How to Build Muscle

Aaron Rinehart STACK

After weight loss, building muscle mass is the most common fitness-related goal there is.

For some, packing on muscle comes easily. For others, it can be a long, gradual process.

But no matter who you are, if your fitness goals include gaining muscle mass, it’s wise to start with these three essential steps.

1. Perform Compound Exercises

Compound exercises refer to movements that require significant contributions from multiple muscle groups.

Isolation exercises, on the other hand, tend to focus on one muscle group and involve the movement of a single joint.

If you want to build muscle fast, compound exercises are your best bet.

They allow you to do more work in less time and get greater bang for your buck. Can you build muscle via isolation exercises? Certainly. But it’s going to take you a lot more time, and the overall results and benefits might not match up to those offered by compound exercises.

Compound exercises include basic lifts like Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, Rows, Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups, Shoulder Presses, Lunges, etc. Pick variations suited to your body type that best allow you to get strong (for example, Trap Bar Deadlifts may make more sense for you than Barbell Deadlifts) and be sure you’re hitting all the major muscle groups around your body throughout the week.

Done right, compound exercises work the most muscle in the least amount of time. If your priority is packing on muscle, pick 3-4 compound movements per workout and perform each for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps.

When you end each set, ask yourself, “How many more reps could I have done?” If the answer is anything more than 1-2, the weight you’re using is likely too light.

If your primary goal is muscle growth, you also want to limit your rest between sets to about 30-120 seconds. Anything shorter will make it difficult to lift appreciable weight, while anything longer will make building muscle more difficult.

After you knock you your compound exercises, you can hit 1-2 isolation exercises of your choosing, such as Bicep Curls or Tricep Push-Downs. But compound exercises should form the bulk of your program!

And remember that progression is key to adding muscle. If you can, aim to achieve an extra set, a couple more reps or a bit more weight each week. Read more about progressive overload here.

2. Eat More Food

To build muscle, you must ingest more calories than you burn.

Muscle cannot be created out of thin air, and it’s those excess calories that form the building blocks of new muscle mass.

Many people will rush out to buy supplements as soon as they decide they’d like to build muscle. The right supplements in the right context can be helpful, but really, your first step should be eating more whole foods.

Eating fast food or junk food all day can lead you to put on “bad” weight rather than lean muscle. Go for tried and true foods like rice, potatoes, chicken, salmon, eggs, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit, avocados, lentils, etc. These will help you build muscle, recover quicker and train harder.

And be aware of your protein intake.

The rule of thumb when eating to build muscle is at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Aim to get most of that amount from chicken, fish, beef, eggs, whole milk, etc.

Get protein from whole foods first. If you give that an honest shot and find yourself still falling short, you can look into purchasing a high-quality protein powder.

But when you hear people complain that they can’t add any muscle despite them lifting weights, odds are that they’re simply not eating enough.

3. Track Your Progress

Building muscle doesn’t happen overnight.

Throughout this journey, you may feel there are times when you’re not making any progress.

This is when a tangible log of things like your body weight, body-fat percentage, workout numbers, etc. can be a huge help. Being able to look back on where you came from doesn’t only help you optimize your training and nutrition, but it can also be extremely motivating.

It’s up to you to decide exactly how you want to track your progress and which metrics you’d like to to track. Perhaps it’s as simple as counting the number of unbroken Push-Ups you’re capable of performing from one week to the next, or simply jotting down the number you see on the scale.

Whatever it is, it’ll help you keep pushing in the right direction.

Photo Credit: iStock