How to Build Muscle – Real World Advice (It’s easier than you think!) There's a ton of information (and misinformation) out there about how to build muscle. In this article I cut through all the noise and tell you the simple real-world strategy to build muscle.
Before we get started I want to answer the question: “Why do we want to build muscle?” As a guy that’s easy, but ladies, I want you to know that building muscle is important for you as well even if your goal is weight loss and you really don’t care about building muscle. If you’re afraid you’re going to get bulky looking, don’t worry you’re not, you don’t have the right hormones. In fact women who weight train are more likely to lose inches rather than gain inches.
Building muscle is important for women and men for many reasons:
- Muscle tissue is metabolically active tissue, meaning it requires calories just to maintain it. So the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn even at rest.
- Weight training strengthens your bones as well as your muscles. Research has shown weight training is the best way to increase bone density, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis in women.
- Weight training is good for heart health. Recent studies have shown that weight training is just as effective at promoting heart health as traditional cardio training. I’m not suggesting you don’t do cardio, but weight training is good for the heart as well.
- Weight training makes you stronger mentally. We talked about that in last week’s video on Brain Health. The feeling of power and overcoming, sets the tone for your day, tapping into your inner strength.
- Weight training may help you live longer. Weight training is increasingly linked with longevity, it makes it easier to stay mobile and independent and reduces the risk of all sorts of common, age-related chronic diseases.
Okay now that I’ve given you the whys of building muscle, let’s get into how to build muscle. Building muscle breaks down into 3 components. If you get them right and are consistent over time, I promise you WILL build muscle.
1. Proper nutrition. This is the number one reason people don’t see results in the gym and get discouraged and quit. They’re not seeing results because their nutrition is not on point. The bottom line is you have to eat enough protein spread throughout each day. I recommend eating 4-5 times per day, starting when you first wake up. After an 8 hour fast you need that first meal to put your body in an anabolic state as much as possible. Anabolic simply means building, whereas catabolic means breaking down. Our bodies are constantly building up and breaking down muscle tissue, but we want to tip the scale in favor of muscle building, and eating first thing in the morning is one way to do that. Also you need to have enough energy to build muscle. If you are overweight you can build muscle in a calorie deficit, meaning you will build muscle and lose fat at the same time. If you are not overweight you need to consume extra calories to provide energy required for your body to build muscle. If that describes you, I recommend starting at about 2-300 calories over your maintenance calories. Your maintenance calories is how many calories it takes to maintain your bodyweight. So say you’re a moderately active female age 35, it takes about 2000 calories a day to maintain your weight at your current activity level. That’s your maintenance calories. So you’ll add 300 calories to that, making your daily calorie goal 2300 calories per day. Then you watch the scale and your waistline for a week or two. If you’re not adding weight then bump up your calories 100 at a time till you start making progress. If you feel your waistline is growing too much then cut back calories a little. Now you WILL gain some fat with the muscle, it’s inevitable, but our goal is to gain as much muscle and as little fat as possible. So if you’re comfortable and happy with your results then keep going. Just keep an eye on your weight and your waistline each week. If at some point you start gaining more fat than muscle, then I recommend you do a mini-cut for a couple weeks. That means you lower your calories to 500 below maintenance so you’re in a calorie deficit. This will do 2 things: number 1 it will shed a couple unwanted pounds of body fat and 2 it will reset your insulin sensitivity and your body’s ability to build muscle. Now as far as macronutrients go, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine your diet should consist of 20-35% fat, 35% protein, and 45-65% carbs. You want to make sure you’re getting about 1 gram of protein for every lb you weigh, then the rest will be divided between fat and carbs at those recommended percentages. Some guys swear they can’t grow muscle if they’re not eating 1.5 grams of protein per lb of bodyweight. So you just have to experiment and see what works best for you.
2. Proper training. You want to focus on compound movements that hit all your major muscle groups, that way your body develops proportionate and symmetrical. And you need to lift enough weight to give the body the stimulus to adapt and grow. This means you want to use a weight you can lift 6-12 reps using good form at a slow-and-controlled tempo. Also you want to limit your rest between sets to about a minute to 90 seconds. And you must employ progressive overload. The principle of progressive overload states that the body must experience ever increasing overload in order to continue to adapt and grow more muscle. This is accomplished by adding more reps, or adding more weight, or adding more volume. So that means you want to add reps or weight in every single workout. So let’s say you bench pressed 100 lbs for 8 reps in your last workout. This workout your goal would be to bench press 100 lbs for 9 reps. Then next time 10 reps. And so on. When you get to 12 then you add weight to the bar and start over at 6-7 reps. Now you may not progress in every set in every exercise, but long term you should see a pattern of progressively overloading and adapting, and growing bigger and stronger. Every 4-6 weeks it’s good to take a little break and change up your routine.
3. Rest and recovery. I actually did a whole video on workout recovery last month (here's the link). But suffice it to say you must get enough rest and sleep between workouts. During sleep your body delivers extra oxygen and nutrients to your muscles for healing and growth. Also sleep is important in maintaining hormone balance, specifically growth hormone and igf1 and testosterone in men, all of which are anabolic hormones. Not getting enough sleep lowers these hormones and raises cortisol levels. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, so we want to limit its production however possible.
I want you to know, these 3 things are what I do every week. If you are wondering how it’s going for me, Last summer I got down to 145 lbs at about 12-14% body fat. I really wanted to lean out. Then I decided to start building muscle. As of the writing of this article I weigh 162 at about 17% body fat. That means I gained about 10 lbs of muscle and 7 lbs of fat. Like I said some fat gain is inevitable. But I gained about a lb a month average of actual muscle. I’m super happy with those results. I’m not worried about the fat gain at all, I know I could lose it in literally 7 weeks.
My ultimate long term goal, Lord willing, is 190 lean! I know that’s a long term goal, like a few years. But the key is doing these 3 things consistently. I promise if YOU do these 3 things consistently you WILL gain muscle.
The most challenging of the three is proper nutrition. How do you know what your maintenance calories are? And how do you track your calories?? If you’re asking those questions, you'll love this week’s free resource! This week’s free resource is a free calorie calculator! You plug in your stats and it calculates how many calories you need to maintain your weight, or to lose one lb a week, or to gain muscle! AND I’ll share with you a special report from Healthline on the top 5 calorie tracking apps for 2021. AND if that’s not enough I also want to give you a copy of my S&M GI Food Guide. All for free! So to get this week’s free resources visit the link below.
Thanks for reading. Pease share these articles and videos if they are helping you. My goal is to help as many people as possible. That’s all for now, God bless you, and I’ll see you next time!