep curls, tricep extensions and cable flyes have their place but do not rely on these exercises for maximal growth. These compound exercises will help you gain muscle mass far better than ordinary isolation exercises.
9. Free Weights
The term free weights means a weight that is not attached to machine or structure. So the use of barbells and dumbbells is what we are referring to as free weights. To keep it short and simple, just like your workout should consist predominantly of compound exercises they should also consist as mainly free weight exercises. Resistance machines such as the smith machine and using cables also have their place in your workout routine, but do not rely on them to help you gain muscle.
The reason why using free weights are so important is because when you’re holding the barbell or the dumbbell you are using your natural stabilisers to hold the weight. When you are using the chest press machine for example all you are doing is just pushing the weight forwards and backwards.
Your stabilisers are not involved using resistance machines. Free weight exercises are a necessity in order to build muscle.
10. Train Legs
Training your legs will make your entire body grow faster. Yes as crazy as it sounds your upper body will grow faster if you also train your legs. Leg muscles are the biggest on the human body. Your quadriceps, hamstrings and your gluteus maximus are what makes your lower body muscles.
Training these huge muscle groups will force your body to release more testosterone. As you may know testosterone is the most important hormone in your body for muscle growth. When you train your legs you are releasing more testosterone into your entire body and therefore maximising your potential for muscle growth.
11. Change to Gain
Changing up your workout will allow more success to gain more muscle. This is a hot topic and many professionals believe in this statement and there also many that completely disagree with it.
Let us start from the point of view for those that are against disagree changing your workout to gain. The belief is that if you change your workout routine for example the exercises, order of exercises and even the rep range then your workout becomes non tangible. You cannot track your progress. This supports the realisation that progression is required in your training sessions in order for muscle to grow.
Theoretical this is a sound belief. We are true believers in implementing muscle building workouts that are linear, making it easier to track progression.
Now here comes the interesting bit. Your muscles and your entire body is an interesting and complicated phenomenon. The body was made to adapt providing the stimulus is enough for the body to adapt to it.
Training with weights, running and other physical activities done in a set routine is excellent at first but then the body adapts. When it is fully adapted the body is no longer challenged and muscle growth halts.
Therefore changing to gain does work. The shocking principle is what changing your routine can be referred to. It is extremely intense but does provide an environment that allows for extra growth, if done correctly.
The legendary, 5 time Mr Olympia and the most famous bodybuilder: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s explains the shocking principle best
Arnold is an advance pro bodybuilder and I do not recommend using this shocking principle until you have trained for a decent period of time. A year or two of training experience should suffice for you to implement the shocking principle into your routine.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a legend at building muscle and we do not want to take any credit from the man himself but he was on steroids. Training The Arnold explained in this video is great advice but you cannot do this all the time. Doing so will lead to a decrease in muscle mass as it is regarded as over training. Do not over confuse or complicate workout routine.
You are training to gain. Shocking your muscles does work but it cannot be done too regularly. Once or twice a month is more than enough to create this shock. Stick to your workout regime and when you get to a sticking point then change it up slightly. Then either go back to the same regime or start a new one.
It is important to go back to previous workout regimes and to try and improve on strength either by adding more weights, increasing reps or manipulating rest periods. Progression is key and changing workout regimes allow for further progression.
You have to trick your body to grow as you cannot possibly grow by doing the same routine each week.Changes in your routine are needed in order for muscle growth to take place.
You have to train frequent enough for muscles to grow effectively. The subject of frequency is another massive one but to keep short and sweet train at least 3 times a week. To progress you need to repeat things and if you are repeating it enough times a week then you will eventually improve. From many sports such as bodybuilding, football, the 100 metre sprint and swimming these champions become champions because how frequent they train.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps train so often and with such dedication that there is no surprise why they were and are the best and what they do. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the time was one of the first to train twice a day which even sounds crazy in today’s present time.
David Beckham, possibly one of the most football icons of all time was known for precise long passing abilities, crossing the ball into the box and his free kicks were incredible. The reason for his success was because he put in the work. He would be the first one for football (soccer) training sessions and be the last one to leave. He added extra training frequency to help him improve further.
So in order to build muscle one needs to increase their training frequency. Training 3 times a week should be absolutely minimal but if you can train 4-5 times then will be optimal for building muscle.
13. Be Consistent
Every point so far in this article plays an enormous role on your road to build muscle fast. The last point here is to be consistent with your training and it ties in also with training frequency. Don’t miss your workout sessions as you will only be pushing back your quest to build muscle quicker. If you do miss a workout then make it up the following day.
Being consistent with my training routine has helped me grow immensely. There were times when my diet was not too good and my strength gains went down due to injuries outside of the gym. Instead of losing muscle I gained I managed to build muscle because I was consistent with my workouts. I never skipped a workout session, the only exception was when I rested a week due to an injury.
Here is an important muscle building fact in regards to putting on muscle. On average an intermediate and an advance lifter can expect to put on 2 lb of muscle per year if everything goes accordingly to plan. That is 0.9kg of muscle a year.
We are not stating this fact to discourage you but to emphasise the importance of being consistent with your training. However if you are a new to bodybuilding or weight training then you can expect to put on 2.5 lb (1.1kg) of muscle per month.
So it is important during your novice year of training to get it right the first time and be consistent with your training to maximise your growth potential.
These are the 13 golden rules that will guarantee bigger muscles. It does not matter what genetics you have, as every individual has the potential capicity to build quality muscles. Following these rules will help you learn how to build muscle guaranteed.