I can remember walking into a gym for the first time and easily being the most small, weak and skinny guy there. My muscle building genetics were (and still are) as bad as can be, yet my only goal was to figure out how to build muscle as fast as humanly possible.
So, like most people with this same goal, I started reading everything I could about the best workout, diet and exercises for building muscle. I spent money on the supposed best muscle building supplements, books and magazines, read countless websites and articles, and tried tons of methods and programs.
The problem is, after nearly 2 years of researching and trying things out first hand, I ended up getting virtually nowhere. In fact, the insane amount of conflicting, deceptive and all around terrible advice out there just left me more confused than when I started.
Now, over 10 years later, I know exactly what I did wrong. I understand what works and what doesn’t. I see what workout, exercises, diet and supplements are best, and which are absolute crap. I know exactly how to build muscle successfully, and I want to help you avoid making the same mistakes I did.
How To Build Muscle: The 4 Requirements
In the most basic sense, I can sum up over 10 years of muscle building research and experience in just 4 simple steps. You just need…
- A workout focused on progressive overload.
- A diet containing enough calories to support growth.
- A few additional components of your diet and workout to be set up properly.
- Enough consistency to allow it all to work.
Sounds pretty simple, right? That’s because it is. There’s a million little details that go into making these requirements take place, but they are all honestly just minor details.
Unfortunately for most people (including myself early on), it’s that focus on the little stuff that prevents us from taking care of the important stuff required for muscle growth to occur. So, let’s stop that now.
Below is everything you need to know about how to build muscle as quickly and effectively as possible. Enjoy…
Progressive Overload: The Key To Your Workout’s Success
If you spend any time searching for workout routines, you’ll notice that there are literally thousands of different ones out there comprised of different exercises, schedules, sets, reps and methods that all claim to be more effective than all of the others.
The truth is, most workouts that aren’t completely idiotic will work to some degree to build muscle as long as you make sure one simple concept is being applied. It’s the one workout factor that matters more than ALL of the others, and it’s the one workout factor that truly dictates your success.
It’s a little something known as progressive overload, and it’s an absolute muscle building requirement.
What Is Progressive Overload?
Progressive overload basically refers to the fact that our bodies will NOT build muscle unless we give them a significant reason to. Meaning, if you don’t make some form of progress during your workouts and gradually increase the demands being placed on your body, then your body will have no reason to build muscle. So it won’t.
If you keep lifting the same weights on the same exercises for the same number of reps the same way you previously have, your body will stay exactly the same. You must gradually increase the training stimulus in order for positive results to occur.
If you just keep doing what your body is already capable of doing, it basically thinks: “Alright, I see we already have the muscle mass needed to meet these demands, so no additional muscle will be needed.”
But if you INCREASE those demands by lifting just slightly heavier weight, or lifting the same weight for additional reps, or just doing something that increases the demands being placed on your body, then your body will basically think: “Wow, in order for me to perform under these conditions, I’m going to need to build more muscle.”
That means you could be using the best muscle building workout and exercises in the world and doing everything else perfectly, but if progressive overload isn’t taking place, you will NOT build muscle.
Simply put, progressive overload is what signals the muscle building progress to occur. Without it, it won’t. Every other aspect of your workout is secondary in comparison.
How To Make Progressive Overload Happen
With progressive overload being the true #1 goal of every muscle building workout, you probably want to know how to make it happen. Well, there’s many ways to do it, but the simplest and most common method goes like this:
- For each exercise in your workout, you’ll be lifting a certain amount of weight for a specific number of sets and reps, right?
- Now, let’s pretend that for some exercise, you’re going to be lifting 100lbs for 3 sets of 10 reps. Let’s also say you were able to do this successfully. Good job.
- Next time you do this exercise, increase the weight to 105lbs and try to do the same 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Let’s say you attempt this new heavier weight (105lbs) and do one set of 10 reps, one set of 9 reps, and one set of 8 reps. Good… that’s progressive overload.
- Your new goal next time is to get additional reps in those last 2 sets. So, let’s say you try and get one set of 10, 9 and 9 next time. Good, more progression.
- Next time, you may get 10, 10, 9. And the time after that… 10, 10, 10 just like you set out to do.
- Guess what needs to happen next time? You must increase the weight to 110lbs and repeat this process all over again.
