The Ultimate Guide to Building Muscle Fast

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If you want to start building muscle, getting bigger, and getting stronger, here’s what you need to do:

  1. lift heavy objects
  2. Diet according to your goals
  3. get enough rest

I realized that doing those three things is easier said than done – I’ve fought for progress for a decade, and if you’re not sure, I know exactly what you’re going through.

You probably don’t have years to make the mistakes I made, you just want to start getting results today.

But enough, let’s get into the details of how to start strength training!

How do you build muscle and strength?  lift heavy objects

If you’re going to build muscle, you need to lift heavy weights.

This means you will most likely need to use a gym with a great free weights section.

Of course, bodyweight exercises are great for losing weight and maintaining the muscle you already have.

However, if you’re serious about weight training, you need a gym that:

  • squat rack
  • the bench
  • barbell

But we’re not going to eliminate bodyweight workouts entirely, because ideally, you’ll have a place to:

  • pull up
  • pull up
  • dip

This space and equipment will help us to be efficient in order to apply the principles of progressive overload to maximize your results.

Is there a decent gym? If so, great, it will help us get started.

Because we want to create functional strength and size, we’ll be doing a lot of full-body routines with compound exercises that train multiple muscle groups at the same time.

They’re more efficient, they create firm growth and stimulation, and they’ll keep you safe.

Why?

Well when you spend all your time on weight machines doing isolation exercises (duh) you’re only working those specific muscles and not working any of your stabilizing muscles (since the machine is doing all the stabilizing work) .

On the other hand, when you do compound exercises like barbell squats, you’re working almost every muscle in your body, making yourself strong and injury-free.

If you can, stay away from the machines and focus on dumbbell and barbell exercises.

If you’re going to do a full body exercise in each workout (which is what I recommend to any beginner), each workout can have a leg exercise, a thrust exercise, a pull exercise, and a core exercise:

  1. Leg exercises: squats , deadlifts , or lunges
  2. Pushing exercises: bench press, overhead press , or push-ups
  3. Pulling exercises: Inversions , pull-ups, or chin lifts
  4. Core exercises: Reverse crunches , hanging knee raises, or planks

That’s it. Don’t worry about adding any machine shoulder shrugs, isothorac flies, missionary bicep curls, calf raises, and more.

Learn these few exercises, get really good at them, and your entire body will grow stronger and bigger. Focus on adding more weight to each exercise each week.

For example, to go from one week to the next, you can do:

  • Week 1 Barbell squats: 3 sets of 5 reps, 150 lbs.
  • Week 2 Barbell squats: 3 sets of 5 reps, 155 lbs.

If you do this, you will become stronger. Then, repeat the next week. Eat well and you’ll get bigger too.

What is an example program for building muscle?

Using the principles I laid out in my ” How to Build an Exercise Routine” article, here’s a three-day routine I recently created for myself:

  1. Monday: Squats, bench press, wide-grip pull-ups, plank
  2. Wednesday: Deadlifts, overhead presses , inverted rows, hanging knee raises
  3. Friday: Heavy lunges , heavy push-ups, heavy pull-ups, reverse sit-ups.

There are leg exercises, thrusting exercises, pulling exercises and some core work every day .

In addition to having rest and recovery days between MWFs, the workout itself builds in plenty of rest intervals!

By following a leg workout, thrust workout, pull workout, and core workout routine, you’ll maximize rest between each workout, limiting muscle fatigue and allowing you to maximize each strength training exercise.

How many sets and repetitions should I do?

  • If you’re just interested in getting stronger, here’s what you can do: 3-5 sets of 5 reps, with a focus on lifting heavier and heavier weights each week.
  • If you want to add more size and strength, mix up your rep range. Sets of 5 reps will build compact explosive power, while sets of 6-12 reps will build greater size but less concentrated power.

