It comes as no surprise to most of us that in order to build muscle, you have to strength train. However, to a beginner, this concept may not be as simple as it sounds. What kind of exercises should I be doing to train my whole body? Do I have to be in the gym for 3 hours a day so I can hit every muscle often enough to gain some real size and strength? Do I have to grunt along with everyone else?
Fortunately, you don’t have to have a degree in kinesiology, have years of experience in the gym, or spend an unreasonable number of hours a day picking up and putting down heavy objects to make real gains in muscle building. To get started, all you need is basic information on proper form, effective movements and exercises, and a little knowledge on nutrition. Here, we’ll take a brief look at everything you need to know to start building muscle.
How to Build Muscle Fast
When searching for information about muscle building, most people want to know how long does it take to build muscle? The short answer is anywhere from a few weeks to several months. The long answer is it depends on a variety of variables, including body composition, age, and even hormone production. When you first start a training program, the amount of muscle you start with will influence the rate in which you’re able to add more. The more muscle you have, the more you will see changes and improvements in your training.1
Body composition is also intimately related to hormone production levels and age, all of which influence each other and the ability to build muscle. As men age, they lose muscle mass and strength. This decline can begin as early as 30, and the general cause is due to simple aging and disuse.2 As this is happening, the body also starts to slow testosterone production. Testosterone is a major hormone involved in the muscle building process, and as your body produces less, it becomes harder to build muscle and easier to maintain fat. As an added blow, the more fat you have, the less testosterone you produce.3 Don’t’ let this discourage you though. While your body composition or age may play a factor in how long it will take to build muscle, consistency and a little knowledge will still help you reach your goals.
So, with all these factors in mind – how do you build muscle mass? A general beginner to intermediate routine should include 2 – 3 weight training sessions per week of roughly 30 minutes each.4 While there is still debate, the general thought in the fitness world is that compound, or multi-joint exercises are better than isolation movements because they activate more muscles at a time, increase the body’s metabolic requirement, and are more related to functional, real world movements.5 Compound exercises include barbell squats, bench press, deadlifts, and dumbbell fly’s, among others. Your 2 – 3 sessions per week should be full body workouts that incorporate compound exercises, with ample rest time between sessions to give your muscles time to recover.
Also important for how to build lean muscle is lifting the appropriate weight. Lifting heavier weights for fewer repetitions (reps) will build muscle faster and bigger than lifting lighter weights for more reps. For each exercise, beginners should aim to do 3 sets of 8-12 reps. The weight for each exercise should be enough that the last few reps are challenging to complete. Keep in mind that while working under a challenging weight is important, so is good form and technique. Bad form creates more risk for injury, which takes you out of the gym and hinders your progress. If you’re new to weight training, try getting a friend with experience to come help you learn proper technique. It’s also worth signing up for one or two personal training sessions to get proper instruction on how to do some of the big-ticket exercises, like barbell squats or deadlifts.
How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat
Most people who embark on a new fitness program have a few very similar goals: to get stronger, to feel good, and to look good. An integral part of looking and feeling good for most is to lose weight – but how does this interfere with your muscle building gains? When we look at how to burn fat and build muscle, it comes down to nutrition. The good news is the more muscle you have, the more energy your body needs to maintain it. The bad news; if you aren’t feeding your muscles properly, you can lose muscle mass as you lose fat. So, counter-intuitively, the best strategy for how to lose weight and build muscle at the same time is to eat. Specifically, maintaining proper protein intake so your muscles have what they need to build up stronger. Generally, this will be 1g per kilogram of your bodyweight per day. Timing is important too, which is why you’ll see so many protein shakes come out as people enter and leave the gym.2
How to Build Chest Muscles
The chest is one of the most common areas men want to muscle up and sculpt. One of the best exercises for this area is the bench press, and all its variations. By adding variation, you’re able to hit all 3 individual muscles in the area to build an even, symmetrical, and head-turning chest. If you’re going to be doing more than one chest exercise in a session, make sure to start by working the upper chest, as these muscles tend to be weaker.8 To work these muscles, use the incline bench press, with the bench set at a 45-degree angle. To work your middle chest, move the bench to lie flat.8 For the lower chest, you can either find a bench with a decline of about 45 degrees, or use the flat bench you would use for a standard bench press, but start and finish the movement over the lower part of your chest rather than the middle.8
To get a truly balanced look and maximum strength, make sure to incorporate back and shoulder exercises. These will help strengthen the smaller muscles involved in the major chest exercises, and help open up your chest and back as well.9
How to Build Arm Muscles
While we’ve discussed that compound exercises are more beneficial and effective for muscle building, there is a time and place for isolated movements that focus on a specific muscle group. Isolated movements are best used to target muscles that aren’t used as prominently in the compound movements, and also to sculpt and shape.5 To build up bigger arms, these kinds of movements are going to really help you. To build up your biceps, try including different variations of the bice curl, including preacher curls (on a decline padded shelf), hammer curls, and EZ bar curls.5 For more developed triceps, go try some variations of pull downs and dips. Most gyms have a variety of isolation machines for these muscles, so don’t be afraid to look around and try something new.
