Build muscle effectively TL;DR: pay attention to what you eat, workout often, listen to your body and don't forget your protein. Needless to say, the actual muscle building process is a bit more nuanced but it shouldn't be overly complicated. Want to know how to get big arms fast or what is the best full body workout? How to gain weight AND build muscle? How to get stronger? This 5-step muscle building guide might help.
The issue with muscle building is that the more you read about it, seemingly the more complex it gets. Some says you need to work out a couple of times a week, others will recommend a more frequent workout routine. Same goes for the importance of rest, protein intake/diet, weights, type of workouts etc.
Natural muscle building require hard work and persistence and the truth is, it is a personal experience for everyone. The best you can do is to listen to your body and adapt a workout approach that suits your body's requirement the most. Muscle building is a learning process and one that takes a bit of time to master.
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Build muscle effectively: an easy 5-step guide
Increasing muscle mass naturally will admittedly take some time and it will take longer for some people than for others. How fast you will pack on muscle mass depends on your age, sex, testosterone levels and more.
That said, it's a common misconception that muscle building after a certain age is a waste of time: "research demonstrates that resistance exercise training has profound effects on the musculoskeletal system, contributes to the maintenance of functional abilities, and prevents osteoporosis, sarcopenia, lower-back pain, and other disabilities", a 2001 study concludes.
Step #1: Eat your protein
A hotly debated topic is how much protein should you take to build muscle effectively. The general consensus at the moment says that if you are following a rigorous training plan, for someone actively working out, the appropriate amount of protein is around 1.6-2 grams of protein per body kilogram per day. For a 70 kg (155 lbs) person, this means supplying your body with at least 112-140 grams of protein per day.
This protein should be supplied from a variety of sources such as lean meat, eggs, nuts, leafy veg (e.g. kale, spinach), fish, tofu, legumes etc. 100 grams of chicken breast contains around 30 grams of protein, but even kale has over 4 grams in it per 100 grams.
Whether or not you need the best protein powder to build muscle, the short answer is no. You don't need protein shakes but covering your protein needs by drinking a quick protein shake or having the best protein bar / best jerky after the workouts is more convenient than stomaching a can of black beans.
Step #2: Supplement your muscle building efforts
Most nutritionists agree that the only supplement you need to aid muscle building is creatine. Creatine is one of the most scrutinised supplement and it can help improve performance in the gym. One research concluded that "one week of creatine supplementation (25 g/day) enhances muscular performance during repeated sets of bench press and jump squat exercise."
And creatine does this without any side effects, even on the long term. Better still, you only need a little amount each day to enjoy the benefits of creatine. After a 'loading period' – during which you saturate your body with creatine – you will only need to take roughly 3-5 grams a day and considering you can mix it with anything as it has no after taste, you can just drink it with water or even your protein shake without any problem.
If you are one of those people who struggle to put on weight, consider taking the best mass gainer supplements: these powders are high in protein and carbohydrates and can help you cram in some extra calories into your diet.
Step #3: Follow a progressive overload workout pattern
Progressive overload is key to muscle growth and it means you need to gradually increase the load over time so your muscles will continue to grow. You can do this by using heavier weights, doing more sets/reps and by increasing workout frequency.
This doesn't mean you'll need to adjust all of the above for each workout. By trying to over-optimise workouts you'll most likely end up not pushing yourself hard enough and under-stimulating the muscles. Going from 8 reps in each set to 9 might increase the overall volume for the day but it also takes your body's performance on the day out of the equation.
Reassessment of the workout should be done periodically and not continuously with ample amount of variety applied to your daily workouts in between. No need to change weights every single time you do a workout but once the resistance feels less demanding, increase the weights and change the exercises.
To increase frequency, consider following a push-pull workout routine: following it will rest your 'push' muscles on 'pull' days and vica versa, perfect for upping the number of workouts you do each week.
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Step #4: Choose the right exercises for muscle growth
Sure, you will want to get bigger arms but forget about doing bicep curls only when you are in the gym. The type of exercises you'll need to include more of in your workout regime are compound exercises. Doing compound exercises, such as deadlifts or kettlebell swings, will not only make you stronger but they will also increase muscle coordination too.
You can even create workouts based around compound exercises. Heck, you can literally just do only deadlifts as a workout and build muscle. Mixing it up a bit might help you keep a bit of a variety and it can also help you stay sane after months of working out.
The aforementioned deadlifts and kettlebell swings are excellent compound exercises but so are the following: squats (both air squats and weighted squats), pull ups/chin ups, push ups, bench press, overhead press, bodyweight dip, etc.
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Step #5: Find the right balance between rest and injury
Above is the video of the man himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, an icon and bodybuilding aficionado in his prime. In the video, Arnold talks about getting ready for competitions and how much training they did months before competition. He says pro muscle builders would spend four hours a day in the gym in order to pack on extra muscle mass.
Elite CrossFit athletes are also famous for training a lot: Rich Froning used to work out 18 times a week. This goes against everything you might have read about muscle building but you must admit that top CrossFit people look pretty shredded, right?
One thing is for sure: resting is paramount for muscle growth. You muscles don't grow in the gym, they grow when you rest in between workouts. During resistance training, microscopic tears appear on your muscles and your body patch these up using protein (simplifying the process here).
Another thing to keep in mind is that rest doesn't always equal to not working out. You want to rest the muscles so they have time to recover but you also want to work them hard enough so they'll grow. Exercise often and rigorously, especially if you have fast metabolism, and listen to your body.
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Resistance training how tos
- How to squat right: the barbell back squat is the best exercise for a toned butt and strong legs
- How to deadlift correctly: a full body workout in one move for stronger arms, back and legs
- Overhead press: how to perform this classic exercise for big arms and quick shoulder gains
- How to do barbell rows the right way: why bent over rows are great to build big back and strong arms
- How to bench press effectively and safely: this classic exercise will build a massive chest and big arms and shoulders too
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Bodyweight training how tos
- How to do push ups: from easy press ups to the best push up variations to work pecs, triceps and delts
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