If you’re bored and want a change, or you want to break through a plateau, here’s what you can do:

  • This week, I’ll probably do 3 sets of 5 reps for each exercise (except the core exercises), adding enough weight to each exercise to make it really heavy.
  • Next week, I’ll be doing four sets of each exercise, increasing the weight and decreasing the reps each time.

For example, I would perform overhead presses in the following order :

  • 100 lbs: 12 reps
  • 105 lbs: 10 reps
  • 110 lbs: 8 reps
  • 115 lbs: 6 reps

The good news is that no matter which routes you go (pure strength, size, or both), as long as you put on weight every week — and eat enough — you’ll get stronger.

Any path will work, as long as you gradually overload your muscles, the challenge increases!

What is progressive overloading?

Progressive overload involves continuing to push slightly harder (lifting heavier weights or doing 1 more rep) than last time.

Your muscles will have to adapt and rebuild themselves to get stronger. Therefore, in order to see progress, your training must gradually increase.

We just have to make sure we get the pace right!

According to Mike Rebold of Hiram College:

Keep in mind that if the overload is increased too quickly, poor technique and injury may result. If the overload progresses too slowly, the improvement will be minimal or non-existent.

Slowly but gradually increasing your challenge might look like this:

  • If you did 5 sets of 5 squats this week with a bodyweight of 140 lbs, next week aim for 5 sets of 5 squats at 145 lbs.
  • Or, if you’re doing 10 sets of 100 at 3 lbs, try 3 sets of 105 at 10 lbs the next week.

Getting stronger is 20% of the puzzle. The other 80% is nutrition (which I’ll get to later)!

Any other muscle-building and weightlifting tips?

#1) Warm Up Before Workout  –  Don’t walk into the gym, slap 45-pound plates on the bar, and start your routine.

Start with a dynamic warm-up with jumping jacks, lunges, bodyweight squats, hip raises, push-ups, leg swings, jumps, and more to get your heart rate up and your muscles warm.

After that, always start by doing one set of two sets of just the bar.  Only then should you start adding weights for some warm-up sets before moving on to your real sets.

#2) Maintain Focused Form – If you squat with your body weight incorrectly, you can develop bad habits.

However, if you squat 405 pounds on your shoulders incorrectly, you could inflict some serious injuries. If you’re just starting out, check your ego at the door: start with very light weights and make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly.

There’s no shame in starting with a bar. If this week is too easy, you can always add more weight the next week.

#3) Stimulate, don’t annihilate – When I finish a set, I always try to have one more rep left.

Some trainers will preach to train your muscles to burn, but I think that’s just asking for injuries, bad shape, and overly sore muscles.

Your muscles are built at rest, not in the gym, so don’t worry about stepping into the gym every day and completely destroying them — it’s just not worth it.

#4) Vary the time between sets – if you’re doing 3 sets of 5 reps with really heavy weights, it’s ok to wait 3-5 minutes between sets – you’re here to focus on pure the power of.

If you’re doing sets in the 8-12 range, try to keep the time between sets to about a minute. This will affect your muscles in different ways.

Just be consistent when doing the same workout between sets and over weeks to track your progress.

#5) Don’t Overdo it  – More doesn’t mean better weights are lifted. You don’t need to spend two hours in the gym, you don’t need to do 15 different chest exercises.

My workout routine doesn’t exceed 45 minutes, and I only do three or four sets of each workout (after warming up), enough to stimulate muscle growth.

A routine three times a week is enough too – you shouldn’t be lifting every day as you need to give your muscles time to grow back – remember muscle is made in the kitchen!

Less is more – just make your routine very stressful and exhausting.

#6)  Write it all down  – Keep a training journal and write down exactly how many sets and repetitions you do for each exercise.

This way, you can compare your performance this time with your last performance. You’ll know how much you need to lift this week to make sure you’re stronger than last week.

#7) Follow a routine, and make a plan. The best thing you can do is have a plan to follow and stick to it!

The Right Diet to Build Muscle (and Which Supplements to Take)

If you’re skinny and trying to gain weight, it’s going to be 90% of the battle.