This is the most common example of progressive overload, and it’s not only the biggest requirement of your muscle building workout, it’s the biggest requirement of building muscle, period.
Caloric Surplus: The Key To Your Diet’s Success
Once you’ve created progressive overload, your body begins the muscle building progress. The very first thing it does is look around and make sure it has all of the supplies it will need to actually build new muscle.
If it does, muscle will get built successfully. But if those required supplies aren’t available, the process ends before it even gets started. To prevent this from happening, you need to use your diet to provide your body with all of the supplies it needs.
Now, there are quite a few supplies that your body uses during the overall muscle building process, but NONE of them are more important than a caloric surplus.
What Is A Caloric Surplus?
A caloric surplus is simply what happens when you eat more calories than your body needs.
You see, everything we do burns calories, and everything we eat contains calories. If we consume exactly as many calories as we burn, everything will just be maintained. However, if we eat more or less than that amount, very different things will happen…
- If we consume LESS calories than this amount, a caloric deficit is created. This causes your body to burn stored body fat for energy instead, and this is how you lose fat.
- If you consume MORE calories than this amount, a caloric surplus is created. This means your body ended up with left over calories that it never needed to burn, and it will look to store them on your body in some form (fat or muscle).
Now, for the average person, these extra calories get stored on the body as fat (this is how people get fat, by the way). But for people like us who are working out correctly and using progressive overload to signal the muscle building process to occur, those left over calories will instead be used to build new muscle mass.
If that “signal” didn’t exist, we’d just get fat. However, it’s that signal that causes those left over calories to get used as muscle building supplies instead of just becoming body fat. Once again, this is why progressive overload is the key to your workout.
How To Create A Caloric Surplus
The goal is to eat more calories than are needed to maintain your current weight, but not exceed the amount needed to support muscle growth (you’ll just end up getting fat if that happens).
So, here’s the best and simplest way to figure it all out…
- First, multiply your current body weight (in pounds) by both 14 and 18. Somewhere in that range will be your daily calorie maintenance level, which is the amount of calories you need to eat per day to maintain your current weight.
- Men, people who are more active, or people who have a hard time gaining weight should use a number in the middle-upper end of their range. Women, people who are less active, or people who gain weight easily should use a number in the lower-middle end of their range.
- Now, take your estimated daily calorie maintenance level that you just figured out and add 250-500 calories to it. This is the ideal daily caloric surplus. Any less would slow down the muscle building process to nonexistent levels, and any more would lead to excess fat gain.
- Start eating this amount of calories each day and weigh yourself at least once per week first thing in the morning before eating or drinking.
- If you’re gaining weight at a rate of 0.5-1lb per week, then your caloric surplus is perfect! If you’re gaining less than that or nothing at all, add another 250 calories and see what happens then. If you’re gaining more than that, subtract 250 calories and see what happens then.
- When you find the amount of calories that allows you to gain weight at that ideal rate (0.5-1lb per week), then you’re perfect. Keep eating that amount each day to build muscle as effectively as possible.
This is how you supply your body with the calories it requires for the muscle building process to take place. You can easily get caught up in what type of diet is the best, and which foods are better than others, and how many grams of carbs you should eat… but above all else, a caloric surplus is the KEY to your muscle building diet.
The Remaining Workout Components
Now that we’ve covered the most important factors, it’s time to cover the rest. As you learned before, as long as you’re making progressive overload happen in your workouts, you’ll get positive results.
However, implementing the remaining workout components in the ways that are proven to work best will definitely improve those results. Here’s how…
Best Muscle Building Frequency
All research shows that beginners should train each muscle group 3 times per week, and anyone past the beginner’s stage (intermediates/advanced) should train each muscle group about twice per week.
Depending on your experience level, these are the recommendations that have been proven to work best for most people. My article about Workout Frequency explains all of this in great detail.
Best Muscle Building Schedules
For beginners, virtually EVERY recommendation is the same… the 3 day full body split is the schedule that works best. More about that here: Full Body Workout
For people who are past the beginners stage, there are many options that can work for building muscle. More often than not, I recommend either the 3 or 4 day upper/lower split.
I explain the full details of this split along with a few other schedules I like in my article about my favorite Workout Plans and Weight Training Splits.