How to Build Leg Muscle
To build strong, muscled looking legs, your best bet is going to be heavy weight with the barbell squat. The barbell squat is one of the best exercises you can do for your lower body, as it not only works some of your largest muscles, including your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, but activates the stabilizer muscles in your back, abs, and obliques.6 Even more, squats and other high-volume, low-to-medium intensity exercises have been found to boost your testosterone levels.6 To get the most out of your squats, try doing 10 sets of 5 reps at about 70% of your single-rep maximum (the weight you can only lift once before being completely wiped).6 Deadlifts are another great compound exercise you can use to workout your entire body, and give yourself a little testosterone boost.6 For added testosterone support, try adding HexoFire Labs Delta Prime to your daily supplement routine.
How to Build Calf Muscles
One muscle a lot of people have issue building and shaping is their calves. The biggest issue here is that your calves are used to pushing around your entire body weight all day, every day, so it takes a lot more work to push them beyond their limit.7 If you’re going through your new muscle building routine and you notice your calves aren’t shaping up the way you want them to, try working them out separately and more often per week. Calf raises using a bench or stairs are a great way to start. Instead of going for the usual 8 – 12 reps here, go until your calves are tired, and use dumbbells for some added weight if you need to. Again, good form is always important, and with calf muscles, full extension is crucial to avoid putting too much strain on the Achilles tendon.7
- 1 Smith, L. (2018, January 29). How long does it take to build muscle?. Medical News Today. Retrieved May 7, 2018 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320769.php. View link.
- 2 Tallmadge, K. (2013, September 13). What – and When – to Eat to Build Muscle(Op-Ed). LiveScience. Retrieved May 7, 2018 from https://www.livescience.com/39648-what-and-when-to-eat-to-build-muscle.html. View link.
- 3 Vermeulen, A., Goemaere, S., & Kaufman, J. M. (1999). Testosterone, body composition and aging. Journal of endocrinological investigation, 22(5 Suppl), 110-116. PMID:10442580
- 4 Healthline (n.d.). What You Should Know About Building Muscle Mass and Tone. Retrieved May 7, 2018 from https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-it-take-to-build-muscle#muscle-growth. View link.
- 5 Best, M (2017, September 11). Quickest Way to Increase Bicep Size. LiveStrong.com. Retrieved May 7, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/513382-quickest-way-to-increase-bicep-size/. View link.
- 6 Odebunmi, O. (2017, September 11). Squats to Increase Testosterone. Retrieved May 7, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/366650-squats-to-increase-testosterone/. View link.
- 7 Neel, J. (2017, September 11). What Can I Do to Make My Calves Bigger & Fuller? LiveStrong.Com. Retrieved May 7, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/515167-what-can-i-do-to-make-my-calves-bigger-fuller/. View link.
- 8 Hitchcock, H. (2017, September 11). Bodybuilding and an Uneven Chest. LiveStrong.Com. Retrieved May 7, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/464129-bodybuilding-and-an-uneven-chest/. View link.
- 9 Hitchcock, H. (2017, Sept 11). Tips to Gain Chest Muscle Mass. LiveStrong.com. Retrieved May 7, 2018 from https://www.livestrong.com/article/406533-tips-to-gain-chest-muscle-mass/. View link.