If you’ve been lifting weights for a while, “but can’t seem to gain weight,” then you’re not eating enough — it’s that simple.

I thought I was one of those people who would never gain weight…then I learned it was all diets and started eating 4,000 calories a day and I gained 18,000 lbs in 18 days.

Yes, I wanted to eat three muscle shakes a day, but it worked.

Looking back, I would have done things differently (so many calories and so much sugar/carbs), but after 6 years of exercising without gaining any weight, it’s nice to see such improvement in such a short amount of time.

4,000 calories sounds crazy, right? I know.

It makes eating a full-time job.

You will always be cooking, eating or cleaning yourself.

But if you really want to get bigger, and you’re trying to do it, all your hard work has to go into eating more, eating healthier, and eating all the time.

Here are a few different weight gain techniques:

Path #1: Eat More of Anything – This was my first plan many years ago: it’s the cheapest, the fastest, but probably the least healthy.

Just make sure you’re getting 200+ grams of protein and 3,500+ calories a day, by any means:

  • pasta
  • rice
  • pizza
  • milk
  • hamburger
  • chicken
  • protein shake

Path #2: Eat a lot of “healthy” things – I did it once and gained about 30 lbs in 10 days. a lot of:

  • oatmeal
  • brown rice
  • chicken
  • My Homemade Big Ass Milkshake
  • Almond Butter Sandwiches with Whole Wheat Bread
  • beef
  • Egg
  • fruit
  • vegetable
  • milk

This method works and will fit your interior better than the previous method. Still relatively cheap as oats, brown rice and bread buckets are cheap and can add a lot of calories quickly.

Path #3: Eat Paleo  – I tried this strategy too, and despite my best efforts to gain weight, I managed to lose five pounds (all of it as fat).

Gaining weight on a paleo diet is certainly possible (try adding three big-ass raw shakes a day ), but getting 4,000 calories a day of paleo-approved food is tricky and very expensive. Lots of nuts, eggs, sweet potatoes, olive oil, and yams, and lots of chicken, grass-fed beef, fruits, and vegetables.

Path #4: GOMAD (Gallon of Milk Every Day) – Obviously, this method only works if you are not lactose intolerant.

Oh, and it has to be whole milk. You’ll definitely gain some fat, but you’ll build muscle and get really strong quickly – and then you’ll adjust your diet to get thinner.

I try this diet occasionally because whole milk is definitely a quick way to get a lot of carbs, fat, protein, and calories.

Plus, the calcium in milk mike helps too.

Mike Rebold explained:

Milk contains a lot of calcium (300 mg per cup), which is important because it regulates skeletal muscle contraction. In order to stimulate muscle contraction and generate force, calcium needs to be present and is responsible for stimulating the so-called sliding filament theory.

If you go the GOMAD route, be prepared for constant bloating in your stomach and body. NOTE: You can adjust the amount of milk you consume each day based on your body’s response.

However, there are two supplements that can help build muscle fast:

  1. Protein shakes If you’re struggling to meet your protein and calorie intake goals for the day, adding a high-calorie protein shake can be a game-changer.
  2. Creatine Supplement: Creatine helps your muscles stay hydrated and can boost your performance, keeping you in the gym harder, and longer. 

Are you vegan and trying to build muscle? Read our full article on how to get plant-based right!

How many calories should I eat to build muscle?

It will depend on your circumstances  – your age, your current weight, how much you want to weigh, and how fast your metabolism is.

  • For some people, just 2,500 calories and strength training is enough to build muscle.
  • For others, you may need to eat 4,000+ calories to gain weight.

The only way to find out is to track your normal calorie intake for a few days, then start adding 500 calories a day for a week or two and see if you notice any changes.

Bottom line:  If you don’t see any changes, then you need to eat more.

  • Yes, it can feel excessive.
  • Yes, you will feel full all the time.
  • Yes, it’s a pain and expensive.