Best Muscle Building Intensity & Volume
As far as intensity goes, you’ll typically want to do between 5-12 reps per set when your goal is to build muscle. With volume, the goal is to do just enough total sets, reps and exercises for each muscle group to provide the proper muscle building signal, but NOT too much that it cuts into recovery and prevents this process from taking place.
In most cases, 8-15 total sets for each bigger muscle group PER WEEK is ideal (chest, back, quads, hamstrings), and 0-8 total sets PER WEEK for smaller muscle groups that get significant indirect volume when the bigger muscle groups are trained (like biceps, triceps and shoulders) is ideal.
My main article about Weightlifting Workout Routines covers both of these topics in much more detail. Check it out if you have any questions.
Best Muscle Building Exercises
In general, the best muscle building exercises are the ones you’ll be able to progress at most often. And, in most cases, this means big free weight and body weight compound exercises like…
- Bench Press
- Overhead Press
- Pull Ups/Chin Ups
The many variations of these compound exercises (like incline and decline bench press, Romanian deadlifts, lunges and leg presses, lat pull-downs and seated cable rows, etc.) are also highly effective. After that, a secondary focus on isolation exercises (like dumbbell flyes, bicep curls, triceps extensions, lateral raises, leg curls, etc.) can often be useful in most muscle building workout routines.
My article about the different types of weight lifting exercises contains plenty of additional details.
The Remaining Diet Components
A caloric surplus is definitely the most important part of your muscle building diet. However, after that, there are still some other diet factors that play a role in improving the results you get. So, let’s take a quick look at each of them now and set them up accordingly…
After calories, protein is definitely the next most important part of a muscle building diet. Common recommendations for the ideal daily protein intake typically fall between 0.8-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
In general though, an even 1 gram of protein per pound is a perfect starting point for most people trying to build muscle. I cover this in more detail in my article about How Much Protein Per Day.
Common ideal sources include chicken, turkey, fish, meat, eggs/egg whites and protein supplements.
Recommendations for the ideal daily fat intake typically fall between being 20-30% of your total calorie intake, with an even 25% usually being just right. Another common recommendation is 0.4-0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight, which usually ends up being pretty close to the first method. Either will work just fine.
Common ideal sources include fish, fish oil supplements, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
The last of the macronutrients is carbs, and recommendations for the ideal daily carb intake are pretty simple. Carbs should make up the remaining calories left over to reach your total calorie intake after protein and fat have been factored in. My article about How Many Carbs Per Day explains this in detail.
Common ideal sources include fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, beans and most whole grains.
Post Workout Meal
While eating the right total amount of calories (and getting those calories from ideal amounts and sources of protein, fat and carbs) is definitely the most important part of a muscle building diet, eating a proper post workout meal (the meal after your workout) is definitely the next most beneficial factor.
In general, this means eating a significant amount of both protein and carbs, usually from fast and easily digestible sources. As long as you’re doing that, you’re doing it right. If you want more specifics, my Post Workout Meal article has them.
Muscle Building Supplements
95% of the supplements on the market are useless over-hyped garbage that do nothing but waste your money. And the 5% that are useful will NOT make up for failing to properly do everything else I’ve described in this article.
Having said that, there are a few supplements that I personally use and recommend because they’ve proven to be safe and effective for building muscle. They are:
Each link above will take you to the articles I’ve already written about each. They’ll explain everything you need to know about them.
Need A Muscle Building Program That’s Already Proven To Work?
You now know everything you need to know about how to build muscle successfully. We’ve covered the main muscle building requirements as well as the best workout, the best diet, and everything in between. The articles I’ve linked to throughout this guide will help provide a few extra details as well.
Now, it’s still possible that you’ll have some additional questions about how to put everything together and design the most effective muscle building program possible. You may also just want some help doing it. Well, after nearly 10 years of people asking for it, I’ve finally created the solution.
It’s called The Ultimate Fat Loss & Muscle Building Guide, and in it I provide every additional answer, detail and fact you will ever need to get the best results as fast as possible. It contains the proven workout and diet system I’ve used to help countless men and women build muscle mass and completely transform their bodies.
Ready to do the same? Then go here to learn all about it: The Ultimate Fat Loss & Muscle Building Guide