But if you really want to go big, then you’re going to need to really dedicate yourself to the kitchen.

Unless you’re a genetic mutant, building muscle and strength without overloading your system with calories and nutrients is very difficult.

Go ahead and eat.

Won’t these eats make me fat? I don’t want to be bulky.

I get this question in emails all the time, usually from guys who are 6 feet tall and weigh 130 pounds.

Don’t worry, if you can’t put on weight right now, it will be great for you to gain extra pounds.

Yes, if you’re in a calorie surplus, you’re gaining some fat and the muscle you’re building.

Here’s why it’s important to choose the right amount of calories each day:

  • If you can build muscle on 3,000 calories, but you eat 4,000 calories, you’re gaining a pound or two of fat a week along with muscle.
  • But if you need to eat 4,000 calories to build muscle and you only eat 3,000, you won’t see any change.

Everyone is different, so you need to experiment and find out what works best for you.

Once you reach your desired weight (actually, aim to be 10-15 lbs heavier than your goal weight), you can cut back on calories, add a few extra sprints at the end of your workout, and keep lifting – muscle will remain, fat will disappear and you will be left with the body you wanted.

I’m not skinny and I need to lose weight – what’s the difference for me?

You just have to be careful how you do it.

The gist of this is this:

You can build muscle even in a caloric deficit if you eat enough protein and have decent fat reserves to cover your energy needs.

As long as you rest ( next section ) and strength train ( previous section ), you can lose body fat while gaining muscle .

Now, this only works if you have a lot of fat reserves to draw on. Once you start leaning a little bit, you may have to increase your calories to start adding more muscle.

Remember, you can build muscle while losing weight if you:

  1. maintain a calorie deficit
  2. lifting heavy objects
  3. Prioritize protein
  4. rest

Let’s talk about the last one first.

Rest Days for Building Muscle and Strength

Take a look at the best marathon runners in the world and compare their physiques to the likes of Usain Bolt, the best sprinter in the world – tons of muscle, strength and an enviable body .

There’s nothing wrong with anybody – we’re all awesome, special, blah blah blah.

But you’re reading an article about how to build muscle fast, right? So focus all your energy on building muscle! [29]

You want all the calories you burn to be “building muscle” not “fueling my run”.

I admit I’m biased against chronic cardio, but mostly because it bores me!

You’ll be more productive when you focus on getting stronger and doing “cardio” only for the things you enjoy—after all, your success is largely determined by your nutrition, not your Aerobic exercise!

Personally, I spend 45 minutes in the gym three days a week.

I go for walks on my off days while doing a day of sprinting to stay active, but I know my muscles are being built when I’m resting, not when I’m exercising.

I really focus on my workouts, making them as exhausting as possible, and then I give my body plenty of time to recover (while eating enough calories to generate a surplus).

If you lift weights, eat enough and make sure you get enough sleep too! 5-6 hours a night won’t cut it – you need to get at least 8-9 hours of sleep a night for optimal muscle building. Take naps too if you get the chance.

Sleep needs to be a priority because when we fall asleep, growth hormone, a hormone responsible for regulating muscle growth, is released.

If you’re a big guy/girl trying to slim down, a little extra cardio might speed up your fat loss, but if you’re not eating right it could cause you to lose some of the muscle you already have.

Don’t worry about running 10 miles on your rest day — do 20-30 minute intervals or run hill sprints in the park. Weight will be lost more slowly, but you will only lose fat, not fat and muscle.

Once you’ve reached your target weight and target muscle mass, I recommend adding some cardio back in to enhance your overall conditioning but keep it varied ( sprints and intervals ). The focus is on maintaining explosive muscles, not long, slow, boring muscles.

If you love long runs and won’t give up, I won’t stop you. Just know that prolonged cardio sessions can seriously inhibit your progress in building strength and size. [31]

Post your questions in the comments and I’ll keep answering them.

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